Unlike many professional athletes who discover their passion from a very young age, our next rider, Jeroen Dubbeldam, had a different experience. Despite being introduced to the horse world at an early age, “I grew up between horses, ponies and everything because my father used to be a dealer and he had a riding school in Zwolle.”, Young Jeroen did not instantly fall in love with it. In fact, he admits, “My father’s riding school was there, but my interest was more in the soccer field on the other side of the road; I spent more time there than at my father’s riding school.” Nevertheless, this Dutch rider has come a long way and is now an accomplished Olympic athlete. “I started actually to ride seriously pretty late like, maybe 11 or 12 or something like that” he confesses.
A young professional rider
A short time after hopping on a horse, the talent of this young rider reached the surface and by a pretty young age eyes were set on him. “I was presenting horses and a client of my father offered me a job to ride for him… I went to Switzerland and that was at the end of my 16th year”. We can only imagine how difficult it must be to make such a decision like this as a mere teenager. “At such a young age, being so far away from home without having so much it’s not easy.” reminisces the rider. At some points, Jeroen admits to thinking about the possibility of quitting “I had doubts many times, especially the first year, but I think it was a very good school for me.” Dubbeldam concludes.
Inside all the horses that have been part of Jeroen’s career, there’s one that will always resonate with him, De Sjiem. Not only because this is now the name of his stables but because of the numerous victories these two achieved throughout the years. “It was a horse with a lot of charisma, which caught a lot of attention from everybody” remembers Jeroen when talking about his first encounter with the, back then, 7-year-old grey KWPN. “My then father-in-law came to me during a show and told me ‘‘I like this horse, I love this horse, let’s try it’. The trial went really bad. But he bought the horse anyway, I think in his mind, he had already bought the horse before we had gone to see him” – he laughs.
“In the beginning, his character worked against me” affirms Jeroen about their start, “I was struggling with this character and struggling to become partners”. Little did the Dutch rider know this would be “his strongest point and just what made him a fighter”.
Sydney Olympics 2000
In 2000 27-year-old Jeroen Dubbeldam and his De Sjiem flew all the way to Australia with the Dutch team for the Sydney Olympics. The result blew everyone’s minds. The duo made history by becoming the first to winning an individual gold medal for the Netherlands in show-jumping. “To win an Olympic gold so early in your career is of course very nice. Because it opens many, many doors” affirms the gold medalist “But also it brings a lot of pressure with you, which you carry through your career a little bit because the expectation is always very high everywhere you come as an Olympic champion.” he underlines.
Looking back to what he remembers about that time he admits, “I was in a bubble I cannot really remember even if I really wasn’t enjoying it at that moment. I couldn’t really believe what was happening and it was intense.” As was expected, over the years more medals and great victories came his way, both individually and with the Dutch team, from which Jeroen recalls one in particular “When I won the World title in 2014. I was really enjoying it, back then there still was the horse rotation, so we got to ride each other’s horses. That was a fantastic day, maybe one of the nicest ones in my career”.
Rebounding from Adversity
Several months ago, the Dutch showjumper faced a setback when he got injured while handling one of his young horses, forcing him to take a break from the arena. Reflecting on that challenging time, he said, “I couldn’t ride for seven months, which felt like a long time. However, having my stable with riders and my girlfriend, who is also involved in international shows, gave me plenty of things to focus on.” Despite the difficulties of dealing with setbacks, Jeroen remained optimistic, saying, “I learned a lot during that period by observing from the outside.”
For any professional athlete, injuries always pose a significant risk. Jeroen shared his experience, “It is terrible to face such a setback when you’re fully invested in your passion at the age of 20. I had broken my leg once before the Olympics, and even though it lasted only six weeks, it was a more challenging time to endure.”
Having spent a considerable time in the horse world, he now acknowledges that there is no specific advice for young, ambitious riders who encounter setbacks. He advises, “The only thing you can do is accept the situation and try to stay engaged with the sport from the outside. Use that period to observe different riders and continue learning, even though you can’t ride.”
Stal De Sjiem.
Back in 2000, Jeroen started his own team which he named after his golden horse ‘De Sjiem’. “It started only with me and a groom trying to get into the sport,” he recalls.
Now the Stal De Sjiem focused partially on developing horses but their approach sets them apart from a factory mentality, “It’s not the quantity, it’s the quality that we are trying to sell.” That is the reason why he would not describe himself as a horse dealer, “Unlike the constant hustle of a typical horse dealer, always buying and selling, we take a different route. While we do sell horses, it’s always with a long-term vision in mind. Our horses stay with us for extended periods. Our aim is to create an exclusive product, either for our own sporting endeavours or to offer something truly exceptional in the market.”
When inquiring about his criteria for selecting new horses, the Olympic rider admits, “I cannot really explain,” However, he assures “The whole picture has to catch my attention. Sometimes, your eye falls on the horse and you go for it, the feeling in the end tells you the most”.
Within his team, Jeroen receives unwavering support from the Roelofsen family for many years now. He holds great confidence in the quality of their vehicles, stating, “Those trucks never age; they remain solid. Produced in Holland with their skilled team and incorporating advanced technology. As I always say, an eye for detail is a sign of victory.”
Goals and Investment
Even though the olympian admits Paris dates seem quite far for him at the moment he has high expectations for his horse ‘Investment’ “I hope he will continue making steps like he did the last 6 months. If he continues like this and makes the last step also, then hopefully next year or at the end of this year, I can have my comeback at the highest level again. But we will see, of course.”