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Philippe Le Jeune realises his dreams

13 November 2018Author : Julien Counet

World champion in 2010 in Lexington, Philippe Le Jeune had never concealed that one of the secrets of his success in conditioning his stallion Vigo d'Arsouilles lay in a preparation enhanced by numerous walks by the sea. A few years later, Philippe fulfilled his dream, selling his property on the edge of Brussels and settling with his wife in Alveringem near La Panne. A return to his roots, since this was the region where he spent his childhood, but also a new turning point in his professional career for a rider who has now decided to spend more time training and conditioning the horses of other riders, putting his high-level rider career in brackets... even if the hope of returning next year in the race for the European Championships with Filou de Muze still sparkles in this competitor's eye.

Philippe Le Jeune with stallion Extra (Berlin)

At last, in the last few months you've had some very good horses come to train here. Was this the plan you had in minds as soon as you bought this place?

“Yes, that's what I've always wanted to do.”

It just took a little while to set up as you wanted?

“A year ago, we had a lot of horses, but above all horses injured by American riders and also one or two French horses that we got back on their feet, but these are horses that stayed 6-7 months in our country, because they were really horses with serious problems, especially tendons. We were still quite happy, because we put all the horses back into competition. There were two horses that we were told would never jump again, and now they are really healthy and they’re still jumping. Then, there was a little slump, because after that we did some work like you saw and we did some competitions, so there was a lot of work but it was always in my head because I know that it is something that is not done very much, in any case, not in Belgium. They do it quite well in France. But I also know, as I also have very expensive horses, that the problem is that it is not always easy for the rider to entrust his good horse somewhere without really knowing who will ride it. He's the stable darling, they pay attention to him, which is logical, so it took a little while for people to understand that it was really me and Lucia who were riding all the horses. We do this ourselves. It’s not grooms riding them, it is all my responsibility and I know what I am doing because I have been doing this for 35 years. I know where, when, how, what to do, how long to trot, how long to go in the water. I look at each horse separately, see how he is, and I know exactly what I can and cannot do, that's how it is.  We had a big break with Ludo Philippaerts, who sent me two of his horses. He had already entrusted us with Bisquet Balou last year and now there are five of them. Ludo is delighted, his horses will be in great shape. I must say that Ludo's horses are already horses in very good condition, they just needed a little break, but by doing that by the sea, the horses stay in great shape and do not lose their competition condition, but they get a change in their heads. The Philippaerts children will have horses that will again be full of energy, will want to compete and to work, while before they were a little tired, which is logical. They will find horses that are invigorated, that have not lost their conditions because precisely walking in the water, trotting, galloping on super good ground, not to turning around, not playing in the sandbox as I call it, they change completely, and moreover, it is in a group. Horses are herd animals. When you put them together, they are happy to be next to each other. We work with stallions and mares, and this is never a problem. It's always on my authorization, I supervise everything.”

For you, is having these very high-level horses from other riders a pleasure too?

“It's a great pleasure and a great source of pride! It shows that they trust me. I thank them very much for the trust they have in me because, once again, it is not easy to send your grand prix horse somewhere without knowing who will ride him, etc. That is why I do it myself because I thought it was irresponsible to send them to my grooms. I have good grooms, but I'm not going to put just anyone on the horses. Besides, I have two interns who help me with this but it's always under my authority and I'm still in charge of everything.”

For you it must be a job you think is seasonal or can it become a full-time job? 

“I think it can be done all year round. Now, I don't know how to take twenty horses because you saw it takes time. We load the horses, even if it's not far away. Obviously, in France, in Normandy, there are properties that are really on the beach. That's the best thing to do. But here, it's once again the old way with horses, as we did forty years ago, with saddles, straps in the van or truck: we put them in, and it’s fifteen minutes to get there. We drive gently.  The horses are then taken out, they are in the parking lot, they walk eighty meters and they are on the beach. There is no risk on the road. I mean, it's not that horses are going to meet trucks on the road, etc. So it's really good. The thing is, in the summer, you sometimes have to be there before 9:30. The problem is not that we have to get up early, but that we depend on the tide schedule.  So we almost always do this at low tide because that’s when the terrain is best. There is more space, the sea is calmer, and the terrain is great. But in summer when there is no low tide before 9:30 am, we don't know how to go there. From 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., we can't go there because there are tourists and it's for tourists and bathers. That's the only small issue. Now, otherwise, even in winter, I think it's very, very good. If it is very cold, we still go in the water, but we stay there shorter. We go 5-10 minutes then we go trotting and we warm up. In winter, they have an exercise rug on their back – you just have to cover them well, but the horses love it. We go out whatever the weather.”

