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Kars Bonhof: “I hope that the best is still ahead of us”

Monday, 21 August 2023

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ After a strong 2023-season, Kars Bonhof and Hernandez TN N.O.P. have been selected for their first senior championship as part of the Dutch team for the FEI Jumping European Championship in Milan, Italy. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.


Text © World of Showjumping



For the past three-and-a-half years, 26-year-old Kars Bonhof has worked for Team Nijhof – a renowned Dutch stud farm founded in 1916. When it comes to Nijhof, most will probably think of stallions such as Heartbreaker, Eldorado vd Zeshoek TN, Verdi TN, or more recently Grandorado TN and Highway M TN, but this summer Bonhof has showed great consistency on the five-star scene with a new superstar owned by the Dutch stud; the 11-year-old Hernandez TN N.O.P. (Kannan x Numero Uno). 

The pair made their first international appearance together in 2020, and has since then jumped double clear in the Longines FEI Nations Cup of Sweden, placed 4th in the Longines Grand Prix of Rotterdam, 8th in the Longines Grand Prix of Falsterbo and are now getting ready for their first senior championship as part of the Dutch team for the FEI Jumping European Championship 2023 in Milan, Italy. “I am very happy with where I am, but I hope that the best is still ahead of us,” Bonhof says about being a part of Team Nijhof. 

Team Nijhof

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ For the past three-and-a-half years, the 26-year-old has worked for Team Nijhof – a renowned Dutch stud farm founded in 1916. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

While Hernandez currently is Bonhof’s best horse, he has about 17 horses on his list – from four-year-olds to promising eight-year-olds. “I ride 8-10 myself every day,” he tells about his day-to-day routines. “The youngest horses I ride are four, and it is part of the job that I don’t mind at all. I like to ride them all, also the very young ones; they are nice, quality horses. However, I for sure enjoy the top sport the most – it is what I have always dreamt of.” 

“We have two stables; the breeding stable with all the young horses and then the sport stable where we have 30 horses,” Bonhof explains about the system they have in place at Team Nijhof. “We help each other, but we each have our own group of horses. Having a good team around you is the most important thing for a rider: When I am at the show, I know I don’t have to worry about anything at home; everything is under control.” 

“Team Nijhof buys young horses and from each year we also have foals come in, which we keep until they are three and then start selecting,” he continues. “For the last three years, we have kept the best and that group of horses is now six. Every year, we have a few good ones come up. We have to start with a wide group, and most of the time there are one to three in each age group that make it to the very top. I think I have a very promising 8-year-old and one nice 7-year-old, but I believe the group that is now six is the strongest we have. We have to see where we can get with them, but we are aiming for the top.” 

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ “I am very lucky to have him,” Bonhof says of his top horse Hernandez TN N.O.P. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

When Nijhof was looking for a rider and first contacted Bonhof, he was – to some degree of surprise – sceptical. “I was used to riding geldings and mares,” he tells about his doubts. “I had had a few stallions before but not breeding stallions, so I was unsure. However, I came over to meet the team and have a talk. They are very nice – real horse people – so I thought I wanted to give it a try. And today, here I am!”

“For sure you have to think a little bit more when you are on a stallion, but actually it has been very good,” he continues. “I think stallions fight a lot for you. Combining breeding and top sport is sometimes a challenge but the owners here really want to do the sport, so it is all going well. What makes a huge difference for me as a rider is the fact that a horse like Hernandez is not for sale; he is covering, making his money and we can do sport at the same time. It is a fantastic feeling to ride like this, without the pressure to sell, knowing that I can keep him and not worry about clients.” 

From making it to mainstay?

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ "Our Chef d’Equipe Jos Lansink has done a great job with the Dutch team; he has really tried to get some new pairs up to top level and has given them an opportunity," Bonhof says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

The past summer has been Bonhof’s first on the Dutch CSIO5* senior team, after gathering mileage in the CSIO3* EEF Series last year. “I did the three-star Nations Cups last summer and we gained a lot of experience,” he explains. “The EEF-series is a very good way for the younger, up-and-coming, combinations to gain experience and to prove themselves to get a spot on the A-team. You have to start somewhere to get to the top.” 

After an easy winter, Bonhof started the season in Spain. “During the winter season we took it easy, as Hernandez can be a bit challenging indoors with his one eye,” he explains. “He can get a bit stressed and when fences come short out of the corners, he can get shy. And he did a lot last summer, so we took it easy during the winter and then at the beginning of this year we started in Spain. From there on, we went to the Dutch championships and a few five-star shows – and it all has just rolled on. At the beginning of the year, I didn’t think I would make it to the team for Milan. For sure I was hopeful, but I didn’t expect it and I did not put my attention to it. I was hoping to do a few senior Nations Cups; that was my main goal for this season. There were so many Nations Cups so close to each other this season, so it was clear early on that the Dutch team would need to use riders and horses outside the A-squad. They wanted to use the newer, up-and-coming, combinations, and give them a chance. Our Chef d’Equipe Jos Lansink has done a great job with the Dutch team; he has really tried to get some new pairs up to top level and has given them an opportunity. We took our chance and luckily, we didn’t do so bad. It is fantastic, it is all I want,” Bonhof says about being a part of the Dutch team. 

