At the start of the 2016 season, Sleepy P Ranch brought Jeroen Dubbeldam on board as coach to Sleepy P’s rising international riders, Wilton Porter and his younger brother Lucas.
Jeroen is a double-European and double-World Equestrian Games Champion and is based out of his Stal de Sjiems in the Netherlands. After the Winter Equestrian Festival at the start of the season, Wilton and Lucas relocated to Europe, where they have continued to train with Jeroen while competing on the CSI3* circuit.
The year has culminated with Wilton finishing in third place with his relatively new mount Caletto Cabana in the grand prix at Jumping Indoor Maastricht CSI3* this past weekend.
Here’s exactly what Wilton has learned from the Dutch rider, known to specialize in championships:
1. Show jumping is a marathon, not a sprint: Jeroen taught me to be patient with my horses. Winning every class is not the ultimate goal; winning the biggest grand prix is. Sometimes it’s necessary to sacrifice flying around a speed class on Friday for a clear round on Sunday.
2. It’s all about that base: Not to be confused with the Meghan Trainor song! According to Jeroen, the base of the horse is its fundamental training or balance. A good base allows a horse to be manageable over a large, technical course. At the top level, even the trickiest horses have a base that their riders established. In all aspects of our training, we are working to establish a strong base.
3. Flatwork cannot be stressed enough: Flatwork is the primary way to establish the base of a horse. In my opinion, Jeroen’s proficiency on the flat is largely what makes him such an incredible rider. He’s patient and correct in his flatwork, and it pays off over fences. Teaching by example, he’s shown my brother and me that good flatwork produces consistency at competitions.
While the ultimate goal is to make clear rounds effortless and smooth, training on the flat may not always look or feel effortless. Jeroen has taught me that getting through what he calls “the points,” or difficult moments with the horse, is one of the most important jobs of the rider. I remember a clinic with George Morris where he said something along the lines of “tough love” as a necessity in horsemanship. This is the same thing. Getting through these points does not mean being overly harsh or unfair with the horses; rather, riding patiently, committed to achieving good flatwork.
4. It’s not a competition of strength: Jeroen taught me that becoming physically stronger is not necessarily going to yield more results. Strength isn’t what makes a horse respond; proper technique is. He points out that the riders at the highest level are not always physically stronger, but they understand how to effectively communicate with their hand, leg, and seat. That said, fitness of both the horse and rider are obviously emphasized in Jeroen’s program. Aside from riding, I exercise consistently and work especially on cardio.
5. The most important jump schools happen over small fences: At home, we hardly ever jump above 1.20m. In Jeroen’s program, the emphasis is on forming a correct jump with the horse. This means having the horse responding to your leg, seat, and hand so that the jumps are smooth and consistent. The jumps at home don’t need to be big in order to do this.
6. Very few horses can have a steady “diet” of only big Grand Prix: In Jeroen’s program, we typically ramp up to big shows with our horses. Especially with less experienced horses, it’s very important to maintain their trust and confidence by moving up and down in height. Jeroen has taught us that, in the long run, this extends the horses’ careers.
7. Move up slowly: This mostly applies to our younger horses. In Jeroen’s words, “Too early a step forward can lead to two steps back.” He has taught my brother and me to be very conservative with our youngsters. He emphasizes confidence, not height. Jeroen always points out that there is plenty of time to jump bigger courses in the future.
8. A bad system is better than no system at all: This was one of the first things Jeroen told me when we arrived to Europe. Having some sort of routine or plan at home with the horses, even if it isn’t the best, is better than having no plan at all. Week to week, a training regimen should be planned out. This organization will not only help the horse, but also the rider’s peace of mind.
9. Good results are a product of hard work at home: On a competition week here in Europe, we spend Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday training hard at home for the show. Whether working on correct flatwork or jumping small fences, Jeroen has taught us the importance of these training days. We don’t take them lightly, and it pays off at the show. My brother and I joke that the competitions are the easy part in Jeroen’s program!
10. Show jumping is a sport, and it will never be perfect: Things don’t always go as planned in the show ring, and Jeroen emphasizes that its O.K. In this crazy sport, there will probably be more lows than highs. What better example to mention than the devastating time fault Jeroen had in the Rio Olympics? Just a fraction over the time allowed, Jeroen’s chances of winning an individual medal were gone. But, like the champion that he is, Jeroen acknowledged that it is a sport and can happen. We went to a show the following week. Jeroen, through his example, taught me never to be too hard on myself.