A new star is emerging on the Canadian show jumping scene thanks to Eric Lamaze’s ability to recognize talent and develop it in the right hands. Nikka vd Bisschop, known around the barn as “Nikka,” will be heading to the upcoming World Championships in Denmark under the saddle of Canadian Olympian Beth Underhill.

A quick glance at the 2013 Belgian Warmblood mare’s breeding would impress anyone familiar with show jumping bloodlines. Nikka’s sire, Emerald (Diamant de Semilly x Carthago Z), enjoyed nine seasons of competition at the top levels with Harrie Smolders, including representing the Dutch team at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and finishing runner-up at the 2016 World Cup Final. Her dam, Havanna vd Bisschop, is by Nabab de Reve out of a Heartbreaker mare.

Nikka vd Bisschop was bred by Stal de Bisschop, a respected name in Belgian breeding, with the “vd Bisschop” suffix showing up with increasing regularity on international show jumping start lists. Despite the quality of her breeding, Nikka didn’t appeal to everyone when Belgian dealer Axel Verlooy of Euro Horse was marketing her for sale.

According to Lamaze, “She’s not the most beautiful horse. She’s a bit heavy and old-fashioned with a big head. I had seen a video of her from the Sunshine Tour and she looked like just another horse to me.”

Beth, Oliver and Nikka having a little confab. (courtesy Beth Underhill)

Despite his initial hesitation, the former Olympic champion took a chance and began showing Nikka as an eight-year-old at the 2021 Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, FL. The mare had previously been campaigned in the FEI Young Horse divisions in 2019 by Thomas van Minnebruggen of Belgium and, after being purchased by Verlooy at the beginning of the 2020 season, again competed in the Young Horse divisions with Great Britain’s Emma Stoker.

Lamaze moved Nikka up to the five-star level before Torrey Pines Stable rider, Nina Mallevaey of France, took over the reins for the remainder of 2021. When Canadian Olympian Beth Underhill began riding for Lamaze, Nikka was passed to her for the 2022 Winter Equestrian Festival where clear rounds were the norm. The partnership continued to blossom and in June, Underhill and Nikki were named to the Canadian squad that will compete at the upcoming World Championships in Herning, Denmark.

“She’s a very strong-willed mare and I mean that in the best possible way; she’s a very strong personality but she always works with you,” said Underhill. “She’s very intelligent and she learns very quickly. She’s a horse that is so careful and so precise and so clever about where she needs to be. I’ve never ridden a horse at her age and stage of development that has such a quick but confident reaction in her jump and in herself.”

Underhill also sees a similarity between Nikka and Altair, her former international jumper.

“She has an unusual style at the jump,” Underhill explained. “She has three distinct gears ‒ quick in front, then her back is straight, and then she hinges behind. If you look at her, her tail is always vertical at the end of her arc. She reminds me of Altair; I’ve never had another horse that does that with the tail straight up in the air. It’s a very unusual jumping style, but very effective.”

Nikka is owned by Lamaze’s Torrey Pines Stable in partnership with the Rein Family LLC, headed by Canadians Mark Rein and his wife, Tara Dow-Rein. Show jumping is a family affair for the Reins with Tara and the couple’s youngest daughter, Cassidy, both actively competing at the FEI-level.

“It’s been amazing to be part of her trajectory and development,” said Underhill, who has been based in Belgium since April in preparation for the World Championships. “I have appreciated Mark and Tara giving me the time to develop her. They’ve been very patient and supportive. She needs to be developed the right way and we’ve been very mindful of that. She’s progressed so much in the last three or four months.”

That patient progression will serve the pair well as they prepare to step onto the world stage in Denmark.