Gilles Thomas is most certainly one of Belgium’s rising stars and at the age of 25, has already represented his country on the world stage countless times and notched up some notable results. His performance at the first leg of the Longines EEF Series in Gorla Minore on board Puskas de Kalvarie – with a convincing clear in round one and an unfortunate 4 faults in the second to help Belgium secure third place in the Nations Cup - was equally eye-catching, particularly given the age of the striking bay he was riding.
The Belgium Warmblood, owned by Stal Nieuwenhof, is by Sea Coast Don't Touch Tiji Her, out of Femke de Kalvarie - a For Pleasure Dam, and clearly bred to jump. But at just eight years old, he is already surpassing Gilles’ expectations of the young horse.
“I got him last year when he was 7 years old and I was away at a lot of big 5 star competitions so didn’t have much time to show him,” Gilles says of how he came about the horse, “but I took him to a few young horse classes and this year he came to the Sunshine Tour and he jumped really well so I thought a CSIO*** Nations Cup would be good for him and he went really well.”
Given the gelding’s low mileage for his age, he surprised Gilles with how he copes with the imposing show jumping tracks and the atmosphere, “he’s still young for these types of competitions, but he feels much older than eight. He's very rideable and he has all the scope, he’s really not spooky at all and everything is easy, so that’s why I tried the 3* with him and he felt good.”
Gilles explained his decision to compete Puskas de Kalvarie, who turned out to be the youngest horse in the field at Gorla Minora, as well as how the Longines EEF Series fits into his plans for the rest of the year. “The Longines EEF Series is really important, not only for the development of young horses and also young riders, but also their teams. The competitions are always at really nice locations and, like Gorla Minora are on a brilliant surface with a good atmosphere. Which is why, in general, riders favour Nations Cups and Series like these because of the opportunity to develop your less experienced horses and the feeling of team spirit.”
Riders still have to remember though, that they are competing for their country at such events though, which carries that little more gravitas along with it, “it does always bring a bit more pressure riding for the team, but these kind of shows allow younger riders to start to handle that slowly in a more controlled way, which is why they’re so important,” Gilles says, “it also allows the team Chef d’Equipes to see your preparation and they can then make selections for riders to build up to the larger CSIO5*, so it’s a great place to start and team classes make you ride differently, even if the courses are the same.”
Given Puskas de Kalvarie’s age and stage of development, Gilles is remains flexible with his upcoming competition plans, “it’s good to do it once for the experience and I think it’s good for his development. Maybe I will take him if we qualify for the semi-finals in Deauville if my teammates do well at Peelbergen this weekend and earn qualification, but then we’ll see for the finals in Warsaw in September.”