Rob Hoekstra - Man of the moment

By: Horse Deals

Rob Hoekstra - Man of the moment
Rob Hoekstra - Man of the moment

Britain’s new show jumping performance manager lets Suzanne Jones in on his future plans

Rob Hoekstra is a man with a vision — and it involves championship medals. The new performance manager’s passion and quiet determination comes across loud and clear as he sets out his goals to put British show jumping firmly back in the limelight, where it belongs.

"I want a pool of eight to 10 horses for my Olympic team long-list," he says. "At the moment, I’ve got two."

An ambitious target, and to attain it Rob plans to expand on the depth of experienced British riders and develop horses to top level.

"And to reach this goal, of course we need to encourage owners and syndicates," he adds.

Top horses are now returning from injury. Ellen Whitaker’s Locarno — already a team bronze medal winner at European championships — is among those Rob mentions.

"But horses like that won’t be rushed and will be given time to reach peak fitness," explains Rob.
The news of the British team’s reinstatement to this year’s top-level Meydan Nations Cup series has helped Rob to work on his game plan.

"It is great news, but the wait for the decision affected our initial plans," he says. "We were already committed to Hamburg’s Global tour event with top horses and although we’ll send a strong team to the first Super League show in La Baule, France, it will consist of a mix of experienced and younger riders."

Then it’s onwards and upwards with the best teams available.

"We intend to go in strong to every Meydan Nations Cup competition and get good results early. The last thing we want is a repeat of 2009, where promotion or demotion hung on the final competition," says Rob.

Britain’s Super League place is also good news for riders, as a fifth squad member can attend every top Nations Cup show this year.

"Last year’s four-rider rule was a nightmare. If anything went wrong, you were almost eliminating the whole team. There was no room for error or injury. It’s my intention — although it’s not a hard and fast rule — that the best British rider at the four-star promotional league National Cup show in Lummen, Belgium, will be the fifth member at La Baule, while the best from Linz, Austria, will be fifth man — or woman! — at either Rome or the Swiss Super League show in St Gallen," says Rob.
"Of course, this is all subject to my opinion of whether the horse will be capable of jumping at the next level, but up-and-coming riders will get the chance to make the leap to the top level from the lower league and younger horses will get major show experience and thus develop."

Working towards building a successful team is paramount for Rob.

"What’s best for the team comes first, but within that structure, we’ll treat horses individually. For instance, the grass arenas at Hickstead are totally different to Rome’s all-weather surface and what’s suitable for one horse will be wrong for another. This will be factored in," explains Rob.

As for this year’s World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Kentucky: "They are very important, but not as important as staying in the top level Nations Cup series."

The WEG team won’t be decided until after Aachen in July.
"There’ll be discussions over who is likely to finish in the individual top 10 at WEG and who will make the best team members. And the championship horses won’t travel to Spruce Meadows in Calgary, as they have in the past. This opportunity will be offered to up-and-coming horses — but not with necessarily different riders."

Training with Rob is also on offer.

"I’m there to help. I’m not going to tell John Whitaker how to ride, but I’ve already spotted several of the younger generation with talent and potential top-level horses. I’ll coach these combinations myself," he explains.

Rob believes Britain does have riders who can follow in current number one Ben Maher’s footsteps.

"Ben’s hard-working, professional, dedicated and with the right attitude. He came through the BEF World Class Programme — which has already benefited many of the younger generation. The future looks bright."

Among future stars Rob mentions are Scott Brash, Jemma Kirk, Gemma Plumley, Tim Gredley, Charlotte Platt and Joe Clayton.

"And of course there’s the super-talented William Whitaker. He just needs a top horse. Overall, Britain does need better horses and more owners investing in them," says Rob.

He intends to promote the BEF Equine Pathway, which was set up to spot potential equine superstars and horse and rider combinations from the beginning through the promotional league to top tier Nations Cups.

"It is successful. We already have several horses from this programme on Nations Cup teams. It just hasn’t been well publicised, so we need to change this in the future," he points out.

Good Super League results are Rob’s first priority.

"Our near demotion was a major wake-up call. It’s important that we’re all going in the same direction and I intend to have regular meeting with riders. What we do as a team is very important and focusing on team results is the future of our sport," he explains.
Initially, teams will be picked from those achieving double clears in three-star grands prix and above, then the criteria will shift to predominantly Nations Cup results.

"I’ll look at last year’s results and performance, but will concentrate on current form. Last season is in the past, so I’d prefer to be going back three or four months maximum," explains Rob.
The ultimate, however, is London 2012.

"I want Britain to win Olympic gold at home," he says.

And with this amount of determination and focus, Rob Hoekstra might just be the man to achieve that aim.

Rob’s background

Dutch-born Rob Hoekstra, 52, moved to England with his parents in 1978 and switched to British nationality in 1987. He now lives in Kent and has a son, Ben, who is at university and plays rugby for the Leicester Lions.

Rob was on Holland’s junior show jumping team at the age of 14 and trained with high-profile names such as Henk Nooren, George Morris and Albert Voorn. He jumped on British teams and won many major classes, including the 1999 Hickstead Derby on the Lionel II.

Rob has focused his efforts on training for several years, working with riders up to Olympic level. This includes training Norwegian rider Morten Aasen for the 1992 Olympics and Spanish rider Alfredo Fernandez-Duran for the 2009 European Championships. He has also trained numerous riders in eventing and show jumping.

Rob still produces horses and his most recent grand prix ride, Rancorrado, is now competing at top level with Ireland’s Cian O’Connor.