Christophe Vanderhasselt: focus on the high level!
The decision to say: "I'm not selling this one". Is that difficult?
C.V.: "It was difficult, we had a lot of meetings at home to discuss what to do."
Was that with everyone?
C.V.: "Yes, we decided with everyone: my sisters, brothers and parents. We said, ‘What are we going to do now?’ At first Yves kind of wanted to sell, but I said no because I wanted to a horse to compete. It was difficult because it was a lot of money, a life changing amount. We decided to do it with one or two horses... Maybe we'll still sell, you never know but for now, I want to compete, and these mares open doors for us, and we can still breed from them, and you never know..."
Is it difficult to make collegial and family decisions? Do you prefer having more say in the decision, or is it good having different opinions?
C.V.: "I like to listen to my brothers and sisters. They want us to be happy and be able to compete. It doesn't change anything for them; they said, ‘you do what you want’. Yves can also decide for himself. I too can decide if I sell or not, but I like competing. I said, ‘I don't want to wait 10 years, it’s now or never". That's why I'm still looking for other horses that are able to help Identity with the workload at the top level, because that's important. I’ve qualified to enter four five-stars, but I don’t have enough horses at the higher levels and that makes things difficult. That's why I'm looking for horses with owners wanting to maintain ownership, to develop a good team to compete at higher-levels."
Does that make you want to buy more young horses to try to get more to the top, or not especially?
C.V.: "We have enough young ones, that's not the problem. This year, we have eight foals due. This fall, twelve horses, the four- five- and six-year-old’s who were turned out after the season, were brought in. We have enough young ones, but we lack horses for the big competitions and because of that, it’s difficult to motivate sponsors and breeders etc."
Are you surprised that despite the results you’ve had, you’re not entrusted with more horses? Did you think you were going to be able to get horses more easily?
C.V.: "It's difficult because there are a lot of good riders; there are a lot of good horses, but there are not many high-level horses. So obviously it's a little difficult to find good horses for the higher levels."
Your top horses are quite different from each other, you have the big Caroline T. Z and the little Identity. Having trained so many horses, does that allow you to adapt easily?
C.V.: "I don't have a problem with that. Yesterday, I rode a 1.80m tall horse and the next day, a horse that was 1.64m tall. Yes, it’s experience, I think. I’ve ridden a lot of horses and I adapt very quickly."
Which do you prefer, the 1.80m or the 1.64m one?
C.V.: "A horse that wins a lot, I have no preference otherwise... I like Identity because she does everything for me, she wants to do everything right, she has the right mindset, she’s the ideal mount."
Did you immediately think that she could perform at that level?
C.V.: "She had the ability, but I don't think she had the strength because at first she jumped too high. At six or seven, it's not a big deal at those heights, but when she’s about 1.50m tall and jumps too high... she makes it harder on herself. After a while, she realized that she had to take it easy and now she understands what she has to do, everything is fine."
And what exactly do you do with the young horses when they do this? Is it stressful?
C.V.: "No. She has always given me clear rounds. In the beginning, she did the Five-year-old competitions with Yves I think, because I had Ultra top van't Paradijs at the time and I was competing in big competitions. I took over riding her at six and seven. And then, she won the Belgian Seven-year-old cup in Gesves; she has always had a lot of clear-round competitions."
Christophe with his first star, Ultra-Top van't Paradijs (Heartbreaker x Lys de Darmen) who is also a maternal brother of Thierry Rozzier Venezia de Ecaussines' star whose dam, Prima Donna van't Paradijs, is a sister of her brother Yves' star dam, Jeunesse... a whole family story!
What’s different about the Ultra Top era and when you sold those horses? What has made you decide not to sell this mare?
C.V.: "Ultra-Top was a gelding. Wariska was fine but Identity has more ability. That's why Wariska competed to 1.45m and sometimes 1.50m but that was her maximum. And I felt that that was the time; I had a very interested customer who wanted the horse and I thought, ‘Now’s the time to close the deal, to sell the horse."
