What’s been Kristen Vanderveen’s secret to getting Bull Run’s Faustino De Tili comfortable and competitive over bigger courses? Not jumping bigger courses.
The strategy worked as they sped to the top of a five-horse jump-off to win the $200,000 HITS Balmoral CSI**** Grand Prix on Aug. 20 at the HITS Balmoral Park venue in Crete, Ill.
Vanderveen has been riding “Frosty,” a 12-year-old Belgian Warmblood formerly piloted by Olivier Philippaerts, for three years. She spent much of 2016 targeting headliner 1.60-meter grand prix classes with him, with some good results. But at the start of 2017, at the Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.) she decided to take a step back and focus on what he does best: speed. She spent the circuit focused on the 1.40- and 1.45-meter speed classes and getting good ribbons in that division.
“He’s considerably faster than my other main horse [Bull Run’s Testify], so this year we decided to really use him in the 1.45-meter speed classes, to get the [FEI] ranking points and the prize money, and to continue to develop our relationship by keeping the fun in everything,” Vanderveen said. “If you get too serious, where you ask him to do everything just perfectly, or go with his head a certain way, that to him I think just starts to get a little frustrating. But he loves to go fast!”
Vanderveen and Frosty quietly won the 1.45-meter circuit championship at WEF, riding every course like a jump-off and building confidence as they racked up wins. At home, they prioritized trail riding and keeping their technical work limited.
When they stepped back up to the 1.60-meter classes this summer, everything started to fall into place.
“After a whole season at WEF in the mindset of those speed classes, we’re now able to go in and be competitive every time,” Vanderveen said. “It feels totally normal—like we’re still at 1.45-meter. So taking the time and sticking at that speed level strategically to develop our partnership, and also to get ranking points, has really worked out in our favor.”
So far, the duo have shined mostly at the Tryon International Equestrian Center (N.C.), where they won the $130,000 Asheville/Greenville BMW Centers’ Grand Prix CSI*** at 1.60 meters in June and topped three other classes. It’s the same venue where the 28-year-old earned her first five-star victory only one year prior in the 2016 $380,000 Horseware Ireland Grand Prix.
But this weekend proved that the hot streak they’re on isn’t limited by region.
“It’s been great because before everybody said, ‘Oh, you’re the Queen of Tryon!’ and ‘You do so well in Tryon!’ ” Vanderveen explained. “And it’s been such a shame because we love Tryon, and we do very well there, but he’s actually been fantastic everywhere. This summer I’ve been able to use him as my main horse, and he’s been able to finally get the attention I feel he deserves.”
The course, designed by John Anderson, favored Frosty’s style, featuring several options that allowed their speed to shine.
“There were some challenging lines, but they were all very open, so you had the option of adding, but we were able to do the forward steps in all of his lines. So that suited us really well,” Vanderveen said. “[Anderson] is actually one of my favorite course designers. I think he builds great courses for the horses. You never get anything you feel your horse is going to come away from worse than it started. They always jump better afterwards.”
One element on course did threaten to disrupt Frosty’s composure, however—two large liverpools, at which he has been known to give a costly second look. Luckily for Vanderveen, he braved both without pause. But she’s not at all convinced that he’s over that fear for good.
“You know how stallions are—I’m sure at some point he will end up looking at a liverpool again, and that day we won’t win. It’s something that will always be there,” Vanderveen explained. “It’s a weird thing to say, and it’s taken me a little while to understand it, but I would take 10 more Frostys that occasionally peek at a liverpool, but for that 85 percent of the time they don’t look, you are the one to beat in the class.”
For Vanderveen, that competitive edge has been the most impactful part of adding Frosty to her quiver of grand prix horses. While she has been on top intermittently through the years, now she feels at home there.
“The thing that Frosty has kind of opened my eyes to is that I have a chance of winning on him no matter where we are in the country, because he’s good enough,” Vanderveen said. “And it’s exciting. It takes that one special horse to put you on the map and almost prove to yourself that you can be competitive and consistent—that it wasn’t just one lucky shot. Now, I don’t get nervous when it’s 10 or 15 clean going into a jump-off. If my horse and I have a good day, and I go my best and he goes his best, it wouldn’t really matter if there were 20 horses in the jump-off, he’s still fast enough and good enough to win. So it’s kind of matured my mindset.”
Vanderveen has had the 12-year-old Belgian Warmblood for nearly three years, but she feels like their winter at WEF in their home city of Wellington, Fla., finally brought them into their own. There, instead of stretching for the 1.60-meter classes, Vanderveen played to Frosty’s strength—his speed.
Vanderveen and Frosty are heading further north to show at HITS Saugerties (N.Y.) and at the Rolex Central Park Horse Show.
After that, they’re waiting to see what comes their way. Maybe next year, Vanderveen will consider embracing that title “Queen of Tryon” a little more seriously, particularly when the FEI World Equestrian Games come to town.
“Long term, we’ll see what doors open. I have a business, I have clients, and I have some younger horses coming up as well, so it’s not easy for me to say I’ll drop everything and go on a young rider tour,” she said. “It would have to be a real opportunity to jump on a team, which of course I have many hopes and dreams of doing! But it’s just kind of waiting for the time and everything to work out. Obviously we love Tryon, and all the WEG stuff would be very exciting, if the Lord’s willing and leaves those doors open for us, but that’s a way down the line.”