Christophe Vanderhasselt: focus on the high level!
Second part of our meeting with Christophe Vanderhasselt for whom 2019 is off to a flying start with victories in the GP2* of Lier, the GP3* of Bonheiden, a 4th place in the GP4* of Hagen and three rankings in the three big events of the CSI4* of Grosse Vliegeln this weekend.
Have you ever thought of succeeding your father in the transport companies or were you only interested in the horses?
C.V.: "I was only interested in the horses. I've never worked in transport or anything. I wanted to work with horses."
Caroline T Z (Contendro I x Diamant de Sémilly x Starter) is part of Christophes' Grand Prix horses
So, when did you tell your parents that you wanted to be a professional rider?
C.V.: "I went to Bilzen School, I don't know what age it starts, 14, I think. I was there for four years and I then did an internship with Van Paesschen, René and Stany. I did my internship there, then worked for René for three more years riding his young horses including Mister T. I won the Belgian Championship with Mister T, then I went to Lanaken and came second in the Seven-Year-Old World Championship with Idem d'Azur, between Jos Lansink who was first with Caretano Z and third with Ramonus Z. At the age of 21, I won two three-star Grand Prix’s in Sicily, in Palermo and Catania, two weeks in a row. I had a good time at the Van Paesschen’s."
Afterwards, did you want to settle down at home or did you want to continue on and see other places?
C.V.: "I was asked to ride for many other stables: Zangersheide, Axel Verlooy’s... but my father told me ‘you have to think about what you want to do, either you ride for other stables, or you build your own stable.’ So, then we decided to build my stable and at 21 years old, I went out on my own."
That's a lot of responsibility at 21 years old, you leapt into it...
C.V.: "Obviously, but my father was always there. I wasn’t alone, but yes, in a way, we had to start from scratch. I won three-star Grand Prix’s at 21 years old, but then having to start over again with young horses, it takes a little while before you have good horses for the higher levels."
When you started your team, was it the high level sport that interested you, or the training of young horses? Do you aim for a certain level of profitability?
C.V.: "We didn't have the budget to say ‘we're going to buy trained horses’ so we started with young horses. We bought good young horses and trained them until they were at a good level and then we agreed to keep the very good horses and sell the others when they were a little older. That was our goal, we had to consider selling, to grow the stable. You have to sell, or you can’t go on... You cannot make a living from competing alone."
Is trade something you didn't know about at the time? Is it something you’re passionate about, or did you do it because you had to?
C.V.: "I, personally, like to keep my horses to compete, I'm not really a trader, but we know how to sell good horses. You don't have to be a salesman. Good horses or horses with good results always sell. One phone call and they’re gone, it’s easy. I like competing, but I know that we have to sell sometimes."
So, once you settled here, did you continue to train with different people?
C.V.: "Yes, Stany continued to monitor me for a while, as well as Torben Suhr and Patrick Vanderheyde. There’s always someone next to me. I think it’s necessary. Now, from time to time when I have a question, Yves is there too; we know how to work together."
Exactly, with four equestrian brothers, even if you’re all at very different levels - do you help each other, or is there competition between all of you?
C.V.: "On course, there’s always competition: I want to win, and they want to win. But when I make a mistake, I prefer to see one of my brothers win, of course. But on course, we're competitors, even if we all get along."
At family gatherings, do you talk about anything other than horses?
C.V.: "Yes, quite a lot. We obviously talk about horses, but no, we talk about a little bit of everything, not just horses."
Did breeding come after that or was Dad already passionate about breeding?
C.V.: "My father is really passionate but, in the beginning, he was breeding horses that weren’t good enough. We have a lot of good horses now, so we thought ‘Okay, we’ll breed good mares to good stallions and see what happens’. The first one is Identity (Vitseroel) of course, that's motivating when you get a mare like that, you want to continue breeding good sport horses."
Do you regret not doing it sooner?
C.V.: "In hindsight maybe, but it was the beginning of embryo transfer. At the time, they said it wasn’t good for the mare, that the back became weaker. At first, I was a little worried because I wanted to compete first and foremost. Now, I'm happy that I’m able to count on Identity, especially as you never know what she's going to produce. We’ve also sold another of Wariska de la Falize’s offspring to Mexico, but I haven't heard anything, so I don't think it's going to be of the same quality as Identity."
Who put the pressure on to get a Wariksa embryo?
C.V.: "It was my father who said okay, let's do it! She was having a break and had just come into heat and he said, ‘Okay, now’s the time’. We agreed, my mother didn't... She didn't know about it until we told her afterwards (laughs). That's the way we do it with sport horses now. We still do embryo transfer to get good horses."
Does it also makes it possible to keep mares a little longer when you have a mare like Identity who produces good progeny, you're not in too much of a hurry to sell her because you know she’ll also give you foals, or does that not count at all?
C.V.: "No, you never know what the quality of the foals will be like. We have two out of Identity, they look good, but we don't know if they will be of the same quality. We decided to keep Jeunesse and Identity to compete and not sell them straight away. Yves can decide for himself, Jeunesse is in his stables, he can decide if he wants to sell her or not. I decided to keep them even though there’s still a lot of interest in both horses. We think we'd be crazy not to take them all the way and we've decided that for other horses as well, they open doors to competitions, we can ride the "five-star shows" without a problem. With Identity, I made it to three five-stars, I was ranked three times: in Knokke, Ascona and Brussels. It's great for us and for my parents too: they see that we know how to compete at the highest level. Riders like the Philippaerts etc... it’s easier for them; I have to train my horses from the beginning, but they only ride six- and seven-year-old’s. We start with the three- to four-year-old’s and it takes time. We’ve always had good horses but now we have two great horses."