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Adriana van Tilburg

The Olympic horses Glasgow van’t Merelnest and Sapphire

Breeding horses has to do with passion, emotion, persistence, faith, knowledge and luck. From Belgium, Walter and Gerda van Bunder, together with their children Björn and Sofie, have built up, in 35 years, one of the strongest Belgian damlines. It is very hard to find the words to talk about the tragedy of losing Björn in an accident. This story is told by Sofie van Bunder. This damline is simply extraordinary.

How did your parents start with this damline?

“The foundation mare Chiquita was bought by my parents in 1984. A 3/4 thoroughbred mare, for which my father had already taken x-rays, something that was barely done at the time. A mare with such blood was also a new feature in the region (we were then living in the Waasland, Sint-Gillis-Waas).  This region became a breeding region “par excellence” afterwards as many toppers were born there later on. So my father bought Chiquita and she was in foal of Hedjaz. She gave birth to Idjaz-C (the C referring to Chiquita) in Merelsnest . Idjaz was a large and strongly built mare with that beautiful blood supply from her dam Chiquita. Buyers had immediately a lot of interest for Idjaz-C but my parents didn’t want to sell her. When she was about 2 years old, she hurt her in the field. A very small but deep wound left her limping for life. So there was no sport possible. She was in the clinic of Gent for weeks to recover. She also was in foal of Lys de Darmen at that time. Miraculously, she did not aborted her foal despite the long recovery from the wound.”

What can you say about the early sport results?

"To continue with Idjaz-C, in 1988 she gave birth to an abnormally large foal. A foal that we thought she would lose, Livius van 't Merelsnest. In sports, he would be called Lapino and win big prizes. Jumping a 2,27m wall was also a piece of cake for him with David McPherso. He won a  test of strength in Brussels and that's how we tracked him down again, despite his name change. The first international results of the damline surfaced and that was the beginning of much more. In the meantime, in those years I rode the second offspring of Idjaz-C, Maureen van 't Merelsnest, also of Lys de Darmen. She guided me through the student competitions and the highest junior classes of 1,30m when I was only 14 years old, later to 1,40m and the final place BC juniors Lier in 1999. She was noticed by everyone but was not sold. After Maureen several stallions were also born for many years, each time they were sold as foals or yearlings to Wilfried Dehertoghe. He had also bought Livius and had it trained. After Maureen there was Nearco van 't Merelsnest (Lys de Darmen, 1,50m USA), Ovidius van' t Merelsnest (Lys de Darmen, 1,50m), Papillon van 't Merelsnest (Lys de Darmen, no result due to leg fracture at a young age). It was very exceptional how Idjaz produced top horses without exception year after year. Idjaz was a mare with a very good personality, but she also had character. My dad used to say her offspring could jump over a house and that's how it was. Idjaz never competed in sports, but the power she had in the ordinary act was simply very exceptional and very typical. "

How did you build up towards the success of Sapphire?

"After a series of Lys de Darmen offspring, it was time to try Darco. Besides Idjaz, her dam Chiquita was also covered by Darco, because Idjaz and Chiquita always walked together and also carried their foal together every year. Chiquita immediately produced the later BWP-approved stallion Quinten van 't Merelsnest. As for Idjaz, her first Darco descendant became Qarco van 't Merelsnest. And as it always went with Idjaz, it was again a topper. He was sold to Ludo Tielen as a young horse and received a very good education and obtained places of honor at the European Young Riders Championship with Damien Plume and later finished in the final of the Belgian Championship with Filip Lacus. Then he won the 1.60m Grand Prix in the USA. Qarco's full sister Safari van 't Merelsnest (later Sapphire) was born a year after him. It took time since Maureen before Idjaz gave another filly. Maureen later gave the GP horse Romulus van 't Merelsnest. Again a 1.60m horse and later won twice gold medal at the Olympic Games with McLain Ward, but much more than that she won so many prestigious big prizes. As a foal, Safari was immediately a very strong, powerful, correctly built mare with, like all van’t Merelnest arrivals, a heart of gold. The only thing you could find in the damline was that they didn’t lack in their power, which was why they kept reaching the top and why they were all never felled by injuries. Also very typical in the damline!" 

