Dutch double-Olympians, 29-year-old Maikel van der Vleuten and his trusty 15-year-old gelding VDL Groep Verdi, won today’s nail-biting third leg of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2017/2018 Western European League in Verona, Italy. With pin-point accuracy they raced into the lead when third-last to go in the 11-horse jump-off, and their time of 35.91 seconds couldn’t be bettered despite a brave attempt by Italian runner-up Alberto Zorzi (28) with Fair Light van T Heike while Belgium’s Pieter Devos (31) and Apart finished third.

Zorzi however had a big smile on his face when he learned that today’s result has raised him to the top of the League table ahead of the fourth leg of the series in Lyon, France next week.

Course designer, Italy’s Uliano Vezzani, left them with only one option in today’s final round, a fast and furious run that would test courage, balance and commitment. And when it came down to it the dynamic Dutch duo had it all. Verdi is a big, tall stallion but van der Vleuten knew he could trust him every inch of the way.  

“He doesn’t change, he is the same every day, in rain or sunshine and no matter where he is. He is very special, and most of all he is very honest!”, the Dutchman said.

There were four Italian contenders in the final round so the crowd were on the edge of their seats. But 23-year-old rising star, Luigi Polesello with Panama Tame and Emilio Bicocchi and Sassicaia Ares both had two fences down, and although Lorenzo de Luca was clear with Halifax van het Kluizebos his time of 38.00 seconds was only fast enough for fourth place. 

Van der Vleuten has had Verdi since he was a four-year-old, and the bond between them is key to their success. “He is a horse that likes to win and that’s very important. If you are a good rider and you have a horse that is not able or doesn’t want to win, then it’s just not possible. Every week I try to feel how he is, I don’t need to teach him jumping anymore, he knows his job and what’s most important for me is that he has to be happy!”

Result: 1, VDL Verdi (Maikel van der Vleuten) NED 0/0 35.91; 2, Fair Light van T Heike (Alberto Zorzi) ITA 0/0 36.17; 3, Apart (Pieter Devos) BEL 0/0 37.03.

Full result here

Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2017/2018 Western European League - Standings after Round 3 in Verona (ITA):

1. Alberto Zorzi ITA - 25

2. Kevin Staut FRA - 24

3. Maikel van der Vleuten NED - 23

4. Daniel Deusser GER - 20

4. Jur Vrieling NED - 20

6. Robert Whitaker GBR - 18

7. Henrik von Eckermann SWE - 17

8. Edwina Tops-Alexander AUS - 15

8. Marlon Modolo Zanotelli BRA - 15

8. Pieter Devos BEL - 15


Maikel van der Vleuten NED (1ST): “It’s alway nice if there are some colleagues, like at this show here is Marc Houtzager also from The Netherlands, and he was there to help me and we could speak a little bit about the best lines to take, so he gave me the idea to go one stride less from fence one to two which worked very well. But of course the horse has to be in the right form and the right shape, and it was like that today so today was my day!”

Maikel van der Vleuten NED (1ST): I started with Verdi as a young horse, it took us quite a long time to get the right control and to get him stronger and everything and now he is so fast in a jump-off. It’s just the experience they need to get through the years, just to keep doing it every time and this is a horse that wants to do it very well, and he still wants to learn. He also likes to win and that’s very important but he also has to be happy, not every day training in the same outdoor, I try to change the work, sometimes to go outside to the woods and I use the canter track, he is more happy to train over there.

There are things to think about, for example four weeks ago in Rome I could feel he was a little bored. After the show in Calgary maybe it was a little bit too much for him so the last four weeks I got busy with making him happy and good again, and it worked out very well. He was playing with the jumps again and feeling good, and then the result comes as well!”

 Fei press release by Louise Parkes

image: Maikel van der Vleuten and his trusty stallion VDL Verdi gave a masterclass in speed jumping to win today’s Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2017/2018 Western European League leg in Verona, Italy. (FEI/Massimo Argenziano)