In 2019, Jennifer Williams headed to the Netherlands on a horse-buying trip with her friend and owner Tina Desroche, hoping to bring home some young sales prospects.
They found a few that they loved, a few that didn’t work out, and then came across a striking 4-year-old chestnut named Joppe K.
“When the other ‘horses for the future’ idea didn’t work out or didn’t vet or whatever happened, we came back just with Joppe,” Williams said. “He was so smart and such a happy, willing partner that it didn’t take long for us to figure out that he was something special and not something that you could just find easily.”
The pair made a splash in the ring from the start, earning the reserve championship in the Markel/USEF Young Horse 6-Year-Old Dressage National Championship at the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions (Illinois) in 2020.
In 2021, they successfully moved from the FEI 7-year-old division to the small tour, and “Joppe” (pronounced “YO-pee”) made his first return trip to Europe accompanying his stablemate, Williams’ Grand Prix mount Millione. While there, he competed in Belgium and at the prestigious Aachen CHIO in Germany.
In 2022, the pair were competitive on the small tour circuit in Florida. Williams decided it was time to make their national Grand Prix debut at the end of the year.
“The pressure has never really been something that I’ve had to put on him,” she said. “We just make it fun, we teach him the things he needs to know, and then we keep it light-hearted and fun, and he just always wants to do the job, so we want to keep that.”
This year, the Joppe Partners LLC’s 9-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Harmony’s Rousseau—Dadina K, Santano) made his CDI Grand Prix debut in Florida, but Williams admitted it wasn’t smooth sailing at the start.
At the Touch Of Class CDI3*, held June 16-17 at Thunderbird Show Park (British Columbia), the pair put together their strongest tests ever, winning the Grand Prix (70.10%) and the Grand Prix Special (70.63%).
“He’s had some really nice tests [in Florida] that showed a lot of promise, but they didn’t feel like I really was able to complete them mistake-free until this weekend, which was really a big goal for us—that we could go in there giving him a lot of confidence and have nice, quality, mistake-free tests. I was thrilled with the scores as well; that was really special,” she said.
Based in Olympia, Washington, at Summervale Premier Dressage, Williams was particularly happy to see a strong lineup of CDIs on the West Coast and in Canada this year.
“Coming back to the West Coast was really a nice treat, to have some of these international shows get lined up,” she said. “It was really fun to be able to keep going through the summer.”
Williams, 43, has spent the past few winters in Wellington, Florida. She and her husband Alex Williams bought a home so their children, LJ and Lexi Williams, could go to school there, then family returns to Washington for the summers.
Williams said the heat and back-to-back schedule of the CDI tests was sometimes a struggle for the gelding this winter at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival, but the cooler weather in Canada worked to their advantage as she works more on Joppe’s strength and endurance.
“It was a little bit of an eye opener, and then with the awards [and stabling on site] and two days back-to-back [in Florida], I went, ‘Oh, I think I need to have him a little fitter to be doing internationals,’ ” she said. “So that became a little bit more of a theme. He’d have a great Grand Prix, and then we would struggle fitness-wise a little bit that second day. So that’s really what we’ve been focused on, and not even in a sense that we need to work him harder, but just overall fitness in all things.”
Joppe is a very happy horse, Williams said: “Very, very willing, never says no. Kind, smart, always looks for human interaction. Cheeky, cute, brave.
“When we went to Aachen with the crowds, he lights up, but in the best possible way,” she added. “ I love it; he never intimidates me; he never makes me feel unsafe in those big, crazy environments and just always wants to give his best. I do everything I can to preserve that with him.”
Williams has benefitted this winter from the $25,000 Carol Lavell Advanced Dressage Prize, which she was awarded in November. She used the grant to work with Oded Shimoni in Wellington and continue working with longtime trainer Christophe Theallet.
Since she retired Millione last year at age 19, he’s gone to live with his owners, Desroche and her husband, Bob Desroche. Thanks to them, she also has a strong pipeline of horses, including Joppe, coming up behind him.
Millione holds a special place in Jennifer’s heart as he gave her the opportunity to compete more at the international Grand Prix level and represent the U.S. internationally.
“He’s happily retired,” she said. “He’s with Bob and Tina. He came back from Florida about three weeks ago, and they’re going to be playing with him now a little bit at home in Monroe. He looks beautiful, and he’s doing really well.”
Jennifer is eyeing the Pan American Games (Chile) this fall, but she said whatever timeline Joppe is on is the one she’ll follow.
“It’s a huge dream of mine to make a U.S. team,” said Williams, who previously was short-listed for the Tokyo Olympics with Millione. “I don’t want to put too much pressure on him being 9. I would love to go, and I would love to be ready to go if that fits his timeline, and if he feels good about that.
“He’s such a special horse for the future that the more to the future that we can think about, the better,” she continued. “Paris is a huge goal, and we would love to have him at his best and ready for that, and I personally would love to be a part of anything that is Team USA. So, if we can put it together and be strong enough that we can help the team this year, that would be amazing. If not, we just keep pushing forward and making it better and doing the best we can.”