At only seventeen years old, Belgian rider Jos Verlooy began emerging at the highest level of show jumping, finishing as the best Belgian rider of the European Championships in Herning in 2013. Two years later, the young Belgian went from strength to strength as was evident in Los Angeles where he won his first 5* Grand Prix, and in Las Vegas where he finished fifth in his first World Cup Final. All his success is shared with his longtime sidekick, Domino. Our colleagues at Equnews.fr went to meet this modest and ambitious rider at the Longines Global Champions Tour of Antwerp:
Las Vegas was your first World Cup Final, how did you feel when you were there ?
My feeling was very good, I was really confident going there. I knew for a long time that I would jump there, so two months before I could really build up Domino. So he was really fit, and I really hoped for a good top ten finish.
I wanted to get him top condition, let him know that it was important, and it was going to be an important week. And he felt it, because he is so smart.
In the end you finished 5th overall, which is a great result, but if you hadn’t had that last fence down in the final round you could have won it. How do you feel about that fence, a few days after the event ?
I think I'm going to be annoyed about that fence for the rest of my career. Because as I said, I wanted to go for the top ten but when you are that close, you want to get the most out of it. And I think I could have won it, my horse could have won it. But I just came far too deep to the last. But for sure that fence is going to annoy me for a very long time, but it’s the sport. Everybody says "well done, well done", of course I should be happy, I’m only nineteen years old and I finished fifth in the world cup final, it’s great. So afterwards I have to be happy but still I’m a sportsman, I'm competitive so I always want the best and that's difficult sometimes.
In Las Vegas you were riding Domino, you two have a long story, can you tell us about him ?
I was always riding in the children's division, but I wanted to do more, so I changed to junior, but I needed a horse for that. And some breeders came to show us Domino. I thought he had scope, so my father said "now you can go to the junior shows, you have a junior horse, it’s Domino". At that time I was thirteen and he was seven. So we grew up with each other, he made me, and I made him.
He is a very smart horse. He works twice a day, first he goes into the woods and then I ride him. He has a very good character. If Domino were human he would be a very nice guy, we would be best friends. He’s super in the stables and you wouldn't expect anything else from a horse. He has all the qualities.
His main quality would be that he just wants to do it, he has all the scope and carefulness. He just wants to jump the fences clear and to fight for you. I don't think he has any fault.
You also have a great mare that’s coming up, Farfelu de la Pomme, can you talk about her ?
I have had Farfelu since she was very young, she was six when I got her. So I produced her. But she gets better with age. I must say, I did some five star shows with her and it was good but sometimes she had one or two fences down. But the more she jumps the better she gets. I think she’s coming to her best level this year. Yesterday in the big class, I had one time fault but she jumped super, today we ended up being sixth and she also jumped super. I think she is a really good horse for the future. I think she’s going to be a Grand Prix horse and a championship horse, it’s difficult to say but I really have a good feeling, she just needs to be consistent and I feel she is starting to be. So I’m really building her up, before it was more like two down and then a clear, now she has clears more often. That consistency is the most important for me. But I have always believed in her, since she was 6, but over the coming years she's going to get better and better.
You bought Domino when he was young, Farfelu as well, do you have other young horses in your stables ?
I also have Hello Sunshine. I bought him three month ago. But he was produced by Scott Brash. I think he can do the championships, the Grand Prix's, everything. He is only nine, but he has all the scope in the world. When I have a problem, or feel something, I can ask Scott "what do you think about that?", and he just tells me what I have to do and it’s very nice.
It was not so long ago when you won the Junior Belgium Championship, and now you are competing at the highest level, how did you get there so fast ?
It went all very fast. The year I won juniors in Pottes, I was fifteen, and when I turned sixteen I told my father that I wanted to get to the highest level of the sport. But he said it was too early and I said, "no, I think I can do it and the horse is ready", it was time for me. So my father decided I could ride in Calgary for five weeks. And it went very well, in the five big classes, I went clear three times.When I came back home I got the opportunity to compete in the European Championships in Herning (2013). So everything went really fast for me.
You are only nineteen and you are one of the youngest riders at this level, how does it feel representing the younger generation ?
I think I’m really lucky I’m from this generation. In Belgium we have so many good young riders. When you go to a 3* or 2* star competition or even national shows you see all the young riders and they all have amazing qualities. I think there is a great future ahead for the young riders.
And with the other riders at this level like Bertram Allen, we are all friends, we talk, like when we walk the course we say "what do you think of this line?" or things like that. We really try to support each other.
You train with Harrie Smolders, who works for your father, can you explain this partnership to us ?
I was born with Harrie. I was three years old when he came to us I think, he actually nearly put me on a horse. He started helping me from day one, so I was very lucky to have him. He has all the experience in the world, I think if I didn’t have Harrie, I would never be here. He really helped me grow up. I see him everyday, train with him everyday, it’s amazing to be able to see a 5* rider train near you all the time, you can see what he does, how he works and it has helped me so much.
Your father is the CEO of Eurohorse, do you want to work with him on the business one day ? And how is your relationship ?
Yes, I think after a while maybe in the future I would want to do the business part with my father. For now I want focus on the riding, but we will see if I will do both in the future. But for sure one day I would like to work on the business.
My father helps me, not so much as Harrie, because he only focuses on the business. So if I really have a problem, I will go to Harrie first and he finds a solution. But my father is obviously always a great supporter.
What is your main goal for the year to come ?
My main goal for the year was the World Cup Final, When I woke up on the first of January I said, "I want to go to Vegas" and I did it. So now I have to make new goals, because I haven't thought about it yet. This week I’m here in Antwerp, but it’s a different feeling. I was really motivated by the World Cup Final, now It’s done so I have a bit less motivation. But I’m going to have a good think and I guess my next goal is going to be the European Championships. Because now, I really think that I have more experience and I can get a good result in Aachen.
Dirk Demeersman is the new Belgian Chef d’Equipe, how has he adapted to his new role in your opinion ?
Dirk is a great chef d’equipe, I call him all the time. It was actually the first time he really was chef d’equipe at the world cup final, and I called him a few times, he always motivated me, he believed in me and in my horse. Before Vegas I jumped at a few shows, and he was always calling me like "is he jumping well ? Don’t do too much". He always was there for me and gave me extra motivation and more belief in myself. He is a chef d’equipe that gives you a lot of confidence. He also knows the sport really well, the feelings you get before you compete and what you need when you go to a championship.
Finally, if you could ride any other horse, who would it be ?
I’m very happy with Domino. If I have to choose a horse it would be Domino. But if I have to choose a horse that is not mine, it would be hard. There are so many good horses at the moment, like Hello Sanctos or Cornado NRW. I would say Sanctos, he’s amazing.