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EQ Life tours Aachen: Day four

Boyd's stables. 

Boyd's stables.

 

By Roger Fitzhardinge

If it is Monday, then it must be Boyd Exell and then Edwina Tops-Alexander, who are next door neighbours at Valkenswaard!

After three days of seeing the most wonderful stables, horses and people it was going to be hard acts to follow…. but it was a day that was going to be yet again filled with amazing experiences.

 

Virbac Aachen Equimax small

 

It was a good one and a half hours to get to Boyd’s in Holland, and as we knew Boyd was not there as he had left with three trucks of 12 horses and gear for the show (Aachen) but we were inspired and wowed by the enthusiasm and obvious talent that Tor has for this sport.

Boyd’s property is as you would expect: immaculate, with beautiful, manicured, fabulous lawns and gardens, the stables are in rows with a good outlook and the indoor arena follows on from the end of them. At the opposite end of the indoor is a wonderful viewing room with a bar and sitting area, and the glass doors open onto a spacious deck area that looks out to the driving-size dressage arena. This is flanked with fantastic marathon obstacles, the water and on the other side a bridge.

  

The obstacles at Boyd Exell's. 

The obstacles at Boyd Exell's.

 

We were lucky to sit and absorb the ambience and have a coffee while Tor was introduced and spoke. For those of you who don't know him, there is an article on him in the latest Equestrian Life magazine. He is of Dutch decent and was brought up in North Richmond, NSW, on a farm where the fields were ploughed by heavy horses and his father was a horse breaker. Tor was brought up driving and riding and it’s simply in his bones. He now works for Boyd and lives on the property with wife Mel, and children Olivia and Austin.

Up until recently he has been a top level dressage rider, competing regularly at Big Tour with a variety of horses. He is a top rider with great talent, but had become a little stale with the sport and turned to driving to encourage his young daughter to diversify. He started to compete… and well that was the beginning of a new chapter!

As soon as Tor started to speak, you could hear a pin drop. His enthusiasm and joy was infectious and he went through the phases of the competition for the driving. His modest and honest attitude and transparency was captivating and we had the chance to see the reality of Tor’s life and sportsmanship. He spoke of his competitions here with an Aussie twist of quirky joviality that had everyone laughing and amused. Surrounded by keen and interested tourists who were quiet listening to his jovial and energising banter, he was so informative and open to any questions. 

 

Austin Van Den Berge.

Austin Van Den Berge.

 

Tor Van Den Berge and one of the Gelderlanders. 

Tor Van Den Berge and one of the Gelderlanders.

  

He spoke so highly of Boyd and his amazing abilities with horses; this too was so inspiring and full of transparency and keenness. Boyd is truly exceptional and we can’t wait to follow the driving with him at Aachen and he will for sure have everyone on this tour enthralled.

It was a tour through the stables and to see the many world champion driving horses all in fantastic order and in great stables with great straw beds. A visit through the tack room was amazing, as you could imagine, with a myriad of tack and bits that you could have studied for days.

 

Tor Van Den Berge and his pair of Gelderlanders at Boyd Exell's. 

Tor Van Den Berge and his pair of Gelderlanders at Boyd Exell's.

 

Tor Van Den Berge.

Tor's dog joins the workout.

 

We were then so privileged to see Tor tack up and drive his pair of chestnut, white socked absolutely stunning Gelderlanders. Again we were gobsmacked and what was so obvious was that the relationship between Tor and his pair was outstanding and passionate. He explained the character of the two and the feelings he has in the bridle of the two, and the variations in their character, moods and attitudes. The entire crew were enthralled to say the least, and the team worked so well – truly they are stunning! It’s all about training and understanding. 

Tor explained that they are also ridden and these guys are so sharp to ride and drive it was amazing. In seeing the driving in the indoor it was all about rhythm and transitions and getting them engaged, balanced and pushing. Finally, Equestrian Life Chairman, Robert, was asked by Tor to fulfil the role of being a “block of concrete” in the back of the carriage; Rob obliged and was very lucky to get a first-hand feel for power of these horses. 

 I could go on a lot here about this visit but let me say it was simply the best.

  

Boyd Exell's property. 

Boyd Exell's property.