"Concerning Safari, she first gave us 2 foals as it always was like here then and then I rode the first competition with her as a 5-year-old. She evolved very quickly and as a 6-year-old she was already able to participate in the cycle races under the saddle of Kurt De Clercq. She was growing enormously and as a seven year old she was completely there. During the second cycle competition, she was immediately noticed by several dealers and sold. Moments later she even won her first grand prize with McLain Ward as an eight-year-old and as a nine-year-old she won team gold at the Olympic Games in Athens for the USA. What followed later is history. An incredible list of achievements, wonderful memories and moments, an  indescribable bond with “team Sapphire” aka “Sara”. In the meantime she also had her first stallion in England "Acropolis van ’t Merelsnest ".

What about Glasgow van ‘t Merelnest?

"Roxy was born after Safari, she did not compete in sport as she was a broodmare at Ludo Tielen’s breeding. In 1998, Idjaz-C had her first stallion, Vincenzo van 't Merelsnest. He was a great input  for the breeding as he has competed up to 1.50m. In 1999, the next star was born for both sport and breeding : Wendelina van ‘t Merelsnest (full sister of Sapphire). Nowadays, she turned out to be the full-fledged successor of Idjaz-C van 't Merelsnest. Wendelina gave birth to her two first foals : Cupido (jumped 1.40m) and Edjaz van 't Merelsnest (approved for BWP and jumped 1.50m). "

"Then, Wendelina was also used for breeding by embryo transfer (ET). For the van't Merelsnest family, that was the start of embryo transplant application. Björn and I trained Wendelina and then, she went with Marc Van Dijck to perform at 1.50m. Later on, Björn also achieved many beautiful 1.50m performances with her, highlighted by the selection for the Belgian Championship and the clear round but 1 time fault in Lanaken. In the same year, they also finished third in the Belgian Cup for seniors in Hulsterlo. Those were beautiful moments! Also with the half-sister of Wendelina, named Artemis Van’t Merelsnest (Voltaire), Björn jumped to 1.40m level. In the meantime, plenty of ET were done with Wendelina as she is also a very fertile strain, in fact many Nabab x Wendelina offspring have emerged from it as the infamous VDL Glasgow Van’t Merelsnest. He and Jur Vrieling gave us countless moments of goosebumps, just like with Sapphire and McLain Ward, with many clear rounds for the Dutch team and the victory of the Nations Cup final in Barcelona in 2017 which was the most moving about two months after Björn's death."

"The victory of the GP Rome was the most memorable individual victory for me. Glasgow's good character which he also gives to his offspring can be attributed to the entire stable. That is very typical of our breeding stables and even more noticeable when we have to deal with horses from other stables. The combination of Nabab de Reve and Wendelina is a real success formula as Idjaz-C Darco x Lys de Darmen. But actually it can also be said that every foal they give birth to is always the proof of a successful formula. That is the secret of a true top broodmare." 

"Wendelina gave birth to Glasgow but also to Cupido and Galanthis (both jumping 1.40m ). Wendelina also produced Indi-Blue van 't Merelsnest which jumps with unlimited scope. She jumped up to 1.50m and is now also used for breeding. Wendelina also gave the 1.50m-jumping Karat van 't Merelsnest. Molvedo and Morton van ‘t Merelsnest were both fully performing at the 1.45m level at eight-year-olds. Malinda van 't Merelsnest is the only Nabab x Wendelina daughter and her first offspring is also a Z approved stallion."

"The tribe is much bigger than this story and this story started in the early 1980s with the purchase of the Hanoverian Chiquita. Good character, blood supply, power and strength, willingness to work are in my opinion the keys to success of the damline.”


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