Jeroen Dubbeldam: profile of a champion

Jeroen Dubbeldam and Zenith SFN at the 2014 World Equestrian Games
Credit : Scoopdyga

Wednesday 27 February - 16h35 | Yeelen Ravier (translation: Ian Clayton)

Jeroen Dubbeldam: profile of a champion

Crowned Individual European Champion on August 23, 2015 in Aachen, where he became the second rider in history to win the three biggest international titles in show jumping, Jeroen Dubbeldam has reached the status of icon in equestrian sports. A peerless technician, renowned trainer, and conscientious and meticulous rider who values medals and his national team over lucrative competition circuits, the Dutchman has built an exemplary career.

 - Jeroen Dubbeldam: profile of a champion

With Zenith at the FEI European Championships in Aachen in 2015
Credit : Scoopdyga

Born on April 15, 1973 in Zwolle, a town 100 kilometres east of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, Jeroen Dubbeldam took his first steps surrounded by horses, as his father Luit Dubbeldam was the manager of an equestrian centre and a modest horse dealer. A pony rider from an early age, the young Jeroen also speed-skated and played tennis and football. Indeed, the child dreamed of becoming a striker for the national team. Around the age of 13, however, the boy – following in the footsteps of his younger sister who had already had some success as a rider – started applying himself more seriously to equestrian sports, and quickly became addicted to the rush he felt at show jumping competitions. In 1989, at the age of 16, he took part in his first European Youth Championships in Nuenen, a Dutch town about an hour and a half south of his birthplace. Riding Black Diamond, he finished the Games with a Team bronze medal – a feat he would repeat the following year in Berlin with Farnessa (KWPN, Farn x Kristal).

It was also at the age of 17 that Jeroen left his beloved Netherlands for northern Switzerland to train at the stables of the late, great Swiss rider Willi Melliger, a friend of the family. After learning the ins and outs of the profession as well as the functioning of a 5* stable, the young Dutchman moved next door to the facilities of Gerhard Etter, an experienced former rider and well-known horse dealer. It was Etter who entrusted the young rider with Killarney (ISH, Leabeg), a chestnut gelding with whom Dubbeldam captured his firstIndividual gold medal (along with a Team bronze) in 1994 atthe European Championships for Young Riders in Millstreet, Ireland – notably finishing ahead of Marcus Ehning and Christian Ahlmann. After some inconclusive try-outs with Manfred Birchler and Hans Liebherr, and a brief return home to his parents,the now 22-year-old athlete set up his own operation in 1995 in Weerselo, 70 kilometres from his hometown.

Discovering De Sjiem

Discovering De Sjiem - Jeroen Dubbeldam: profile of a champion

Dubbeldam and De Sjiem at the 2002 World Equestrian Games in Spain
Credit : Scoopdyga

​It was in this same region that Dubbeldam came across De Sjiem (KWPN, Aram x Wahtamin), the first great horse of his career. “That was in December, 1995, at a local competition,” he recalls. “De Sjiem was six years old. I was with my ex-father-in-law [Bennie Holtkamp – ed.] who wanted to buy me a horse. I remember him saying, ‘Look at how this grey jumps!’. De Sjiem was wild, but he jumped well. We tried him out in January, 1996 and bought him straight away. I knew he was able to jump any obstacle, but it took us time.” Starting in 1998,the impetuous mount began making a real impression, notably helping the rider win his first CSIO5* Nations Cup, on home soil in Rotterdam. Increasingly consistent,the duo competed that same year at the World Equestrian Games in Rome, finishing 18th in the Individual event and sixth in the Team competition. Two years later, after a Team bronze at the Europeans in Hickstead, the two partners were crowned Olympic champions atthe punishing Sydney Games, just ahead of Dutch teammates Albert Voorn and Lando (DWS, Lancier x Raimondo). 

Dubbeldam and De Sjiem subsequently competed in the European Championships in Arnhem in 2001 and World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Jerez de la Frontera a year later. The latter event would prove to be a disappointing one for the rider, however, as the pair just missed out on the horse rotation final. “I had a sort of blackout,” he recalls with characteristic emotion. “De Sjiem was in great form. Unfortunately, I completely messed up one of my lines afterforgetting the distance. As a result, I had to turn around… I was really angry with myself as my horse had been perfect. Up until the WEG in Caen [France, in 2014 – ed.], I never forgave myself for that error.”

In 2004, De Sjiem was injured and gave up competing, replaced by Nassau (KWPN, Indoctro x Sovereign Bill) and Up And Down (BWP, Ohio van de Padenborre x Chin Chin), supplied by BMC, a Swiss bicycle brand which sponsored Jeroen Dubbeldam for several years. With the former horse, the Dutchman won a bronze medal atthe European Championships in San Patrignano, Italy in 2005, before finishing 11th with the latter mount at the World Equestrian Games in Aachen the following year. Still,the rider kept a low profile on the international stage, enjoying time with his three children (Rick, Chris and Nina, born in 1998, 2001 and 2003 respectively). After divorcing his wife, he began a new relationship with Annelies Vorsselmans, a former rider at the Eurocommerce stables alongside his friend Gerco Schröder. Indeed, Dubbeldam has always tried to preserve his family life despite the heavy demands of his profession. Describing the birth of his first child, he recalls “one of the most beautiful days in my life,” adding: “Becoming a father was very important for me.” In addition, the 40-something works behind the scenes with several charities close to his heart. Part II to follow.

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