Sapphire/ex Safari van’t Merelsnest under the saddle of McLain Ward (USA) at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games in Hong Kong

By Jo de Roo
Photography: Jo de Roo and Peter Llewellyn

According to Walter Van Bunder – the breeder of Sapphire and Glasgow van’t Merelsnest, one of the strongest qualities of the performance line of Chiquita is its hardiness. Life hasn’t always been plain sailing for Studfarm van’t Merelsnest, founded by Walter and Gerda Van Bunder-Stoop.

This couple has certainly experienced highlights and achieved international fame thanks to a series of own-bred international showjumpers, with two-time Olympic gold team medalist Sapphire/ex Safari van’t Merelsnest) and the internationally successful Grand Prix stallion VDL Glasgow van’t Merelsnest being the two most famous names. In 2017, Glasgow contributed to a team gold medal at the Nations’ Cup final in Barcelona. Sadly, tragedy struck that same year when Walter and Gerda’s son Björn died in a traffic accident at the age of 32. His car was stationery in a traffic jam when it was struck by a truck!

Family photo: [l-r] Gerda Stoop and Walter Van Bunder, daughter Sofie, with her children, son Björn and his wife Joline Meulewaeter – taken just two weeks before Björn was tragically killed in a car accident

Björn was a talented rider, breeder, trader, and journalist. Walter explained: “The plan was that Björn would take over our studfarm. That was our dream. The circle was complete. A tragic accident suddenly changed the chronology of life. It got complicated for us. Nowadays I am living from day to day. I try to think little about it and try to move forward. In principle, all the mares at our studfarm should be given opportunities, but I am reducing the activities a bit.” Gerda continued by saying; “The death of our son broke us physically and mentally, and we’re still trying to get back on track. Björn liked to live at our current location and, at the time, found an infrastructure for selling via the internet, so it’s a great pity that he can no longer experience this.”
Fortunately, there is also a ray of hope: “We are grateful to our daughter Sofie and son-in-law Tim because they are a great support to us. They provide ongoing professional training for the young horses, so the future is assured,” Walter said.
Studfarm van’t Merelsnest is now operating on a smaller scale and, if all goes well, 10 foals will be born in 2021. Walter is also training six three-year-old own-bred horses who go back to his foundation dam, Chiquita (BWP line 17). One of the strongest points of this performance line, according to Walter, is its hardness: “I haven’t had any horses that went lame due to heavy work. The horses that belong to this line are also, generally speaking, very healthy and stress resistant. A lot of scope and blood are also typical characteristics of this family.”

Q What is your definition of ‘blood’?
There’s a big difference between blood and temperament. Heartbreaker, for instance, is a temperamental horse with sufficient blood. To my mind, a blood horse is a horse that has a lot of stamina. With Chiquita, for example, I could canter uninterrupted five kilometers. Today in the international showjumping world we need horses with a lot of blood. They must have enough blood to perform over several days at a high level, and especially during the final day of the tournament. Showjumpers with too little blood can’t realise this.”
Walter entered the horse world through his parents: “My father was a small-scale farmer. He had some horses that were used on the farm. At the age of eight I was allowed to ride a draft horse of my father, which of course was not so normal. At one point the local fishmonger who owned some ponies said ‘I have a pony for you to ride’. So, I rode the pony. To ride a draft horse, I had to rely on help, but I didn’t need any help to ride a pony. I sometimes walked four kilometers with this pony and then jumped with him. He had a height at the withers of only 1m10, but performed at 1m20 level.”’

Walter’s first riding horse, a great-granddam of Toulon

Walter Van Bunder’s interest in horse breeding and sport grew: “When I was sixteen years old, I chose the stallions for my father’s broodmares. He was also passionate about horses and bred two or three foals every year. His grandfather was a stallion keeper. I also started trading horses, something which I did until I was around 29 years old. At the age of 19 I also owned my first riding horse, named Loteusi. This daughter of the Thoroughbred Uppercut is the great-granddam of Toulon. She was not too big, but very lithe. She was very supple, with good showjumping manners. I trained her dam and jumped with her at the highest regional level, 1m20. Once I even jumped faultlessly over a brick wall of 1m89. I also used Loteusi as a broodmare.” Out of Loteusi, Waltyer bred three descendants, including Hayland-L (Lurano), the granddam of Toulon (Heartbreaker - Nikita x Jokinal de Bornival), number three in the most recent WBFSH sire ranking.... To read the complete article you need to be a subscriber

CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE TO BREEDING NEWS
SUBSCRIBERS CAN READ THE COMPLETE ARTICLE BY LOGGING IN AND RETURNING TO THIS PAGE