Belgian team member Chilli Willi (Casall) with his home groom.

How do you see your own career?

“My career... For 2 - 3 years, I've been out of the circuit. All this wild card, paying to ride, to have contests, to buy VIP tables: it's not from my generation, and so I'm against it. Now, I believe that to win good competitions, it is necessary for the organizers to find money, but to go from there to making the professionals pay to do horse shows, I will not accept that.  Since Vigo made his farewells, I've never really found a star to keep me at that level again. There' was Muze's Filou, but Filou has had health issues since the age of nine. It's really bad luck, but all the time he’s had one problem after another. Now, he's on again. He's been back in competition for six months and he's starting to do top-level work again. But, well, he’s all I’ve got since the sale of Cadeau de Muze and, honestly, I don't care about two or three stars at all. I did the nicest thing for me in my own way. Motivating myself to go two-star is difficult and for the past two or three years I haven't had the motivation to do that. Everything always depends on the context, because I was given a lot of horses that were not ready, horses to prepare, it took a long time so I want to do it well and it takes two or three stars to change the horses, but then they are horses that are there to be sold, so there is no future.  As soon as they push their nose to a good level, they will be sold and I have no problem with that. It's part of the job, we all have to live and I also make a living doing that. But saying I'm super motivated to do all this is another story. I never aimed for the rankings but now I'm out of the top thousand. For me, anyway, ranking doesn't mean anything. I always thought so, it's personal. Now I respect those who say it's perfect, it’s not a problem, but I think we can show the last four world champions, including Miss Blum - she wasn't in the top 50... Nor was I, nor Jos Lansink, nor Jeroen Dubbeldam!  So, when you hear from the organizers and the FEI that it's only for the top 30 and the rest is not good enough… We have to prove our credentials, we have to pay to go to the competition. I find that absurd when the last four world champions were not even in the top 50 and we still beat all those fashionable riders in the top 30. I don't want to go away every weekend, to go to competitions, to have to take planes at 58! I don't have the money to do this, I don't have the horses, I don't have all the staff and I don't want to do all this. I moved here because it's my dream. I'm probably living my last dream. I have two wonderful granddaughters, I have two sons who are very important to me and I try to see them as much as I can. I have my wife, we are living fantastic moments: she has the same passion as me, and then I take what comes without holding back... For the moment, I have found my path, my way of life. I pay a lot of attention to very simple values and for the rest, I do a little breeding. I have a small breeding farm. I don’t claim to be a great breeder, but we have raised some good little horses and I am passionate about it. The two or three broodmares we have are the mares that Lucia has ridden at a very good level. Then I have Filou, I have offspring from Vigo, and that's it. We’re letting it grow and I'm passionate about riding my youngsters. I had a great season riding my four-, five-, and six-year-olds and I love it. I have done this all my life. People were a little like, "Ah, we have a lot of respect for you because you are still getting up on four-year-olds," but I say there’s no reason to respect me for it. I've always been riding four-year-olds, and five-year-olds. I just like it. "You shouldn't do it anymore." I don't see why. I'm not going to ride four-years-old who fall over a meter, let's be clear. I ride good horses, they're jumpers.  So yes, you can always hurt yourself, I fell this year and that happens, but I could fall off another horse too. Some of them fall at a meter sixty, so that's what happens (laughs). I mean risks are risks, but it's my life now. I really like teaching. I do internships from time to time, but not frequently because I get deeply involved in it and it tires me very much. I am unable to take money and say "Yes, it is good" when I find it is not good. I'm a perfectionist. I really like my job, I'm passionate as if I was 14 years old so I don't know how to pretend. I know I look like someone complicated or with character... I'm white, I'm black. When it's good I say "It's good" but I can't be asked to say it's good when it's not. It is not my nature and if people do not accept it, they should not come to my house.  I even say to myself when I ride like a jerk: "You’re riding like a jerk." And as soon as I ride well, I ride well. And then when I have a student and I think he has ridden badly, I say "Listen, you’ve ridden badly." And if he cannot accept that, he shouldn't be doing this sport.”

Horses van stal Philippaerts : Ikker (Ogano Sitte) and J'Adore van het Schaeck (Vagabond de la Pomme) as well as Karel Cox's young crack, Evert (Amadeus). 

