Dutch dressage rider Dinja van Liere was introduced to horses when visisting the sponsor of her brother, who was into motocross and whose two daughters were passionate about equestrian sports. “That’s where I fell in love with horses,” the rider says. Since then, Van Liere has achieved numerous accomplishments, including winning bronze at the World Championships in Denmark and various medals at the World Championships for Young Dressage Horses. She has claimed the top step of the podium during the Nations Cup competitions in Rotterdam (twice) and Aachen, and has also secured champion titles at the Dutch National Championships in various levels.
Her love for horses was soon shared with her grandfather. He bought Dinja’s first riding lessons at the equestrian centre and also her first pony. “My grandfather has always been my biggest sponsor. My grandmother passed away at a young age, and he started focusing entirely on me after her death.” From that moment on, Dinja’s grandfather always accompanied her to the horses. As her first ‘sponsor’, he deserved a special place on her first horse truck. That truck has now been upgraded to a Roelofsen truck, which she praises for its quality: “The quality of a truck is very important. When you transport horses, it is crucial that if, for example, a horse kicks, it remains intact. Roelofsen trucks are built very strong, and their quality is impeccable. They can withstand quite a bit, which is essential when it comes to horses.” Additionally, she appreciates the extras that her Roelofsen vehicle offers. Many additional features have been designed to make daily use easier, such as hooks for hanging feed buckets, drains in the floor for water drainage during cleaning, a stool attached to the door, and a small mirror. These are details that show a lot of thought and are incredibly clever and useful. That’s why their slogan, ‘eye for detail is a sign of victory’ is so special and catchy. It’s very fitting!”
Developing from a young age
Dinja mastered the skill of working with various horses early in her career. “Actually, from a young age, all I wanted to do was ride, ride, ride,” she says. When she was younger, the equestrian actually enjoyed jumping the most, but because she couldn’t handle her pony yet, she had to focus on dressage first. “After a while, I got so good at it that I also found it very enjoyable,” she comments. “Especially when I was younger, I was never afraid of anything. I always enjoyed riding other people’s horses, for example, if a pony misbehaved and a child was too scared to ride it, or if someone didn’t have time for a day, I would always ride the pony. I immediately loved it, and at that point, I thought, ‘I want to make a profession out of this because it’s the most fun thing to do.’”
Until she was 20, the Dutch rider primarily competed at a regional level, and when she later started at Hexagon Stables, things progressed “very quickly”. There, she got the opportunity to ride horses that had already competed in Grand Prix or that knew the high-level exercises. Currently, Dinja rides about ten horses a day at various levels. She appreciates the variety that offers her. “I think it’s important that when you train and educate a horse yourself, you are so attuned to each other that you notice things become much easier. I really enjoy being able to train horses from a young age.”
In her training, the dressage rider believes in a playful approach: “Especially when you start at a young age, that’s important,” Van Liere begins. “A young horse is able to pick things up quickly, you won’t have to repeat new exercises a hundred thousand times. You casually and easily introduce something, and you don’t have to keep dwelling on it. It allows you to create space to let something rest for a while. I think it’s very important for them to learn everything playfully and manageably, so you don’t have to put a lot of pressure on the horse.”
Duval’s Capri Sonne Jr.
In 2012, Dinja won a prize that has always stood out for her: with Duval’s Capri Sonne Jr., she secured a bronze medal at the World Championships for Young Dressage Horses in Verden (Germany). “I felt like the luckiest girl on earth for just being able to participate – we came from nothing. I would have been happy even if we had finished last, and then suddenly we won a bronze medal!” Van Liere recalls proudly. “I went there with no expectations whatsoever, even without a trainer because Laurens had to go to London to cover an event. I really had zero expectations, and Capri was just amazing and performed so well right from the start. It was only the first day, and everyone was talking about him. It was such a surreal dream come true. It was even more beautiful than I could’ve ever imagined!”
