In the midst of the celebrations and attention centered on the Dutch horses and riders last week in Aachen, Germany there was a valuable lesson to be learned by all other show jumping nations, and it begins with the initials “SFN”.
Under the saddle of Jeroen Dubbledam the 11-year-old KWPN gelding SFN Zenith N.O.P. (Rash R x Fuego Du Prelet SF) has picked up three international team championships and two individual championships inside of a year (they won FEI World Equestrian Games Team and Individual Gold and Nations Cup Gold in Sept. 2014.) Dubbledam and Zenith’s latest achievement of double gold at the FEI European Championships on August 23rd once again has positioned the horse as a shining example of the success that results when like-minded people come together.
The thought was, ‘why are we selling our best horses to other countries, instead of keeping them for our riders?’
The Springpaarden Fonds Netherland (Dutch Showjumping Fund) was formed in 2005 as a syndicate of 45 Dutch investors with a mission of purchasing promising horses to keep them competing under Dutch riders. The SFN group involves breeders, allowing them to retain 25% ownership in the horses they sell and receive a prize money share when the horse wins. The group was actually inspired by a trouncing that Holland received at a 2005 show by Team USA, who were all mounted on Dutch bred horses. The thought was, ‘why are we selling our best horses to other countries, instead of keeping them for our riders?’
Jeroen Dubbledam, already one of The Netherland’s top team riders and an Olympic gold medal winner (Sydney, 2005), approached SFN in 2011 after he saw Zenith being ridden by Great Britain’s David McPherson in a young horse class in Hagen, Germany. From there it was history; SFN purchased Zenith for Dubbledam to bring along as a prospect for the 2016 Rio Olympics, and the horse promptly began defying all expectations.
Zenith was born in Den Ham, The Netherlands in 2004. Breeder Herman Voort produces less than 20 foals per year, carefully making his pairings based on strong dam lines. Voort purchased Zenith’s dam Sascha as a four year old, and bred her to Rash R, a stallion that was standing at his neighbor’s Stal Roelofs.
When the foal was born the following year, Voort named him “Zenith” after the highest point in the universe. He had no idea how apropos that name would become a decade later.
Zenith was raised in Den Ham and trained to saddle by Gerrit Meulink. He passed his KWPN stallion selection as a two year old, but as more of a sport horse type rather than a stallion, he was soon gelded. Henri Stegeman and then Willy van der Ham competed Zenith as a young horse, before Andrew Saywell saw him and bought a half ownership in him. It was under Saywell’s direction that McPherson rode Zenith to champion and reserve titles in 5 and 6-year-old classes, one of which was the show where the horse caught Dubbledam’s eye.
Zenith had all the scope and talent of a top class horse, but rideability was an early issue that Dubbledam had to work through.
“I always believed in the horse when he was young,” Dubbledam said. “Although he is a horse that is quite sensitive, and we had our problems in the beginning.”
It took Dubbledam some time to convince Zenith to relax on course, and especially in indoor arenas, he had to learn to listen to his rider in the turns.
“I couldn’t keep him relaxed on the course and we got faults because of that,” Dubbledam added. “But through the years he got more relaxed, he got more experienced and we got more together as a team. We believe in each other now and it is amazing.”
And although Zenith had a spooky episode dealing with the atmosphere of Aachen when he entered the ingate for the Individual Final on Sunday afternoon, once he was in the arena, his trust in Dubbledam returned. All of the scope and quality that Zenith’s breeders, early riders and owners saw in him from the beginning not only keeps being proven true, it keeps improving.
Dubbledam knows that Zenith could be put up for sale by SFN, but it’s a reality he’s used to, and he appreciates resting easy in the knowledge that Zenith will remain in his stable until after Rio 2016. Having already helped Dutch show jumping reach the highest point in the universe several times over, Zenith has become an SFN success story that Holland will surely hold on to.