Winner of Grand Prix 4* of Birmingham with Karel Cox going for first time to the sea with Lucia Le Jeune.  

Moving forward, are you waiting for the end of the work?

"There are many things moving forward, because there are many challenges and I have many things in my head. The immediate thing, yes, is to try as quickly as possible to get the work done and to make sure that we can have a really good winter here. Last winter, we rented stables here nearby, on the other side of the French border, and it was very good but, though we were fortunate to have this and I thank them because the facilities were great, we were not at home.  In a few weeks, we're going to have something that Lucia and I love. It was our plan, and we did as we wanted.  We designed everything ourselves. I've seen a lot of teams in my career, and I've taken bits and pieces of good ideas from everywhere. In particular, I copied a lot from Jos Lansink's way, the preparation boxes with 12 stalls on one side, the corridors because the horses are quiet, we must not tie the horses in the corridors in front of the boxes.  These are all things that are just as positive for my staff. They have everything within reach, they know how to take a look around when they are in the preparation room, they know how to see the walker, the paddock, the track, the round pen,... it's all of those little things that motivated me. Lucia agrees, we do this together. And the goal now is Lucia! For the past two years, she has been working a lot with a horse she bought called Cabalgaro, which is already quite well known now and is nine years old. He is still young at the top level but he passed the meter sixty mark in Gijon where he made a clear round in the Nations Cup and in the grand prix. As a result, she received the selection for the Verona World Cup from the Italian team leader, but with only one horse it's difficult. I have one, but I'm not one of the ones who's going to get a selection this year to go to the World Cup because there are at least six or seven Belgians who are well ahead of me, and rightly so. They deserve to get selected. But Filou has come back to a good level, he jumped with me the meter sixty without fault, etc.  So I decided to lend him to Lucia for the moment because I would rather this horse do five stars and a world cup than go and do two stars. Plus, I’ve done what I’ve done already, so it's no longer a necessity. But she still wants it and deserves it, because she is a great horsewoman and there aren’t many like her.  I rode the horses she rode at the highest level and I can tell you that what she did with these horses – there aren’t many that can do that!  So now, thanks to her work—and it is her merit—Cabalgaro has become a star. But with a horse again, you have a three-four day competition, there are the grand prix qualifications: he has to do everything so if I can give her Filou, they can share it and it can be better for both of them, and then she deserves to go with two horses like that to beautiful competitions. It allows me to accompany her, to follow her, to help her in training, in the competition... we have a good time and we live our passion together. It's really good. I'm glad she's riding my horse, so that's that. After next year, we'll see what I do. We will see where the Belgian teams stand, there are horses that will be sold, lame horses, horses that are finished... You know how fast it goes... Riding, sports, I know how it works, I have seen everything and everything is possible in the right way and in the wrong way.   One day, you can be without horses and the next day, you have three very expensive horses coming into your stable. You don't know why, but off you go. You get started and it’s full steam ahead. Look at Niel Bruynzeel, everyone has always laughed and said that he wasn't fast enough, that he was too slow, too this and too that... and then today, there is no faster rider. He has found two or three horses whose owners do not want to sell, and this is the springboard he started from, while before all his horses were sold... We depend on the horse. We also depend on the owner who says “No, I want to keep him, no I want to sell him,” and I am very aware of that. So, riding for owners yes, but for owners who trust me and let me do it my way because I know my thing - better than many people and if they don't want to, if they start being annoying like "I want him to do this or that," no way! I don't want to hear all this.  I prefer to ride my horses where I do what I want and that's it. And I have owners who trust me completely. In general, when the owners have trusted me it has always worked 100%, either in terms of result or they made a lot of money.  I don't need to have a big car. I'm happy with my Jeep, I'm happy with my old truck. We have a second-hand van, but the horses travel correctly. That's the most important thing. As for the rest, you saw me go to the beach - for me it was like winning a grand prix. I have the same feelings. I see happy horses coming back to the stables, relaxed and cool, happy with what we gave them because they give us a lot. Then, my little thing, my way with horses is to be able to give them what they gave me by giving them a little piece of nature. It's not sugar. Sugar is not what horses want.  What horses like is that when you're done, you take care of them, you put them in the paddock where they can be with a friend, where they lead a natural life. They can go for a walk, go in the water,... That's loving a horse. It's not putting four bandages on him, putting him in a box with sugar, and the next day putting him back on the lunge rein with training and spurs. We need that too, but we must not forget the rest.”  

AuthorJulien Counet