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The Next Generation: Sanne Thjissen and Kevin Jochems

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Photo © World of Showjumping Sanne Thijssen and Kevin Jochems. Photos © World of Showjumping.

Dutch, dedicated, young and talented. Those are just some of the things Sanne Thjissen and Kevin Jochems have in common. To be added to the list, is that they both work for Sanne’s father Leon at his stable in Sevenum, Netherlands – and that they are ambitious, hard-working riders driven by their dreams. 


Early beginnings 

“My parents had a big farm, and one day – when I was six – I asked if I could ride one of the ponies we had,” Kevin tells about the start of his riding career. “But no one had ever ridden the ponies, so it was not possible,” he laughs. “We went on to buy a small pony for me. After that, it all went quite quick: I did the European Championships, some Nations Cups and had a really nice time doing the ponies.”

“It all started with my family. They always gave their all so I could have one or two good ponies or horses. They travelled with me to shows and did everything for me,” Kevin tells.

“When I was 15, I moved on to ride horses. At the age of 17, I went to Piet Raijmakers and started to work there as a rider for his young horses. I learned a lot from Piet. I also had a very good time there, and stayed for nearly five years. About 1 ½ years ago I moved to Leon. He gives me all the opportunities and good horses. With his support, I feel very free to do what I want,” Kevin tells. 

Born into a famous Dutch showjumping family, things started a little different for Sanne. “My father has a big stable, so I was around horses every day and started with a small Shetland pony,” she tells. “I never went international with ponies, because my father would not let me. He always told me that once I would be riding horses, I could go to international shows as much as I wanted. I was really angry about it, because I saw all my friends go on their ponies,” Sanne recalls with a smile. “But he kept his promise. Now I go to an international show every week.” 

“My mum and dad mean so much to me. My dad tries to find the horses, and to keep them when that is possible. My dad is so easy going, even if all goes wrong in the ring or if I did something wrong, he never gets angry. He is always supportive, and so is my mum,” Sanne says. 


One owner, all for sale

“At home we start before eight in the morning, we ride four to five horses before lunch and then we ride again after. We have eight to nine horses to ride each, and are normally at home Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before we leave to a show,” Kevin tells about their day-to-day routines. “Last summer I did a lot of five-star shows, but now I have mostly younger horses so I do two- and three-stars,” he continues. 

When it comes to horse power, Sanne is in a very similar situation: “I have two older horses, so sometimes I can do a few four- or five-star shows. We have one owner, and that is my dad. And normally everything we ride is for sale,” she tells about the family business. 

At the moment Kevin’s best horse is the 12-year-old stallion Cristello 2 (Numero Uno x Voltaire). “Leon rode him before, and gave him to me when Captain Cooper got sold,” Kevin tells. “Then I have Evita (Canturano x Farmer), a 10-year-old mare that had a very good summer with placings at five-star level. All my other horses are eight- and nine-year-olds, there are a few that I expect a lot from.” One of those is the 9-year-old Famous H (Diarado x Quasimodo Z), that Kevin has high hopes for. “I have been saying that I am going to Tokyo with him,” Kevin laughs. 

“I have three horses that are at a higher level,” Sanne fills in. “With Celine M Z (Crusador x Orame), a 12-year-old mare, I did some five-star shows already and Bulavsco (Verdi Tn x Corland) recently won a CSI2* Grand Prix in Oliva Nova. Then there is the 9-year-old mare Carinja 18 (For Fashion x Carinjo) that I think is really special. She has all the scope, and more than enough quality. She just needs more experience.”

Dreaming big, aiming for the top

When it comes to goals, the young couple is looking in a very similar direction. “My biggest dream is to do the top sport,” Kevin starts. “I am not really into the business side or dealing horses, I try to focus on the sport and I want to get as far as I can. However, I want to reach the point where I can stay on top for years – not just for one season or two. Like Marcus Ehning or Ludger Beerbaum,” he continues. “I feel the same,” Sanne fills in. “I would like to have my own stable, and to find a sponsor so I can keep some of my horses. I know how difficult it is, but I do want to do the top sport,” Sanne continues. “And when it comes to finding young horses, I always turn to my father for help.” 

They might be dreaming big, but what they are dreaming of is realistic. In 2018, Kevin – now 23 – had the season of his life winning both the prestigious five-star Grand Prix classes at Hickstead and in Dublin. His results did not go unnoticed: In January he was crowned ‘Talent of the Year’ in the Netherlands. “Last year was fantastic,” Kevin says. “At my age – and due to the fact that I am working at a dealing stable – getting into the Dutch team was something really special for me. Being surrounded by the best riders in your country – many of who have a really good sponsor to keep their horses – and also managing to win something was nice,” Kevin says. “Because the horses get sold, including Captain Cooper (Namelus R x Corland) that I won with at Hickstead and in Dublin, it is not easy to stay on top though. Hopefully, one day we can find a horse that I can keep.” 

“We are young, so obviously we don’t have the experience of the older riders,” 20-year-old Sanne continues to explain about the challenges of making the national team in one of the strongest equestrian nations in the world. “However, when you have made it to the team, it is not because there are not enough to choose from. You are there because you and your horse are one of the best combinations,” Sanne continues. 

“I believe it is difficult to get into the team in Holland,” Kevin says. “We are a small country, but maybe one of the biggest showjumping nations in the world. I think the experience and the know-how we have in Holland about horsemanship and management is incredible. I am proud to be Dutch,” he says. 

On the team or not, good results are what both of these young talents are after. “For me, having a top result at a good show is the best motivation,” Kevin says. “That is what we do it for and when it happens, it is the best feeling there is. And every time it doesn´t happen, I try to think back on those moments when it all worked out – and then I will try to make it happen again.” 

“Being a young girl in a male-dominated sport, it feels good to beat them,” Sanne says. “When I won the Grand Prix at the Mediterranean Equestrian Tour in January, I saw accomplished riders like Pedro Veniss and Jérôme Guery behind me – that feeling was really good!”

“I think we both try to win, and if one doesn’t we hope the other one will,” Kevin smiles when asked how competitive the two are. “We both do our own thing though. If Sanne wants to know something, she asks me and vice versa.”


Never give up

“I started with nothing, just kept on trying – working really hard,” Kevin tells about what has brought him to where he is today. “It is possible to get there,” he says about reaching for the top. 

Sanne is of the same opinion. “You should never give up,” she says. “Keep learning, and try to learn from everyone. Even if you see a rider with a style that is not yours – even if they are totally different – keep watching. Everyone is good in different ways.” 

If there is someone Kevin admires, and aspires to be like it is Harrie Smolders. “I know Harrie well, he is from the same neighbourhood as we are – and like me a son of a farmer. Harrie made his way up all on his own and started with nothing. It is what I would like to do as well,” Kevin says.  

When talking about motivation and pushing your limits, Kevin gets serious. “I had a very bad accident 2 ½ years ago. I broke my pelvis and was out for six months,” he tells. “The moments in hospital and at home, where I was unable to do anything on my own changed my perspective on life. I now appreciate what I have more than I did before. Having a family, friends, a girlfriend, winning a big class – I am very grateful for all of it. I think the accident made me realize how quickly things can change.” 

Being in a relationship with another rider, is something both Sanne and Kevin appreciates. “If you really live for the sport, like we do – working every day and never taking a day off with lots of travelling in between… If you then have a partner that is not in horses, they will never understand,” Kevin says. “It’s a particular lifestyle, and you have to go in to it with all you have.”


Text © World of Showjumping by Nanna Nieminen 

Photos © World of Showjumping 

No reproduction without permission, copyright © World of Showjumping

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