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Wiepke van de Lageweg: Soon 75 and with no signs of slowing down

Friday, 20 March 2020
Interview

Photo © VDL Stud “I have no intention of slowing down or retire, as long as I am fit I will keep on doing the job," Wiepke van de Lageweg says as he is approaching 75. Photo © VDL Stud.

 

Text © World of Showjumping 

 


 

Wiepke van de Lageweg has bred and owned some of the most famous stallions in the world. This year the man behind the VDL Stud celebrates his 75th birthday, and enters the new decade with his family business running stronger than ever. 

It all started in 1972, when Wiepke – who was big in the cattle business – decided to buy a mare and breed as a hobby. Fast forward to 1975 when it was time for one of Wiepke’s future hopes to go to the stallion selection. However, the stallion was unsuccessful at an early stage and Wiepke spent the day on the tribune. It was on this very tribune that Wiepke spotted the 2,5-year-old stallion Nimmerdor. It was love at first sight. “I really wanted to buy Nimmerdor, but the owners didn't want to sell. However, I went deep in my pockets and put up the 25.000 Dutch guilders that they asked for on the table,” Wiepke tells.

It was a decision he would never regret. While it was an expensive purchase, it would prove to be an investment that was the start of a life-long adventure. Nimmerdor went on to not only be considered the founding stallion of the VDL Stud, but is also remembered as one of the sport’s true legends – in 2000 he was honoured as ‘The Stallion of the Century”. Nimmerdor’s legacy still lives on today. 

Soon after Nimmerdor’s arrival, the VDL Stud grew into a big business. When Wiepke’s oldest son Wiebe finished school, the family decided to build a stallion station at their farm in Bears and that was the start of the next chapter. 

Photo © Hippo Foto - Dirk Caremans Wiepke van de Lageweg watching at the World Equestrian Games in Tryon in 2018. “We have to know what we are breeding for,” Wiepke says. Photo © Hippo Foto - Dirk Caremans.

Over the years, the VDL Stud has become famous not only for Nimmerdor, but also for stallions like VDL Bubalu, VDL Cardento, Douglas, Emilion, Indoctro, Jus de Pomme, Hardrock and VDL Zirocco Blue – just to mention some. The company that Wiepke founded is run by himself and his three sons Wiebe, Janko and Sipko, with his daughter Wyneke and daughters-in-law Hanneke and Jill also working in the family business. Wiepke’s wife Jannie is also still involved but has deservedly slowed down after years of commitment to the business. 

“I am very happy that we are able to do this together as a family,” Wiepke tells. “Looking back, the best part of it all has been to develop and grow the company together. What makes me proud is that the different generations of the family will carry it on. The day I stop working, business will be carried on as usual.”

Wiepke’s oldest son Wiebe tells about a father that always gave his kids freedom. “From the beginning, my dad has always given us a free hand. We have been able to learn from our own choices and mistakes,” he smiles. 

“We don’t always agree,” Wiepke tells. “However, if we always agreed it would not be a family business, would it? If we have different views we always discuss and find a solution. Sometimes one is right, another time it’s someone else – and sometimes the solution lies in the middle.” 

Today, VDL Stud owns about 800 horses that live either at the VDL Stud in Bears or at the VDL facilities in Jorwerd, Deinum and Weidum that all in all cover 330 hectare of land. This year there are 98 mares in foal, approximately thirty of them are recipient mares carrying embryos. 

While the VDL Stud a few years ago was more restrictive with their embryo breeding, the number of recipient mares has grown considerably over the past few years. “We used to prefer the traditional way, but the embryo market is in considerable growth and we have followed that development,” Wiepke tells. “We do embryo breeding with some incredible mares: Derly Chin – the mother of Killer Queen VDM, Japatero VDM and Kontador VDM, Supardi – the mother of Apardi and Bacardi VDL as well Banda de Hus – mother of Farouk de Hus Z.

Photo © Hippo Foto - Dirk Caremans Fond memories: Wiepke van de Lageweg with Adrie Jespers and Jus de Pomme. Photo © Hippo Foto - Dirk Caremans.

In 2020, the VDL Stud has eighteen stallions at home in Bears and others are stationed around the world – spreading the legacy globally. “Our flagship stallions today are probably Arezzo, Carrera and Zirocco,” Wiepke tells. “For the next generation, I predict a lot of good offspring from Etoulon and Grand Slam.”

Keeping in touch with the sport and the trade is also something that is vital for Wiepke in his job, and a key factor in his success. “We have to know what we are breeding for,” he says. “That means we have to follow the sport closely and see first-hand what is changing. We always aim to be ahead, and make sure our breeding adapts to what the sport requires. A lot has changed over the years, and it has affected the way we breed: The course building is more delicate than it used to be, times allowed are getting shorter and jump-offs faster and faster. Hence, the horses need more brains and more blood. They have to be sharp and react quickly, at the same time as they also need to like to do their job. The exterior, in the terms of the looks of the horse, has become less important.”

“At the same time though, you also have to cater for an ever-growing amateur market. That requires a different type of horses. Whereas ten years ago, the average amateur was happy to jump 1.20-1.30m classes we today see that a lot of them want to jump 1.40m and even 1.50m. Then you need a special type of horse, one that senses where the poles are and maybe also has a bit of a sat-nav in the brain,” Wiepke laughs. “The horses for this market need to be really smart and have a lot of heart.”

These days, Wiepke also sees a challenge in finding grooms and riders that deliver a quality job when developing the young generation of horses. “It gets harder and harder to find really good people,” he sighs. “However, we are lucky to work with proper people locally in our area. We also have James Billington riding for us, a long-term partnership we are proud of. At the highest level, we have had years of success with Jur Vrieling and now also with Marlon Zanotelli as well as Angelica Augustsson Zanotelli.”

Photo © VDL Stud "Once a decision has been made, I believe in looking forwards!” Wiepke tells. Photo © VDL Stud.

Looking back at the last five decades, Wiepke has collected many fond memories. “It’s difficult to choose the most special moments,” he smiles. “Buying Nimmerdor to start with. Then the double Olympic gold in Atlanta in 1996 with Jus de Pomme, Bubalu jumping clear in Normandy when the Dutch team won the gold at the World Equestrian Games in 2014 and of course Zirocco Blue winning the team gold medal at the European Championships in 2015. Then, there are the everyday highlights: The foals that are born, and also selecting the young mares every year. Or even when we sell a horse, and it goes on to have success with the new owner.”

There have been hard times as well though. Upon arrival from the Olympic Games in Atlanta, Jus de Pomme got sick and died. “That was such a pity. He got lost too soon, and for all the wrong reasons. It was difficult, but I decided to look forward and move forward,” Wiepke says. 

Holding regrets is not something Wiepke does. “I don’t look back and regret things,” he says. “If we sell, we sell because that was something that we all agree on. Same with what we buy. Once a decision has been made, I believe in looking forwards!”

It’s been a busy life, and it still is – especially for a soon-to-be 75-year-old. However, Wiepke has no plans of slowing down anytime soon. “I like to be active, and I think this is something everyone in this family have in common. Keeping busy also makes me fit and sharp,” smiles the jubilant who recently made the trip to the States to be in Wellington for the VDL Stud’s auction hosted by the Winter Equestrian Festival. “Occasionally I will take a holiday with Jannie, but not for longer than a week!” he smiles. “I have no intention of slowing down or retire, as long as I am fit I will keep on doing the job.”

As for his big birthday that is coming up on March 22, Wiepke is planning on doing it his way. With the family. 

 

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