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The Next Generation: Tim Wilks

Wednesday, 30 November 2016
The Next Generation

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson Tim Wilks in action in Falsterbo this summer. Photos (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.

In World of Showjumping’s new series 'The Next Generation', we will focus on determined young talents that aim for the top of the sport through dedication and hard work. In the third part of this series, we meet 21-year-old Tim Wilks who this year got his breakthrough on the five-star circuit. For Wilks however, there is a lot more going on than just riding – he has his hands full with the running of the family business IN Showjumpers as well as studying.

“Sometimes I tend to forget why I started doing this in the first place, so I try to remind myself to really enjoy it and that I am lucky to do what I love,” says Wilks of his crazy-busy schedule.

Originally from the Isle of Man, this young British rider started his career at his grand parents riding centre before later on moving to Henley-on-Thames. At the age of 15, Wilks left school to work for Duncan Inglis where he continued to study – travelling in and out of London for tutoring after he had finished stable duties.

Whilst working for Inglis, Wilks got to broaden his horizons. “I was a bit of a nervous kind of rider back then, and I did not like to get on different horses. And that was one of the biggest things for me there: To go on lots of horses, and it really evolved my riding. It is easy to ride the same one or two horses all the time, but it is something completely else to learn to adapt to different horses.”

After finishing his time with Inglis, Tim went on to train with one of the world’s best – basing himself with Henk Nooren in Belgium.  

For most young people, moving to a foreign country and away from your family at such a young age would perhaps seem like a frightening experience – but it was not that part that worried Tim the most. “I quite like being independent, and I had already lived by myself for two years so it was an easy transition to go to Belgium. The only problem was that I had just got my drivers license, and the first time I ever drove all by myself was to Belgium – which was terrifying,” he laughs. “That was an interesting drive to say the least…”

“I needed to learn a lot more, especially if I wanted to set up my own business,” Tim explains. “So, I wanted to see how things were done in this part of Europe where it seemed to me that everything was very professional. Naturally I knew from others that Henk was one of the best trainers in the world, but what also attracted me was that I had heard that he was extremely structured in his work.”

“I felt like I had been learning a different sport my whole life,” Tim says when talking about the first couple of weeks of his stay at Nooren’s yard. “During my entire first year there, I was just trying to get to grips with this other way of riding and feeling – I really, really struggled. Henk kept telling me that eventually it would click, and all of a sudden it did. Also key to my learning at Henk’s yard, and to the transition to riding with feel, was Barnabas Mandi – a flat trainer who has worked closely with Henk for many years. I am very fortunate that Barnabas continues to visit regularly and to help me with the training of the horses and my riding. In my opinion his continued input is vital to training the horses to maximise their performance in the sport.”

“When I left Henk’s place and moved home, I tried to recreate nearly everything I learned there,” Tim says. “For me there is no better system than his. At Nooren’s stables so much thought and time was put into every single horse. I had friends working at other stables, riding 10-15 horses a day whilst a maximum there was five or six. Henk was really insistent of the training of every horse. I learned a lot from him.”

Today, Tim works for IN Showjumpers – a company that came to life based on an idea from his mother Caroline.

“My parents both worked in banking, and at one point my mum came up with the idea that we could start an investment business that involved horses. The plan was to invest in exceptional horses – mostly young ones – and produce them for the top sport prior to selling them to realise a profit for investors. My mother structured the company, and through her contacts from banking she managed to bring in investors,” Tim explains.

In the early beginnings of IN Showjumpers, Inglis and Nooren were also involved – but later the parties split and it was decided that the horses belonging to the company would all be based at Tim’s family stable at Henley-on-Thames which is 20 minutes from Heathrow Airport. “In the beginning, we gave quite a few horses to other riders to compete – but we found out that it got too big and hard to manage this way,” Tim says.

At the same time as Tim was moving back to England, his sister Anna – a European Champion in eventing as a junior rider – was just finishing her job at Pippa and William Funnell’s yard. Wanting to run IN Showjumpers as a family business, Tim managed to convince his sister to join him. “This way we all have the same motive, and we all want the same thing. We are all in-house, and I think nothing is better than that. Today, we are slowly coming to what we want to be. We wanted something we can enjoy, and that is stress-free,” Wilks smiles. “But, we are still working on the stress-free!”

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson "I try to remind myself to really enjoy it and that I am lucky to do what I love,” says Tim Wilks.