“Riding next to all these top riders is a great experience,” he continues. “You learn so much, from how they warm up to how they pick the classes they jump; there is so much you can learn, so much you can see. This is what I have been dreaming of since I was little; I always wanted to be a part of the Dutch A-team. Getting there this season has been a fantastic feeling and when it goes well it is even better. However, I hope that my best years are still to come. I have a very good string of young horses coming up and, luckily, I think we can keep working on them as they won’t get sold so quickly. I hope I am not only making the team with one horse, I want to stay a part of it – like everyone else does, I guess.” 

Hernandez TN N.O.P.

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ "I think he has all the scope, but his mind is his best quality; he really wants to do his best," Bonhof says of Hernandez TN N.O.P. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

In Hernandez, Bonhof has found a good partnership. “I am very lucky to have him,” he says. “He is a bit special, but he has all the quality and scope. He has a very good mind; he wants to work with you and I think we are a good match.”

“He lost one eye when he was seven, due to the herpes-virus. I didn’t ride him when he had two eyes, but I have heard from those who rode him before me that he got a bit shy after that,” Bonhof explains. “He has always been a sensitive horse though. When I started working for Team Nijhof, he had just turned eight and we did our first 1.20m classes to gain trust and experience and make sure he felt ok. When I turned right, or a bit short, he would not always trust me and could back off a bit. It took time, but we took it slow. Last year, the last steps in his progress to the top actually came really quickly, as we had that solid foundation we had worked on. The beginning was slow, but the last bit went fast. I think he has all the scope, but his mind is his best quality; he really wants to do his best.”

“When it comes to combining breeding and competing on the highest level, the most challenging part is not to ask too much of the horses,” Bonhof continues. “It takes a lot out of the stallions to cover, especially in their shoulders and stifles. When horses jump the biggest classes in the world, they have to feel good and you cannot take too much out of them. I think some people don’t understand how much the breeding affects the stallions, there seem to be many who underestimate it.”

Work for it

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ "You need to take the time and be patient; have a vision of where you want to go,” Bonhof says about his journey to the top level. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Growing up under the guidance of Jürgen Stenfert and Hans Horn, Bonhof is currently training with Willem Greve and occasionally gets helps from the Dutch Chef d’Equipe Jos Lansink. “Jos is so active and enthusiastic, he is always there to help,” Bonhof explains. “I go to Willem regularly; he lives close by. I send videos, I go there to train – whatever is needed, he helps me. I am young, and everyone needs someone on the ground to help them, and as Willem has a long history with Nijhof, it was the most logical thing to do. He is very good; he is direct, but I need that sometimes. He knows the stallions: He has so much experience, he knows how to best manage them, he understands the challenge of combining breeding and sport – and he is a top rider himself.” 

“I think the biggest challenge for any young rider moving up the levels to compete with seniors is that you need to get the chance,” Bonhof continues. “I think there are many talented young riders out there who simply don’t get the chance, or don’t have the right horse at the right time. I have been very lucky: When I started at Nijhof, we did not have a ready horse for the top sport, but we grew together. You need to take the time and be patient; have a vision of where you want to go.”

“Sometimes it is better to start way smaller and build your own opportunities. At the moment, everything is getting really expensive and if you have to run your own stable – especially when you are young – you either need to sell or you need a big sponsor, it is very simple. And when you have to sell your horses, then you most of the time cannot do the big sport. This is where I am lucky; right now, my horses don’t need to get sold. However, despite the circumstances, you always have to work hard to make it – like in any other sport. I think most of the current top riders have all had to work really hard to get to where they are; even those with a stronger financial background. In this sport, you don’t get to the top by laying on the couch and watching Netflix. Of course, money makes it easier, but you need to work for your place on the very top.” 

Hoping for the best

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ "I always wanted to be a part of the Dutch A-team," Bonhof says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“In the top ten,” Bonhof answers quickly when asked where he wants to see himself in the future. “It is very simple. However, it will be very difficult to make it happen; it takes a lot of hard work and good horses. The current top ten is a very strong group, but it always has been – and it is 100% motivating to watch them. Watching riders like Scott Brash, Marlon Zanotelli and Mclain Ward is inspiring; they all have such different styles and yet they all perform on the highest level and keep winning the biggest classes. You can learn so much just by watching! All I can do is work hard on myself and keep producing good horses. We are not going to buy ready horses; we have to make them ourselves. We simply have to do our best – and hope for the best.” 

If all goes well, Bonhof will be part of the Dutch team at the FEI Jumping European Championship 2023 in Milan. “It will be my first senior championship,” he says about the new chapter ahead of him. “I have done two Europeans – one as a junior and one as a young rider – but I think this will be on another level, with different kind of pressure. I am very curious to experience it. Of course, I am hoping for a spot on the team, but it is not announced who is the fifth yet. However, whatever happens, I see Milan as an amazing opportunity to gain more experience.” 


21.8.2023 No reproduction of any of the content in this article will be accepted without a written permission, all rights reserved © World of If copyright violations occur, a penalty fee will apply. 

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