Leopold van Asten is heading to Omaha on a hot steak, having just picked up his biggest win to date in the €375,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI5* at Indoor Brabant with VDL Groep Zidane N.O.P. Van Asten dazzled the crowd with a blazing jump off to best the star-studded field and now hopes to do the same across the pond in America.
For van Asten, the trajectory to a professional show jumping career started early. He began riding at 5-years-old and by 12 was a regular at the European Championships for ponies, competing 3 successive years. As a junior, he got the ride on Candeleria from Henk Nooren, a relationship that would prove pivotal. Not only did he win the Dutch Championships and place 9th in the Europeans with the mare, he now had the eye of one of Europe’s top horsemen in Nooren.
When Candeleria was sold, van Asten was given a horse by another top Dutch horseman, Johan Heins and placed 5th in the Junior European Championships. The pieces continued to fall in place from there. “From the moment I made the step from the ponies and got horses to ride from big horsemen in Holland like Nooren and Heins, I was sure I wanted to continue in show jumping,” says van Asten.
At 19 he was offered a job by Nooren and remained with the Dutch master for 4.5 years. “I learned a lot not just about riding, but about everything that has to do with horse care, business, and managing a stable,” said van Asten of his time with Nooren.
As van Asten continued competing Nooren’s sales horses at top shows in Europe, Wim van der Leegte, owner of the VDL Groep, was constructing his own top-of-the-line equestrian facility, Stoeterij Duyselshof. Having noted van Asten’s talent, van der Leegte took the bold step of bringing on a relatively inexperienced rider in van Asten to take the reins at Stoeterij Duyselshof.
“You have to be a bit lucky in those situations,” said van Asten of van der Leegte’s offer to join the stable, “They had two options: start with an experienced rider that is high in ranking or to start with a younger rider from zero and luckily he chose the last option.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Van Asten has remained with Stoeterij Duyselshof for the past 16 years, winning two Dutch championships, Global Champions Tour events in Estoril and Valkenswaard, and competing in the 2004 Athens Olympics. Stoeterij Duyselshof’s breeding program continuously produces impressive equine athletes, the best of which van Asten has the honor of piloting to the top of the sport.
The proximity of the breeding operation, young horse development center, and van Asten’s show barn is an advantage. “Most of the mares I ‘ve ridden myself,” says van Asten of the breeding operation, “I know their characters and then recognize a lot of the mother’s personality when their offspring come to me for riding. Another big advantage is that you know exactly what has happened to these horses because they all were built up and trained here – I know they had a fair education and exactly what I have in the horse.”
When it comes to developing horses, van Asten approaches each with an open mind. “Every horse is different and has a different character,” says van Asten, “I find it very important to leave the horse the horse and to deal with their character by moving everything in the right direction without putting the horse in a ‘system.’ I prefer to adjust to the horses, how they’re comfortable and happy and leave them in their way.”
One of the horses that began in competition and then continued on as a broodmare in retirement is VDL Groep Think Twice, which van Asten considers one of his first great horses. “She was a very nice mare with a super character and always very competitive. She gave everything to do well.” Also in that category is VDL Groep Fleche Rouge with whom van Asten competed in the Athens Olympics where the Dutch team finished 4th.
After a bit of a dry spell, during which van Asten spent a lot of time developing up- and-comers, he now boasts a stable of stars, including VDL Groep Beauty and the 10-year-old VDL Groep Miss Untouchable, who van Asten predicts will be a superstar. Also on that list is VDL Groep C Tara Z, bred by Stoeterij Duyselshof from the mare Comtessa, or VDL Groep Spiritivo, the oldest offspring of VDL Groep Think Twice. The horse with which van Asten won at Indoor Brabant last week, the 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood VDL Groep Zidane N.O.P., will be van Asten’s partner for the final in Omaha.
2017 is set to be a big year for van Asten. Starting with Omaha and then on to the Global Champions Tour, van Asten plans include making the Dutch team for the European Championships in Gothenburg this August. With his string of talented horses and recent big wins, we may see van Asten on more than a few podiums this year.
By Ashley Fairfield-Remeza