The story around the KWPN-bred gelding Leone Jei (Baltic VDL – Dara x Corland) is filled with emotions. His breeder Gijs van Mersbergen passed away before he could witness the success of Leone Jei under the saddle of Martin Fuchs.

It started with Pardous

Maartje van der Velden is the granddaughter of Gijs van Mersbergen. From a very young age, Maartje was involved in her grandfather’s breeding business [in Undenhout in The Netherlands]. She recalls, “My grandfather purchased the Peter Pan daughter, Pardous, as a young mare, and she became the foundation mare of the line. She was always a special mare – she was a gentle, quiet mare, but you could see her blood coming through when something was about to happen. She was also very gentle with us when we were little. We could connect with her foals.

“My first memory of Pardous is when I was six years old and she passed away when I was 16 years old, so I basically grew up with her [Pardous]. I think she passed her character on to her offspring – most of them were easy-going and showed a lot of willingness to perform.

“The mother of Leone Jei, Dara [a daughter of Pardous], was a bit of a different story. She had a lot of character, not in a bad way, but my grandfather didn’t let us as small children go in with her alone. I personally never saw Pardous jumping, as she was only used as a broodmare with us, so it is hard for me to say what she has passed on to her offspring.

“My grandfather was a real fan of the Holsteiner-bred stallion Cardento; he used him seven times for Pardous…. [he] liked the way Cardento and Corland performed in the sport. The cross with Pardous and Cardento worked. My grandfather bred four horses from this cross that jumped at 1m40 and higher.

“It was also very important for my grandfather that the horses had a good character. He wanted to be able to trust his horses completely. The combination between Pardous and Corland resulted in the mare Dara, the mother of Leone Jei.

“Dara is the exception in this story – she is quite a hot character! She has also passed that ‘hotness’ on to her offspring. We can proudly say that what she produced with Leone Jei is a truly exceptional horse.

“My grandfather bred about five or six foals a year. He also bred dressage horses for a while, but his heart was with showjumping. That gave him much more excitement and he thought it was very special that the horses were able to jump the high fences. We also watched every big competition. He really liked the sport.

“Unfortunately, I never went to CHIO Aachen with my grandfather, but the plan is that I will go to next year’s Paris Olympic Games with my grandmother. We would also like to watch Leone Jei at another Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping jajor, that would be very special – this year we went to The Dutch Masters. I keep the whole family informed about where Leone Jei is going to jump or his results.”

Leone Jei

Maartje says, “My grandfather always liked Baltic VDL. He thought that Cardento was not a good match for Dara, and that is why he decided to use Baltic VDL. Breeding is always a bit of a gamble, but it worked out well. We really liked how Leone Jei was as a foal and we used Baltic VDL again and that became the mare Idara. She is now in the USA, owned by Dark Horse. Funny enough, Martin Fuchs competed with her in the USA at 1m45!”

a foal

Leone Jei as a foal (Beeld Werkt photo)

“We always had to laugh about Leone Jei’s birthname. My grandfather searched the internet for a nice name with an ‘H’ and came out with ‘Hay El Desta Ali’. Eventually, we found out that it meant something like ‘it is what it is’. So, in the end, it was a special name after all.

“As a foal, he was just as hot-headed as his mother. He had a super character, but he also showed a lot of blood, especially when he got started under saddle. The first rides under saddle were an adventure.

“Now he really knows how to use the blood he has. The way he carries his tail is exactly the same as he did as a young horse. Due to the friendship between my grandfather and Ad van Hal, Ad purchased Dara. We still had Pardous and Chantal at the time as broodmares. I know I have a very unique mare here.

“This line has for me and my family a lot of emotional value. My grandfather tried to follow where his horses went. It is very special to see the development of Leone Jei with Martin Fuchs. The success that Leone Jei has is always something that he dreamed of. He always said that it only takes one horse that will make all dreams come true.

“Our grandfather used to sit behind his computer and find all the information about his horses and look at all of the information on stallions. He went to many different stallion presentations, stallion competitions, etc. We never dared to dream that Leone Jei would become the horse that he currently is. We owe all the success to the Peter Pan daughter Pardous. My grandfather passed away shortly after Leone Jei was sold to Martin Fuchs.”

The victory in Spruce Meadows

Maartje remarks, “I watched Martin Fuchs’ and Leone Jei’s victory the day after with my grandmother. We try to watch every competition live but this was a bit too late due to the time difference. It was so exciting, especially when they had a touch on the first fence! It was unreal to watch how Martin put his arm up when jumping the last fence.

“I was overwhelmed with a proud feeling. It is very special that a horse like Leone Jei was born in my grandfather’s stables.”

~ condensed version, read full article here.