Carola Sneekes:The Netherlands Beyond Ermelo – Pt 2

PART 2: On healing horses and letting ourselves be healed

A few weeks ago, we published the first part of our interview with Carola Sneekes, which was done in a partnership with VoltigierZirkel.

Today, we bring you part 2 of our conversation on which Carola tells us about her relationship with horses. It was truly inspiring to learn more about it. Each person I talk to on this big vaulting world has a different relationship with horses, here in Brazil, people ride at big equestrian clubs with state of the art structure and hundreds of horses, but each country is different from the next and by talking to Carola I learned a little bit more about the Netherlands, a traditional equestrian nation, where vaulting doesn’t seem to have much space.


Read her previous interview here and check out her answers:

1. You told me that you recently found an “abandoned” horse whom you helped recover and that now you are training him. How did this happen?

Actually we help each other recover.. 🙂 It is kind of a long story, which starts with my old horse Milo dying.

Milo was my best friend, my soulmate even. Although obviously we couldn’t really communicate, still we had a strong connection with each other, or at least I imaginated we had… So when he died, I broke down. I really had a hard time coping with that, and actually I wanted to quit not only vaulting but also riding and even caring for horses. The only reason I carried on was because I had already promised I would compete in the world cup season and my sister Esther told me it wasn’t fair to the organising committees to cancel that. So my mum and Esther, and of course Nolan (Esther’s horse), helped me carry on, and eventually, I started to enjoy vaulting again, and then I understood that I was/am so addicted to this sport that I couldn’t live without it.

So I got the idea to search for Milo’s mother. I knew she was a breeding mare, so I thought maybe I could breed a foal with exactly the same parents as Milo had. Unfortunately it turned out that Milo’s mother already died, but I did find his sister Safari, who was actually a vaulting horse in Aachen, Germany. She wasn’t for sale so my journey ended, at least back then.

But since I was missing the riding and caring part, I decided to try and buy a ‘normal’ horse instead. So I searched for a sweet, not too big (since I’m tiny myself), brave and, if possible, well-ridden dressage horse, so it didn’t take me much time before I could go to competitions. I didn’t have a lot of money, because before Milo died he had had a lot of surgeries which cost me all my money, so it took me a while to find a new equine partner.

That was when I came across this terribly malnourished horse. He was exactly what I wasn’t looking for: way too tall (1.93 meter), scared of everything, totally green, unmanageable and extremely thin. But he would have died if nobody bought him, and I felt so sorry for him (since it wasn’t his fault that nobody cared for him) so I did.
I took him home, gave him some good deworming and a lot of food and waited.

Only after one whole year he was strong enough to start training. So I started lunging to try to build a few muscles. And then I noticed he had really nice movements. First my plan was to feed him a lot and when he was healthy again, sell him as riding horse, or somewhere else he could be happy, since he was too nervous to be a vaulting horse. But with time I gained his trust and, since he moved so well,  we tried out just a little compulsories. And he accepted vaulting from day one. I realise that this sounds as if he is a really easy horse, but the truth is I’ve never had a horse more difficult than Elimar. For example it took me a whole month to be able to come close to him after I got him out in the fields because he was afraid to come close to people and didn’t want to leave the other horses. When I took him into his stall he was too scared too eat, so he stayed outside the whole year. He is really nervous and I think he has been beaten or something like that, because he can totally freak out of a sudden and without any reason, and if he does he is really dangerous. But with patience and especially by staying calm we are getting there.

I went to a few competitions this season and we were planning to go to Saumur together, but just a few days before he decided he didn’t want to go into the horse trailer and ran away. By doing that he injured his hind leg and needed a few stitches and so we cancelled Saumur.

We want to do some other CVI instead, but Elimar isn’t strong enough to do the technical test yet (he still needs a lot of muscles so we can only do easy freestyles without moving too fast/groundjumps etc) and we need Belgium to qualify [for the Europeans], we don’t know wich one yet.

Meanwhile I’m competing on another horse. I told before you about Milo’s sister who was living in Germany. She was sold to the most caring people who were treating her very well, but somehow it didn’t work out.

They couldn’t do freestyle because Safari started running too fast. However,  I only do individuals and no team, and since they knew how special she is to me, they asked me if I wanted to give it a try. As with Elimar, we started easy, but so far she accepts everything I do. I took her to Saumur instead of Elimar and she did a great job.

For those of you who know I’m normally competing on Nolan and are wondering what happened to him:

Nolan had some kind of virus this winter season, we don’t know which one exactly, but a lot of horses in our neighbourhood had it and were very ill. So was Nolan. He lost a lot of weight and muscles and of course we didn’t do any training at all when he was not feeling well. So we, or actually Esther, started riding and later vaulting with him only in March, and we think one individual is enough for him at the moment.


2. Do you have a horse trainer who helps you out, or are you in charge of training your own horse in your free time and each of you has a horse as a sort of ‘personal project’?

As mentioned, clubs in Holland are quite small. Normally it is just a riding school that happens to have a vaulting lesson next to dressage/jumping-classes, and the vaultinghorses are doing classes the rest of the week. Then there are a few clubs that can use horses owned by individuals. Those people ride their horse the whole week and normally do dressage/jumping-competitions, and lent their horse to a vaulting team (most of the time with their daughter/friend/themselves in it) once or twice a week. Those horses are usually used for team vaulting, so if someone wants to do individual vaulting they have to either be in a bigger club (recall that most clubs have only 7, maybe 12 members and one or two horses) or they have to buy their own horse.

Our club is one of the bigger clubs and my family plays a huge part in that. The club has two horses of its own. Both horses are ridden by people of the riding school where we do our trainings. Apart from that we have 3 horses that are owned by my family and that the club uses for training and competitions. Two of these are ridden by members of our first team. The third one is ridden by me.

Together we have 4 teams and 2 individual classes. However an individual class is only one hour long, and there are 4 individuals in one class. So average horse-time is 15 minutes.We can’t afford to have less vaulters in any class, because we have to rent a riding-hall, and the vaulters do not pay enough to train longer or with fewer vaulters.

As for Esther and me, we started riding long before we started vaulting. Even owned our own pony before we starting vaulting (we 3 sisters shared one pony). As we started vaulting we didn’t want to quit riding, and when the time came we grew out of our pony, all of us bought their own horse. And while we were all vaulting, we immediately bought big horses suitable for vaulting. When we got better at vaulting they happened to be quite perfect, since we now had three horses to train with. At that time we were the only individuals at our club, so we didn’t have to share our horses. All three of us trained on all three horses, and so we could make progress. Then Esther and I started training with my mom, whereas Cindy stayed with Maurits, and so Esther and I went on together.

We ride and train our own horses. Only Nolan has a dressage rider who trains him once a week. Mainly because Esther didn’t have enough time to ride him herself every day when she was doing internships. We ride our own horses because we love the whole package, grooming, riding, vaulting, just taking care of a horse. Also because we can’t afford to pay someone to ride our horses. But we all started riding when we were quite young and therefore have some experience. Last but not least it makes everything more special when you are the one that really takes care of everything for your horse. You get to know each other better, love each other and that makes you a better team.


I am a 27 years old psychologist from Brazil, although I have graduated in psychology I work with media and communications, with a focus on data analysis. I am currently heading towards a master's degree at the London School of Economics (LSE). I am not vaulting anymore, but I did for over 10 years. As it very often happens in our sport, I never really left, I taught at a social project for a few years and have been working on VN since 2014.