Dinja van Liere Back to Living the Dream, Overcoming Months of Heartbreak
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Nov. 19, 2021
By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
When Dinja van Liere first fell in love with horses there was no hope of fulfilling the dream of the six-year-old girl. Until her grandfather, “Opa” in Dutch, stepped in. He went with her every day for riding lessons at a club in Goes in southwestern Netherlands where her family lived and when she stuck with it bought Dinja her first pony, “Fits,” a jumper that she liked because of the speed and excitement.
For the next 25 years, as Dinja rode more ponies then horses and developed a passion for dressage, “Opa Flits” as her grandfather became known after the name of that first pony, went to all her events.
For “Opa Flits” Dinja’s first Dutch dressage championships in June this year was a dream come true. The first of two qualifying events for the Netherlands team for the Tokyo Olympics, she came third on the nine-year-old Hermès, behind Edward Gal and Hans Peter Minderhoud. A repeat performance at the Nations Cup in Rotterdam a month later and she and Hermès after just three international Big Tour events would be off to Tokyo
“Opa Flits” died three days after the Dutch championship. He did not know what was to come.
She overcame her grief to go to Rotterdam a month later where Dinja and Hermès, a KWPN stallion, helped her team earn Nations Cup gold.
Expecting to be named to the team, she was stunned when told the International Equestrian Federation had decided Hermès had German ownership and not Dutch as required by International Olympic Committee rules. Joop van Uytert, the owner is Dutch, always has been. He owns other international competition horses, but not Hermès, with a German. That a mistake of such magnitude could be made, apparently a bureaucratic error by the FEI, was made worse when the FEI refused to agree to an appeal to CAS, the international sports court, for a hearing.
The Dutch federation instead named Dinja on Haute Couture, also nine years old but a mare, to go to Tokyo as reserve. Ironically, Haute Couture also lists Joop as an owner.
“When I learned I could not go I was devastated,” Dinja told dressage-news.com. “Your dream is just taken away. I had Haute Couture as a reserve, but it’s not the same.”
From a kid, Dinja has pursued her riding seemingly with a single mind.
She found the Pony Club style lessons of standing in line taking orders as “very boring.” She liked jumping, fast and exciting.
But her second pony was difficult, “we couldn’t go forwards or backwards,” she recalled. “Then I started with dressage because people told me that first you have to have a little bit control before you jump.”
“That’s how my dressage career started. I learned a lot from that pony because he wasn’t easy. Then I was hooked on dressage and didn’t do jumping any more.”
Dinja started riding horses for other people, “I wasn’t really scared of anything. I learned a lot from that.”
When she was 20 years old, she learned to ride dressage for competition–changes, piaffe and passage, competing Hexagon’s Roumanda in the under-25 division, a level where some mistakes can be made such as a little bit forward in piaffe.
Her first world championship was on Capri Sonne Jr. (Rhodium x San Remo) as a five-year-old in 2012, winning bronze. Two years later, the duo was winning at international Small Tour.
The horse was sold to Laura Tomlinson of Great Britain, a decision Dinja said that “for me was very difficult because he was my special horse. I thought we could do Grand Prix because he could do everything and we were such a special team.”
After that, Dinja stopped riding for Hexagon and went out on her own.
She competed Haute Couture in the world championships as a five-year-old.
The first big success was on Hermès, earning bronze in the world six-year-old championships in 2018.
Both horses, she said, have “done great their whole lives.”
In 2019, Independent Little Me became another young prospect for Dinja. She competed the KWPN stallion in the world championships as a six-year-old. Two years later, Dinja and the eight-year-old won at Small Tour in Germany and two months ago at the World Equestrian Festival in Aachen, Germany.
Although Haute Couture is the “sweetest horse,” owner Joop van Uytert suggested three or four years ago training with Rieky Young, a successful reining trainer in the Netherlands.
“In my opinion that’s what makes it really special because I’m really good at riding tests but she is really good at the basic things,” Dinja said. “She’s from a different side so I think that makes it different than other Dutch dressage riders, and for me that’s refreshing…
“She has an open mind and I like that a lot. That’s really important in dressage that you don’t focus on one thing.”
