The scar on the hand of jump racer Sanne Thijssen, which must have been about ten or eleven years ago, says mum Dorien Thijssen. Sunny was knocking in the workshop. Suddenly she said: Mom, do you have a bandage? She sawed into her hand, it was a very serious wound. I say: ‘Sani, how long have you had that, it had to be sewn. She said: Ah, since yesterday or the day before yesterday, or something like that.
Sunny was “always a busy bee”. Then she saw a full set of twenty obstacles, so that the girls of the neighborhood could come and jump by surprise. And yes, sometimes things go wrong, her mother says. But she did not complain. “Start.”
Everything in the house revolves around horses and ponies. Not surprisingly: Sunny’s father is showjumping rider Leon Thiessen, who has achieved international success. The love for sports also spread to his three children. Like younger sister Mel and brother Mans, says Dorien Thijssen, Sanne has always dealt with ponies at a young age. Then they go into the woods at eight in the morning and won’t come back until hours later. I don’t even know where they went.”
“Swimming with the ponies, in a small lake,” recalls Mel, 21. “Or we went bareback jumping. We had a lot of fun. It wasn’t that serious at first. That’s why we all got in so easy.”
Sanne Thijssen (23 years old) is now considered a talent for Dutch showjumping. In May she won the prestigious World Champions Tour in Madrid, with a prize pool of 100,000 euros. In 2021, she surprisingly won the CHIO Prize in Rotterdam.
Next week, starting Wednesday, Thijsen will be competing with her first horse, Kon Quidam, during the World Equestrian Games, the World Equestrian Championships, in Herning, Denmark. Thijssen is a striking face in identification, with Maikel van der Vleuten, Jur Vrieling and Harrie Smolders. Not just because she’s at least ten years younger than the rest. And also because women are rarely seen at the Dutch summit for vaulting. Angelique Horn was the last Dutch woman to compete in the World Cup in 2002.
How did Sanne Thijssen get to the top? And what makes it so good?
“a lot of skill”
Michael van der Vleuten, who won a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics last year, saw her “rise” firsthand. “She’s someone with a lot of talent, dexterity, and a natural feel.” He says it’s hard to describe something like that in words, but that’s how you dare to improvise when the trip doesn’t go as expected. “Not many riders dare to go out of their way. Of course, they “really come from a family of horses.” Just like him, the son of showjumping racer Eric van der Vleuten. “But then it still has to come from you.”
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Van der Vleuten was impressed by Thijssen’s performance in Madrid. Especially from her jump, where the riders who rode a clear ride are competing against each other again. “I don’t think it could have been done any faster.”
“Pffff,” Father Leon Thiessen sighs, when he thinks of that victory. “If you see it! It also makes the audience fully support it.” He believes it is because of her “youthful openness”. They see it as a risk. And that’s what you do.”
as he says. Asked about the moment her talent came to light, he said, “I’ve seen a lot of persistence from a young age. If you haven’t done a competition well on a pony, you immediately start copying it. First, pull those 1.5 hour obstacles and then practice” .
Not Leon, who has been away from home nearly every week to ride competitions, but Dorian helps San with ponies from an early age. The competition begins at the age of six or seven. Mother and daughter driving cross country together. “She really wanted to drive internationally at the time,” Dorian recalls. “But we never got along with that. We thought: We’ll keep it fun, and you’ll have a chance later.”
That opportunity would come when Sanne Thijssen turned to horses, and when Con Quidam crossed her path nearly ten years ago. A stallion in the Gulf was six years old at the time. Leon says Con Quidam is tough, but she can handle that very well. “Sanne is very good with animals with very high tempers, but she is not just a bitch. She can take comfort in that.”
Every rider or Amazon knows: You can be in good shape, but if you don’t have the right horse, you won’t win big prizes. Quidam is a horse “you’ve only met once in your life,” Sunny Tejsen said this year in Limburger.
What makes it so good? Of course the horse must be fast and able to jump high. As Leon Tessin says, it’s personal, too. “This Con Quidam, it’s like a pusher. When Sanne’s truck gets away and he’s not allowed to go to the match, he kicks in his boot. He’s openly lustful. You know exactly when it matters.”
“I joke sometimes: You can give it to me too,” Sister Mel says. But, more seriously. “I don’t think he would get the same results with anyone else.” According to her, the three do not know jealousy among themselves. He laughs: “We only exchange tips when asked.” How reliant on a horse as a rider is also evident when Con Quidam has been hit for a while. “When she was 18, she really won a lot,” Sister Mel says. “Then people expect things from you.” But without Con Quidam, it will be more difficult to lead Sanne for a while. “I’m starting to doubt: Can I still do that?”
“I think she thought for a while: Now I don’t know if this is my future anymore,” mum Doreen says. Sunny even thought carefully about Plan B. “I think she wanted to become a veterinary assistant.”
will not work. Kun Quidam, now 16, is recovering. And in a way this injury was also her luck, because otherwise the horse would have probably been sold. Now they have been riding together successfully for years.
Tejsen is at least ten years younger than the rest of the team
But, as her good friend Gabriella Dufour says, she does not think that success will bring her. Participating in jumping at the highest level is hard work. “She has a very busy schedule.” This year alone Thijssen has competed in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, France, Spain, Sweden, the United States and Mexico with eight horses at times.
That’s part of it, says Leon Thiessen, just as Sister Mel and Brother Mann, who also do showjumping. Also at home, the three ride seven to ten horses every day, they are part of the company and are responsible for the horses they ride.
When Fiod raided in 2020 Stal Thijssen, part of a larger investigation into money laundering in the equine world, children were affected, too. “Especially the way it happened has had a huge impact,” Sane said in a statement. Limburger. They were wearing bulletproof vests. Rifles, handcuffs.” The case is not finished yet, frustrating Leon Tejsen, who does not want to say more about it. He has a feeling that Fiod is trying to “destroy him,” but nothing is wrong.” He says the industry is under scrutiny. “But with horses, the rule is: what the madman will give.”
to be independent
Last year, Sanne Thijssen set up her own stable. Close to her parents. She also buys and trains some of her own horses, while also riding with her parents. A big move for a 23-year-old, who her father says suits her. “She wants to be independent. That’s just inside of her.”
“A lot of people think you only arrive with talent,” says Dufour, who also worked for Stal Thijssen as a showjumping contestant. But talent is only part of it. There are a lot of people who can drive well. The financial part, the connections, having the right people next to you: that’s the real challenge.”
Life in showjumping—especially traveling a lot, and being away from home for half the week—is the reason why relatively few women ride the top, as much is said. Van der Vleuten: “If you ever become a mother, you may not want to anymore.” There is no physical explanation, he says. “Sanne weighs nothing. It does not matter. It is important that you click on the horse.”
Sunny now has “a very good horse,” says her father. But the whole family can jump. Recently, Lyon, Sane, Mille and Mann participated in the Dutch championship. San finished second, Mill 10th, Leon 13th, and Man 14th. “A quarter of the top is a thijsen,” says Lyon. “This is something we should be proud of.”
A version of this article also appeared in the August 6, 2022 newspaper