Dutch show jumper Jeroen Dubbeldam has managed to win just about every championship title possible. He’s been an Olympic champion, world champion, and European champion, not to mention his many prestigious grand prix victories around the globe.
I wanted to know, what’s the secret to his success? I was thrilled to sit down with Jeroen and find out more about his habits, mindset, and mental game.
1. Grow your passion
Believe it or not, Jeroen didn’t always carry a passion for horses and riding. In fact, even when growing up surrounded by horses, he was not drawn to riding from an early age. However, once he saw his sister come home with a trophy, Jeroen was intrigued (or maybe a touch of sibling rivalry?) and decided to start riding. The rest is history.
Jeroen is proof that beginning your riding career before you can walk is not a prerequisite for achieving your dreams. If one of the most decorated equestrians got hooked and became successful only after trying many other sports, so can you (and your children). In my view, passion is something that needs to grow over time, starting with an interest that grows into a desire to improve. Passion is not absolute — it’s not something you either have or you don’t. So allow yourself the time to try different things, find an interest, explore some more, and then build from there. By fostering a passion for something you’re truly interested in, you’ll be more invested in your development.
2. Don’t be afraid to change
During the early days of his riding career, Jeroen was used to riding horses only for a short period of time before they got sold. Horses came and went, and Jeroen used his skill and intuition to navigate his equine partners around courses at competitions, often with great results. But after moving to the north of Holland and stabling with Hans Horn, he was introduced to a whole new way of thinking, training, and riding. For example, Hans suggested Jeroen keep his horses longer and really train them to perfection. Establish a partnership, pick clear goals or shows where you want to do well, and work your horses towards that.
3. Choose improvement over winning every weekend
This meant Jeroen had to change his entire system. He didn’t ride to win every weekend but instead constantly worked on improvement. This shift in his business model was very challenging, and Jeroen did consider going back to his “old way” of doing things. He even thought about giving up altogether. But he pushed through and after about two years, Jeroen started to reap the rewards of training for the long game. Ever since, Jeroen's goal isn’t to win every weekend, but to improve every day.
4. Focus on your horse, not the result
Even if going for the win is part of the plan and you’re ready to go into the jump off, it’s still very important to stay focused on the process. In Jeroen’s own words, “I always teach my students not to be busy with the result when in the ring. Be busy with your horse because if you do that in the best possible way, the results will follow. If you are busy with the result [when in the ring] you forget to do what is right for the horse — that’s the wrong way around.” In other words, focus on your horse and the results will follow.
5. You don’t get a top horse, you make one
During our meeting, Jeroen emphasized over and over again the importance of working your horses in a deliberate way. Have a plan and make sure your horse responds exactly the way you want in every possible situation. This requires a lot of detailed training, patience, and a clear plan.
“I work my horses like athletes. I try to make them strong in the body and everything has to work — my left landing, right landing, in between lines, control, backwards. I want to have everything work. All the details should function. One horse is better at this, the other horse is better at that, but still try to improve everything.”
This ability to train deliberately requires incredible horsemanship. “Be a team with the horse, put a lot of attention into horsemanship by working with the horse and try and make the horse better. Try and make the horse more confident, everything so you and your horse are one. Somebody told me once this is an individual sport, but it’s not. It’s a team sport — you are a team with your horse.”
Photography by Erin Gilmore for NoelleFloyd.com.