It also meant that Dinja had to have an open mind.
“I’m open for everything,” she said. “We started there and we had a really good connection from the first day. Then I took Hermès and Independent Little Me, all my horses.
“She is really good, not in one type of horse, but every type of horse. She looks for solutions but not the normal dressage aproach like you learn from a book. I think she’s easygoing and relaxed. When you have a problem you want to fix that problem immediately but Rieky says ‘forget the problem, we’re going to do this and this’ and you solve the problem.
“Her character is really special. She doesn’t stress when your horse is doing something you don’t want, and takes the attitude ‘if we can’t fix it today, we’ll fix it tomorrow or the week after. It will be fine’.”
Here’s how Dinja descibes her two top horses:
Haute Couture is the only mare she rides and is nicknamed “Merrie” (mare in Dutch). “She’s the sweetest horse you could ever wish for because she’s sweet but not with the bitchy things you don’t like in a mare.
She’s a princess, now starting to be a real queen. She’s a princess, but not a typical mare, she feels a little bit stillionish. In some ways a tomboy. She’s always wants to do her ultimate best and she likes to work and likes the attention and really likes to cuddle. In Tokyo she abolutely loved it there because all the attention was for her for two weeks. I think she didn’t want to go home. She’s very safe and doesn’t want to make any mistakes. She always does her best even when she’s a little bit scared, ‘OK, I’m doing it, I’m doing it for you’. We have a special bond. She is focused on me. When I walk by she turns her head and says, ‘That’s my girl’. She’s lovely and loveable.”
Hermès. “He’s really a stallion, a naughty boy. He’s really funny. I always laugh about him because he tries to make fun of everything. When I do the vet check he likes to buck and wants to bite everything. He never makes me feel scared of him because he makes fun of everything. Just a naughty boy in a cool way. Very, very smart—extremely smart—he learns very fast. But he can also learn naughty things very fast. In riding when I do something wrong he picks up on it immediately and say, ‘OK, I have a way out, I can use that’. He likes to bite everything. I know him and I think he does it for me. When I’m in the arena, there are some horses that want to run out but he doesn’t want to go out of the arena any more. When I’m riding him at home and I’m finished and walking him around he’s walking really forward then when I go to the exit he, says. ‘No, can we do another round?’ It’s really crazy. Normally they want to go out, but he stops and says, ‘No, we’re not going out’, and I really have to push him out. I think he finds the stable boring. because he wants to work and he also likes the attention. He’s not really cuddly but he likes the attention and he likes to play around. I throw a towel in his face and he grabs it with his teetch and pulls it. Just a lovely game he likes.”
Haute Couture and Hermès are different, but it’s nice to have them both together, she said.
“I couldn’t make a choice between the two. Haute Couture is very safe and doesn’t want tlo make any mistakes and Hermès has a really special frame When he comes in the arena you’re like ‘Wow!’ Both have great piaffe and passage. It’s difficult to make a choice between them.
“I like stallions the most,” Dinja confided “I like the show master element. When I complete a test and salute Hermès says, ‘Yes, that’s me.’ I like that a lot.”
The favorite part of Dinja’s life is being around the horses, to work with the horses, I like all of it. The most special thing is to get a bond with them. With older horses you have a better bond because you’ve been riding them for a longer time. I’m not that good at riding an older horse that had another rider before. I like to do it from a three-year-old because then you really have a bond that creates a special relationship.
“I’m living the dream at the moment. I was already very happy and I knew I had a couple of nice horses. The thing I like most is that I can work with them every day and have fun with them and cuddle them and just play around with them. That’s what I like. I’m living the dream because it’s going so well, the horses are doing so well. It’s really cool.”
Dinja admits she’s not good at long term planning.
“I just see how it goes,” she said. “I go with the flow and make short term plans, not long term plans because you never know what happens. I thought initially when they were eight the Olympics were too soon. But who would have though Covid would come and the Olympics were a year later. You could never plan that.”
Her goal is the the world championships in Herning, Denmark next summer–“for me that’s quite long term.”