The most recent Z-Ranking revealed quite a striking list. Not in terms of horses, but riders. Koen Vereecke and his son Andres appear a stunning four times in the top ten. Koen ranks 2nd with Bonfois van ’t Hof v Eversen Z, a Bisquet Balou son which he also schooled himself. Andres takes 3rd place with Donna vd Windenweg Z (Diamant de Semilly x Indoctro). Koen also takes up the 5th position with Tibo vd Windeweg Z (Thunder vd Zuuthoeve) and Andres completes the top ten with Diadarco van Evendael Z (Diamant de Semilly).
It took him by surprise too, but he has an explanation for it: ‘We stayed the winter over in Oliva and collected good results there. I won seven classes, my father won five. What’s more, we often reached podium places.’
At the end of December Andres was elected ‘Talent of the Year’ and he represents the fifth generation of the Vereecke family to make a living with horses. Their equine history dates as far back as 1892.
It was quite evident that Andres would step in his father’s hoof prints. ‘That was an open-and-shut case from early on. My parents and both sets of grandparents are into horses. I have never seen anything else.’ ‘And I could hardly forbid Andres to do what I did myself as well’, Koen smiles, aged 52 and recently married to Karline De Brabander.
Andres: ‘I saw what kind of work my father did and wanted that for myself too, knowing full well that the horses always leave. I’ve never seen anything else, it was the same with my parents and both grandparents. Sometimes that can be quite annoying but I have always been aware of it. I had regrets about Castres vd Begijnakker Z (Coriano Z) though. He won the BC 4-year-olds and finished with a clean slate in the 5-year-olds. Because of my accident I couldn’t ride him in the 6-year-olds, in the 7-year-olds we won the Belgian Cup and came 2nd at the BC. He was sold just shortly before the WC in Zangersheide. Castres was the first horse I schooled entirely by myself right through to Silver at the BC.’
‘We are both equally ambitious in the sport, but you need to focus on your possibilities and means’, father Koen adds, who's also quick to admit that his horses stay on longer now for his son’s sport career: ‘Our model is a blueprint of the average sport stables: every rider always has to start all over again. Because at some point even your best horse will be too old for the sport. It’s a fact that selling horses like Jativia and Igor has enabled us to reinvest in young talent. We are now able to invest on a wider scale and can keep the horses for a longer time. We wouldn’t have achieved that if we hadn’t sold Jativia, who won the GP of Mechelen, and Igor who triumphed in the GP of Lièges.’
Looking at his recent results, is Koen already thinking about stopping? ‘I want to continue riding competitions for another ten years, but obviously it is more gratifying for me as a dad to see my son ride well. Initially I had Igor under saddle and I would have had a great time with him. But it gives me even more enjoyment to watch him jump a course with Andres. So yes, of course I take more of a backseat in favour of Andres and it doesn’t bother me to step a bit more into the background for him. I have won a lot with Diadarco van Evendael Z (Diamant de Semilly), who’s now just as successful with Andres in the saddle.’
‘As a rule we each have our own horses, although we occasionally swap’, we hear from Andres. ‘With Donna I am 3rd in the Z-Ranking, whereas that was and is my father’s horse. I took him over when he couldn’t ride because of back problems. Donna and Tibo were both bred by Luc Deknudt with whom we have been in a successful partnership for years. Luc is a dentist and hobby breeder. His son schools the horses, after that they come to us for the sport. Luc Deknudt is a very realistic breeder with a fair and unbiased outlook on the horse world. That is the basis for a very pleasant partnership. And yes, at some point those horses will be sold, but there is no time pressure.’
‘The 7-year-old Bonfois van’t Hof v Eversen Z came to us last year. The owner/breeder is Ronny Maes. Bonfois was schooled by a lady rider and the plan was to relocate him to our stables for the sport. In Spain he touched just one pole and in the other classes he was consistently in front. It may be a bit premature, but Bonfois is a horse that wouldn’t look amiss at the WC in Zangersheide. He always gives his best and makes everybody happy. The word selling has not cropped up yet, but you know how these things go. Who can predict the future? I would definitely love to see him jump at the WC’, Andres smiles, who himself is on a winning spree with Diadarco van Evendael Z who they bought after the death of his previous owner. What a horse! He never lets you down. At home he is lazy and doesn’t like working. But when he sees the arena he wakes up and is ready. And most of the time right in front during the prize-giving ceremony.
The fact that father and son collect so many victories, is that because of them or the horses? ‘Don’t you think that it has to be a combination of those two? We school sport horses and their speed in the courses is a crucial aspect of that education. They need to learn to go fast and react fast. Time limits become increasingly sharper and speed is the factor that makes you win.’
Or could it be the fact that these are Z horses? ‘Because they were bred to be more competitive? Perhaps, but that’s rather more of a coincidence. These horses can be found everywhere but fact is that we are very pleased with our Z horses. Success in the sport boosts motivation’, Andres wraps it up.