Notice anything unusual? Meet the bootless and barefoot ‘unexpected’ 1.60m grands prix contender

  • Belgian showjumper Pieter Devos had only been riding the 14-year-old mare Mom’s Toupie De La Roque for three weeks when they qualified for the jump-off for the prestigious Longines Global Champions Tour grand prix of Slovakia on Saturday (23 October).

    That’s an impressive achievement for any new partnership.

    The Kannan x Nabab De Reve mare was bought primarily for breeding and only stepped up so quickly after Pieter’s top mare Claire Z was sidelined shortly before the show’s feature class.

    “We bought her with the ‘Mares of Macha’ breeding project in mind because she has a very exclusive pedigree and I think she’ll be a very interesting broodmare,” Pieter tells H&H.

    Mares of Macha is an exciting initiative devised in Belgium by Pieter, Frederik de Backer and Klaas de Coster offering frozen embryos for sale from proven five-star performing mares and exceptional bloodlines.

    The Selle Francais mare Toupis De La Roque joined Pieter at the end of September having been competed by French riders Michel Hecart and Julien Epaillard – with whom she won the World Cup qualifier at Olympia in 2017 – and most recently with Victor Bettendorf.

    “As she was still competing, I said that we’d do some more sport with her before we breed from her,” he explains. 

    An impressive debut

    They made their competitive debut at the two-week LGCT show at Samorin, Slovakia, jumping lovely clears in the 1.45m and 1.50m five-star classes before the time came for Toupie to step up a level.

    “We went straight to 1.60m!” says Pieter, who was part of Belgium’s bronze medal-winning teams at both the Olympics and Europeans this year.

    “It was unexpected because my plan was to jump my Olympic mare Claire Z in the grand prix but on the second day we had a bit of a miscommunication and she didn’t feel 100% so I decided to ride Toupie in the grand prix.

    “When I walked the course, it was very, very difficult so I was hesitating whether to ride her because I still didn’t know her very well – I thought maybe it was just too early. But she felt very well in the qualifier, I had good control and a good feeling so I said maybe I’ll give it a try and whenever I have one down I’ll stop. But in the end, we were clear so it was very unexpected!”

    Pieter Devos on Mom’s Toupie de la Roque

    Pieter and the “amazing” Toupie jumped a super round against the clock – she has huge scope and agility, but they just tipped a rail at the Longines oxer to finish fourth in what was only their sixth class together.

    “Of course, I went in and gave it a try, but I knew it would be difficult in a super fast jump-off against those combinations who are very experienced,” says Pieter. “In a few more weeks I will be able to ride her a bit faster, but for now I still don’t know her well enough.

    “It was an unlucky fault at the end as I had a very good distance but she just didn’t make the front rail with her back leg. But I don’t think about that – it was just a great performance from her.

    “I’ve only known her for two or three weeks but she has an unbelievable mentality and character – she’s just lovely. She’s very sweet but she really tries in the ring, too. Her performance in the grand prix was great but the feeling I got from her in such a short time was even more satisfying – we just clicked and she must trust me otherwise she wouldn’t have done that in such a short time. So I’m very happy with her.”

    ‘Good moments to come’

    Of course, it’s an added bonus that Pieter now has a new grand prix horse for his string.

    “It wasn’t the plan to have her at that level so fast!” he says. “But I’m looking forward to doing some more shows with her now – I think there are some really good moments to come. She’s 14 but she feels sound and we can still do a few more years before she goes into breeding. It’s a very good story anyway!”

    But what was also striking about this pair in the ring was that the chestnut was jumping without the traditional tendon boots and neither was she wearing shoes, a decision made when she was in the care of the Hecart family.

    “She performed like this with Julien Epaillard, so it was very easy for me – if it worked, why would I change it?” explains Pieter. “Maybe if she was eight or nine I’d try, but she’s 14 so I’m not going to change a system that was working well. I’ll just keep everything as it is.”

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