When you say that Yves has ridden Identity a little, could he not have continued to ride her, and how did you each decide which horse to ride?
C.V.: "Wariska was really one of my horses and that's why I wanted to ride Wariska's offspring, Identity."
Christophe and the stallion Acardi du Houssoit (Artos Z x Carthago) regularly placed in Grand Prix before the grey was sold.
You wouldn’t keep any of Jeunesse’s offspring to ride?
C.V.: "Normally not, no. It’s up to him, maybe he’d say, ‘take the horse’ we'll see, things change, but that's the idea anyway."
So, you haven’t decided?
C.V.: "No, we haven't decided yet, it depends on the horses, but I think the goal is for Yves to be able to ride his mare’s offspring, and for me to ride my mare’s offspring. Yves also rode Gelah but I trained her, and he rode her last year, but I will continue riding her offspring as well as Identity’s and Pin-up’s as well. We still have a lot of their offspring and riders who will ride the young ones. I'm going to focus on horses for the top level. I really want to focus on that and try to improve as much as possible."
So, because of the fact that you don't have many ranked horses, were you happy to get some of the opportunities you did during the Summer, or is it frustrating seeing the Global circuit set up?
C.V.: "I’m glad that we had a lot of opportunities to compete in big competitions because there are a lot of them. For Yves and me, it was good, we got opportunities that we shouldn't have had and that's why we did the Nations Cup in Saint Gallen. I wanted to do Samorin and I did. I wasn't on the team, but that's it I think. We had the opportunity to ride at a lot of big competitions and we had good results. That's why they’re now giving us the chance to ride at competitions like Knokke, Stephex, Waregem, Ascona. Now it's easier for us to enter the big competitions. This winter, I was able to go to Helsinki, Oslo and Mechelen for the World Cup and Treffen. Before it wasn't possible: it's easier to compete now."
When you see all the fees you had to pay for the World Cup last year, do you understand that or, as someone who dreams of competing at that level, are all these closed doors sometimes a little disappointing?
C.V.: "I'd say that of everything I’ve wanted to do, I’ve gotten most of it. I'm not asking for things that are impossible either, I'm realistic enough to know what I can ride. I never ask for something I or my horses cannot do. I’m very realistic, I know what I can do and that's why everything I’ve asked for, I’ve almost always received it. I'm happy with it, I've never encountered anything where I said ‘Okay, now I can't do that’, not because there are a lot of competitions, there are enough so it's not a problem even if there are a lot of riders. For me, it's just getting the ranking that's a little difficult. Most of the riders who are ranked better than me have several leading horses. For us it's difficult to get back into the top 50 but it's going to be fine, we'll work on that. I'm ninety-ninth and I only have one mount, that's not bad."
Christophe and his star, Identity Vitseroel (Air Jordan x Darco) started the year off well with wins in the GP2* of Lier, the GP3* of Bonheiden, a 4th place in the GP4* of Hagen and three rankings in the three big races of the CSI**** of Grosse Vliegeln this weekend.
Do you expect your children to do the same thing as you?
C.V.: "My son has already competed twice. He's seven years old and just starting to ride, and he likes it. He is also doing the LRV club with his cousins, he’s having fun. He can do it if he wants, but he doesn't have to. My parents were the same, they always gave us the choice and I’ll do the same. I’d be very happy if he wants to ride and has the talent to do better than me. I hope so, but it's not mandatory."
So, are you training him or sending him elsewhere?
C.V.: "I’m doing what my father did. He's going to take lessons at the club. I gave him a lesson once at the LRV when the instructor was absent and the children were very happy but no, I'll leave him alone and we'll see. Maybe when he's twelve I'll train him, but for now he can play, have some fun and then we'll see how it goes..."
What should we wish you for the future?
C.V.: "Good competitions and good horses."