Today, IN Showjumpers is ran over a rather genius concept, which brings investors rather than horse-owners to the sport. “The two companies that own the horses have been approved as so-called Enterprise Investment Schemes (EIS) by the UK Government. This means that when private individuals invest they get a tax break that enables them to reduce income tax payable by 30% of their investment, this is in addition to other tax breaks should all the terms of the EIS be met,” Wilks continues to explain. “Most of the investors have nothing to do with horses. This is one of the things that makes our business very different compared to others in this sport. We have a group of investors, but none of them have their own horse – they have shares in the company. Not one investor is in control over one horse, which makes it possible for us to decide on the best training and competition plan to produce the horses to maximise the value and also to decide on the timing of the sale. It is also more fair for the investors this way: Costs and gains are split equally, and not based on one horse. However, there are also risks that need to be covered – that is why all our horses are 100 % insured for loss of use and mortality with MS Amlin,” Wilks says.

“The companies run over a period of three to five years, and at some point instead of the sale proceeds being reinvested in new horses the funds will be returned to investors providing them with their original investment and hopefully a profit on top of the tax benefit they received on investment. We will then look at either establishing a new Enterprise Investment Scheme and/or we are looking at alternative investment concepts for the future,” Tim goes on to explain.

And it works. This year, IN Showjumpers sold one of their biggest talents – the 8-year-old Inca Boy van’t Vianahof – to Athina Onassis. “That was a very good sale for us, in many ways. For us it was a big investment when we bought the horse, and it was actually our first big sale after splitting from Duncan and Henk – it showed us we could make it by ourselves,” Tim says. Tim also credits Patrick Vandereyt, a major contributor to the success of IN Showjumpers since 2015, when speaking about this particular sale. “Patrick found Inca Boy for the company, and was key to producing the horse with me. He works with the riders both at home and at shows, as well as spending many many hours travelling across Europe to find young horses with exceptional talent for IN Showjumpers.”

Although it is the sport he loves, Tim has taken a real liking to running the business as well. “That is also part of the reason why I at the beginning of this year decided to take a degree in business management, to fully understand everything and to take care of our investors – also at one point on my own,” he says. “To make it a sustainable business, I also needed to get to learn that side of it – not just sit on the horses and ride. I need to be able to take over when my parents get fed up with it,” he laughs.

The business is flourishing, and so is Tim’s sports career. When deciding to take all their horses back at the beginning of the year, it included a 12-year-old chestnut gelding called Quelbora Merze – previously seen under Michael Whitaker. “Straight away when I sat on him, I connected with him,” Tim says. “I took him to the Sunshine Tour, and finished with being 4th in the four-star invitational Grand Prix. It was the biggest I had ever jumped, for me that was amazing… After that the British Chef d’Equipe invited me to ride in Lisbon; it was my first three-star senior Nations Cup and I was double clear – it was beyond all expectations! Quelbora Merze is a really good horse, and I knew that together we could do it – but it is still different when you get there and have to perform under pressure.”

From there, Tim went on to jump a double clear in the five-star Nations Cup of Falsterbo. “I got there thinking I would be the fifth person, and was quite nervous without even being on the team. Then I jumped the 1.40m the first day, and was quite happy about that so that I could just build up a bit confidence. After, I got to know I was on the team and I was just like ‘Oh God!’. But my trainer Patrick is very relaxed and calm, and is always of the opinion that the most important is that you learn from the experience even if it is from something that does not go according to plan – that can be just as good.”

Looking towards the future, Wilks is thinking both about his sports career and the business.

“Hopefully, as I grow as a rider we can also change our investments more towards the top level. The profit margins are still there. So, that is what I am hoping for the future when I am established enough in my riding: That we can make these investments and be able to compete at the top of the sport. But, I also have to prove myself at that level to make that happen.”

If there is one advice Wilks has for other young riders, it is to be patient. “I am a real perfectionist with everything, and this brought me a lot of frustration in the beginning of my career – especially with the young horses where there can be many ups and down. But, I have learned to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. For young horses, you as a rider need to set a goal of where the horse is progressing to and not get demoralised too quick. Look at where the horse is coming from and where it is getting to.”

On how he keeps up with his long days, that sometimes starts with studying at five-thirty in the morning before he gets going in the stables until late in the evening – Wilks says: “To do what we are doing; you have to love – but really love – horses. Otherwise I think we would drive ourselves crazy!”


Text © World of Showjumping by Jannicke Naustdal // Picture © Jenny Abrahamsson // No reproduction without permission

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