The black stallion had a significant impact on Dinja’s career. “He is an exceptional horse, and the World Championship where I rode him was actually my first international competition.” Later, the combination won three selections for the stallion competitions and secured several championship titles, including Dutch Champion in three levels up to the Small Tour. During the same period, Van Liere also rode Romanda in the U25 division. “I learned a lot from her. We competed in many international U25 competitions, which gave me a certain experience and the skills in riding Grand Prix.”
One of the most significant qualities for a horse, according to Dinja, is its character. “The biggest quality of a horse is its character. Having a horse that really wants to do its best for you.” And she finds a great character in the KWPN stallion Hermès N.O.P., one of her absolute top horses at the moment. “I’ve had Hermès under the saddle since he was three years old. He has tremendous quality for piaffe and passage, but he hasn’t always been the easiest horse. He truly has a personality and character,” she says about the stallion. “He is incredibly clever, which is fun when teaching him new things because he picks them up very quickly, but it could also easily turn around. He immediately notices if, for example, you’re not sharp enough. He is very outgoing, so if he has an opinion, he will let it be known immediately, and he’s truly a clown!”
In 2021, the pair won the Nations Cup in Aachen. “I hadn’t even considered that we had a chance there. We didn’t go there with high expectations, and winning a competition like Aachen, that’s amazing!”. And it didn’t stop there. 2022 has seen Dinja and Hermès claim the Dutch Dressage Championships and win in Mechelen. In that same year, they were part of the winning team in the Nations Cup of Rotterdam, where they won the individual test too, and won two bronze medals at the World Championships in Herning. This year, the duo already has set some great performances at the likes of Jumping Amsterdam and Indoor Brabant.
Winning Aachen followed on perhaps one of the toughest periods in Dinja’s career. In 2021, she and Hermès were selected for the Olympic Games in Tokyo, but due to an administrative error by the FEI, they were unable to participate. “I’m not a sore loser, I can deal with loss very well. But this was so unjust and unfair. So, I had a really hard time with that.” Eventually, the rider did travel to Tokyo as a reserve rider with the mare Haute Couture. “Of course, I was happy that I could still be there, but those two weeks in Tokyo, standing on the sidelines without being able to ride, were very tough. As an athlete, you just want to compete, and you think to yourself, ‘I have two horses that are so ready, and here I am on the sidelines.’ That’s really difficult. Later on, you automatically let it go and realise that the most important thing is that you have those two horses.”
The setback also fuelled a lot of motivation for Dinja. “We just have to push ourselves now, train hard and make sure we’re there next time.” Due to the rescheduling of the Olympic Games in 2020, the competition took place in the same year as the European Championships in 2021. “I have to say that we really went all out there, with more motivation to prove myself. And that worked out fantastically because we were the best Dutch combination. And a week later, Hermès won Aachen, which made up for a lot too. The Olympics were a big setback, but when you can prove yourself so well with both horses, it’s really satisfying.”
The next major competition on the schedule is the Dutch Championships at the end of May. 2022 saw Dinja become Dutch Champion for the first time in the senior category, and expectations are high for this year as well: “Hermès won’t compete in the Dutch Championships this year because we want to give him a break and take it a bit easier with him. He’s still fit, but he doesn’t need to prove himself any more, of course. And I really want to ride Hartsuijker. He’s also performing incredibly well, and he has had good scores in the last few competitions.” Van Liere sees definite chances for a medal and considers herself fortunate to have both horses in top form. “I still want to ride Hermès in Aachen this year and take Hartsuijker to Rotterdam. Then we have the European Championships in early September, which is actually the most important competition.”
The next Olympic Games will take place in Paris in 2024. “The Olympic Games are very close, but also very far away. Paris is, of course, the ultimate goal, but we won’t know where we stand until next year. So much can still happen.” In the best-case scenario, Dinja would be her own reserve with one of her other horses. “But first, we need to make sure the horses stay fit, and I qualify with one of them!” she concludes pragmatically.