  

Tor and EQL Chairman Robert McKay

Tor and EQL Chairman Robert McKay.

 

As if you could top that experience and yes it was off to Stal Tops! And guess what…

YEP! Another amazing property and Aussie personality. The stables of Edwina and Jan Tops… where the hell do you start?

We were met by one of the friendly staff in Ellis, who gave us an overview of the property that is now a competition grounds and what an amazing one at that. There are 512 permanent, fantastic stables in rows that are next to the truck parking and at the entrance to the warm-up and competition arenas of which there are two. The two competition arenas are divided by the most luxurious three levelled VIP areas. The lounges are all glassed in with huge windows that electronically fold out and down when the weather is good, and when they are closed can you believe that there are microphones on the arena that sent the sound of the horses cantering and jumping to the viewing VIPs, so it sounds as if you are on the arena despite being immaculately looked after in warm, air-conditioned areas. It was incredible. 

 

The main competition arena at Stal Tops. 

The main competition arena at Stal Tops.

 

The old huge grass arena that was famous is now a sand area of the highest quality, as are all the surfaces as you can imagine. There are competitions here six times per year at present, and this week was three days of open competition that is used by the professionals as serious training for their horses. It’s then a day off, and a new set of horses that this week are for all the under 25 events. The two competitions have 512 outside horses there with 900 horses waiting on the reserve list. To see the efficiency and the way they get through the horses was amazing; the rings run non-stop for 8am until at least 8pm!

  

The tour group at Stal Tops. 

The tour group at Stal Tops.

  

The tour was then divided in to two groups and a guided tour of the facilities explored its history. The VIP areas and the two enormous stadiums were made in 12 months, and as Edwina says you can’t imagine that could be possible – but oh yes it was.

The absolute highlight was a tour through the private stables of Edwina and Jan, which is out of bounds normally. It was stunning to say the least. The stables were grand and totally functional with amazing facilities that you could ogle at for hours. The place immaculate, from the stables to the walkways, the clean windows and the red geraniums that were in planter boxes adorning the outside of the stables. 

 

Stal Tops stables.

Stal Tops stables.

  

The stunning Stal Tops stables.

The stunning Stal Tops stables.

 

The private indoor of theirs was UNBELIEVABLE. From the LED lights that cast no shadows and the perfect surface, to the constant temperature of 18 degrees all year around, and not only that but the surface was climate controlled as well. It was exceptional, as was the walkways and lawned edges. The horses were, as expected, immaculate and the leadlight glass windows and architecture of the barn was also incredible.  

On the way out we saw the retired Itot, who is in a grass yard where he can see the jumping arenas and the stables. He is one very idolised and special horse, and so deserves it.

It was then a break to watch some jumping and watch the likes of Athina Onassis ride, or sit at the barn for a beer and a burger. We also saw young Australian rider Jake Hunter complete a fantastic clear round – I’m sure he loved having a cheer squad.

  

Jake Hunter competing at Stal Tops. 

Jake Hunter competing at Stal Tops.

  

We then met with Edwina, who brought her daughter Chloe with her. We all chatted a lot and were enthralled listening to the stories of her experiences, her openness about where and what her horses are doing, and again we always remember what goes on tour stays on tour!

She was very excited, and on the one hand and a little disappointed, in telling us of their desire to do a Global Champions Tour in Sydney. The problem is getting to abide and work with the quarantine laws in Australia. 

For other GCT events, there is team of specifically trained workers who fly to all the venues around the world and set up the show. All the jumps and structure all is loaded onto planes and taken to the various locations and erected there, whether it be Paris or Shanghai or Dubai or Miami Beach or Monaco. It blows you away with the enormity of this, but what it has done to increase the sport is beyond imagination, from sponsorship opportunities to TV coverage.

 

Edwina and Chloe.

 Edwina and Chloe.

  

The few hours at Stal Tops was tops!!

What a whirlwind of amazing opportunities to get to be up close to the reality of the personalities of the world’s best horsemen and horses; a rare opportunity for us all. Back to the hotel to chat, eat and drink and get tickets for Aachen and to get ready for the Opening Ceremony!

This has been a feast of equestrian pleasures and now it is on to the real deal CHIO Aachen – stay tuned!

 

 The lovely Itot!

The lovely Itot!

 

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