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Wilm Vermeir: “I don’t want to be the biggest in the business, I want to be a good rider”

Wednesday, 22 April 2020
Interview

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.
"Luckily, our sport is special: Now that I am in my forties, I still have a chance to go for the top sport", Wilm Vermeir says - here with King Kong d'Avifauna. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

 

Text © World of Showjumping by Nanna Nieminen

 


 

Wilm Vermeir's name often comes up when the talk turns to producing horses for the highest level. World of Showjumping sat down with the 41-year-old Belgian, who has been involved in bringing horses like Toulon (Heartbreaker x Jokinal De Bornival), Bernadien van Westuur (Toulon x Wibramino), First Class van Eeckelghem (Balou du Rouet x Feinschnitt I van de Richter), Gancia de Muze (Malito de Reve x Nimmerdor) and Dalila de la Pomme (Taran de la Pomme x Diamant de Semilly) to the top of the sport.

Based near Lummen in Belgium, Vermeir runs his own business and now, after nine years of hard work, things are starting to fall into place. “At the moment, I have 23 boxes and we five people working for us,” he tells. “And most importantly, the horses we have right now are really good ones. Finally, I have come to the point of having a strong string of horses.”

Before setting out on his own, Vermeir worked for Luc Tillemans and Joris de Wachter. “They have really been behind me, and what they taught me is invaluable for me now,” Vermeir says. “However, when I was working for them, all the really good horses were always sold when they were around 8-years-old. Now I have a different sort of situation and can keep the horses longer. Luckily, our sport is special: Now that I am in my forties, I still have a chance to go for the top sport. If I was a footballer, my time would have passed already,” Vermeir smiles.

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping
"You have to know that you are spending your time on the right ones; and finding the right horse can be difficult," Vermeir says. Here he is riding Gancia de Muze, now one of the best horses in the world. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

The 12-year-old Iq van het Steentje (Toulon x Kannan) and the 11-year-old DM Jacqmotte (Toulon x Indoctro) are two of Vermeir’s best horses at the moment – and both are owned by family members, giving Vermeir security in knowing he won’t be losing them any time soon. “Reaching this point was really difficult though,” Vermeir admits. “As a family, we have decided that Jacq won’t be sold. I am still learning, I am just getting there,” Vermeir continues about his sportive goals. “And to reach the top of the sport, we have made the decision to keep some of the horses.”

When he first started on his own, getting the ride on some very promising youngsters gave Vermeir’s new business a push in the right direction. “Four months before I started on my own, I had a talk with the owner of First Class van Eeckelghem. Even though he got really good offers at the time, he decided he would not sell and brought the horse for me to ride as a 6-year-old. First Class was really special in his mind; some days he was really spooky. Nevertheless, he jumped until the roof – and he did it so easy,” Vermeir tells about the gelding that went on to be Daniel Deusser’s Olympic ride in Rio de Janeiro 2016, where Germany won team bronze.

Gancia de Muze, who has recorded countless five-star Grand Prix victories with Belgium’s Niels Bruynseels, is another horse that Vermeir has played a vital role in producing. “I am proud to be a small part of Gancia’s incredible story”, he tells. “When I had her as a young horse, she was very green to her age. But as a rider, when I sat on her, I knew that when she went in the ring she would not touch the poles – and she was unbelievably fast. The way she is now, she has been from the start. You did not need to teach her to jump.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping
Finally, I have come to the point of having a strong string of horses," Vermeir says – here with DM Jacqmotte. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Dalila de la Pomme, now ridden by Sweden’s Evelina Tovek, is another horse that Vermeir produced. With Tovek in the saddle, Dalila contributed to Sweden’s victory in the Mercedes Benz Nations Cup at CHIO5* Aachen last summer. “Dalila is a very good horse, but the first eight months I gave her to my rider. Before she came to my place, her owner had taken some embryos from her and she was not in the best mood,” Vermeir recalls. “Dalila is the opposite of Gancia and First Class. If I would put my daughter on her back, I could trust Dalila to take care of her.”

“I still have Gentiana de la Pomme (Shindler De Muze x Diamant de Semilly), a half-sister to Dalila,” Vermeir continues. “She is not as scopey as Dalila is, but she is a winner at 1.45-1.50m level. At the moment I have many horses, about ten of them are for me to ride. We own about a half of them ourselves, and for the rest we try to always have a 50/50 ownership,” he says.

“It is very important, but it is really difficult to find people who like to do it,” Vermeir answers when asked about the years of work put into producing top horses. “I think it is a nice job. It is something I really enjoy doing, but to take that time – it is hard. You have to know that you are spending your time on the right ones; and finding the right horse can be difficult. It really is a long way to the top.”

Nevertheless, this is exactly where Vermeir thinks his strength lies – in his ability to recognize a good horse. “I am convinced that it is my strongest point; to find a good horse,” Vermeir says. “For myself, I need a horse with a lot of blood,” he explains about the qualities he looks for. “When it comes to their breeding, I think the mother-line is important. I like big horses with long legs, and in their jump I always look at the shoulders – they should jump with their shoulders up. I don’t need them to be flashy behind, they need to be sharp in front.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping
“Whenever I go to a show, I hope the best horses and riders will be there so that I can compete with them,” Vermeir says. Here riding IQ van het Steentje. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Ranked 81st on the Longines Ranking – his personal highest ever – Vermeir is aware of the importance of the ranking when it comes to invitations. “I am just inside the Top 100, which is only important as it gives you more control over which shows you can get into. It makes it easier to plan your schedule as a rider. However, I don’t think the ranking is perfectly relevant.”

“Whenever I go to a show, I hope the best horses and riders will be there so that I can compete with them,” Vermeir continues. “For example, considering the new Olympic format I am nowhere near to be selected to go for Belgium. Still I wonder, would it even be nice to go? It seems that the best horses and riders in the world won’t necessarily even be there,” Vermeir reflects.

As to 2020, Vermeir is hoping that the current situation settles down soon. “Like last year, I am a part of a Global Champions League team and after an unlucky beginning to 2019 with my top horse being injured I was hoping for a better start this time around. I hope that we still get to do a good season,” he says.

Riding on the GCL circuit with some of the best horses and riders in the world has given Vermeir a new perspective. “Harrie Smolders put it nicely, he told me that now that I can go to the bigger shows, I can finally compare myself to the top riders – who are at the level I want to be at one day. Because, I don’t want to be the biggest in business, I want to be a good rider.”

 

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