The 2007 European team gold medal, the arrival of Totilas and Parzival in the Dutch A-Team and the continuous winning of gold medals with the Dutch Junior and Young Riders at European Champions have brought The Netherlands to the fore as the new number one dressage nation.
Especially the results at the 2009 Dutch Dressage Championships with newcomer Totilas scoring high marks only equaled by triple Olympic champion Anky van Grunsven put the Dutch Dressage World into a euphoric state.
"We are five to ten years ahead of our neighbouring countries," said Tineke Bartels, the Dutch junior and young rider chef d'equipe and trainer/mother of Dutch Olympic rider Imke Schellekens-Bartels.
Tineke Bartels is technical director of the CHIO Rotterdam and explains the Dutch progress through several progressive thinkers who have pushed the very traditional dressage sport forward. "We have got the guts to do it differently, by thinking outside the box of classical dressage. We started with mental coaching and made riders work at their own physical health."
Bartels gives honour where honour is due to Sjef Janssen, the life partner of Anky van Grunsven and the Dutch team trainer. The Bartels family followed quickly, with husband Joep as free thinker, Olympic team silver medallist Imke Schellekens and their equestrian academy in Hooge Mierde, The Netherlands.
To walk new roads was the important thing. "Sjef has definitively changed the top sport climate. Joep came with the mental aspect. Additionally we have focused on the learning process of the horse much more than any other country. We look at the sport with the horse as main focus."
Outside influences did the rest. Bartels got the national Olympic committee NOCNSF involved. "We followed the Master Coach program at the national sport centre in Papendal. Thanks to that we became much more open to influences from other sports. We just want to get better, in every detail."
Twenty years ago, Tineke Bartels called dressage an "old ladies sport" but her opinion has changed now. "It has become a top sport in all its aspects. I'm proud of that. Everyone accepts that real competition is involved and even the youth riders work hard at it. They have to, otherwise they would drop out. But be careful, there is no poverty in our sport, but the time that it was a rich man's affair is over."
Bartels has been around the block. Her life is filled with horses. In 1974 she was Dutch eventing champion, she participated in four Olympic Games in dressage and twice won team silver. She is team trainer of the Junior and Young Riders, assistant to Sjef Janssen and trainer of Imke Schellekens.
According to Bartels, the foreign countries have no clue of what is happening in The Netherlands. "When they find out, they'll realise they'll need five to ten years to catch up. It sounds arrogant, but that's what I think. At the moment I'm not worried. I believe they don't even realize what we are doing. They just continue to do what they have been doing all along."
It is a rapid development. "I was occupied with classical dressage. Only after the heydays' of my own career, Sjef pointed out it can be done differently. The current riders no longer have to make switch. They are being taught by riders who were trained by Anky and Sjef. They no longer remember what the old style was like.
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