“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.”

—American basketball player and coach Jim Valvano

When Dutch breeder Pieter Kersten conceived of pairing VDL Zirocco Blue with Larome-sired-dam Golden Lea II, you’d have to assume he was cautiously optimistic about the match.

Jur Vrieling’s Olympic stallion has produced several elite show jumpers among his 485 offspring. The dark bay mare, however, was a maiden dam. And at 17, not a young one either.

Golden Lea II would produce only one heir, a grey mare named Hallilea.

When the mare turned five, Kersten gave her to his then-17-year-old son Lars. In the seven years since, he’s watched them climb the FEI World Rankings (Lars is no. 192) and onto 16 podiums, including eight international victories.

The pair made their 5* debut in Rotterdam in 2022. In December that year, they jumped their first 1.60m in Mechelen and in March 2023, they posted their first double clear at the height in the Rolex Grand Prix ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

All under the careful coaching of Pieter.

On Saturday, the father, son and mare achieved their biggest accomplishment yet.

Making their first ever appearance at the Gothenburg Horse Show in Sweden, Pieter coached his son and the horse he bred to their first five-star Grand Prix victory against a field of 35 in the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup of Gothenburg, the 14th and final leg of the 2023/2024 Western European League.

Seven pairs mastered Swedish course designer Peter Lundström’s 13-fence first round track to advance to the short course, including world no. 1 Henrik von Eckermann on the formidable King Edward and four-time Olympian Peder Fredricson on his veteran partner Catch Me Not S.

Third to return, Kersten set the standard in 35.44 seconds on their homebred mare.

Four more gave chase. Fredricson risked a super-tight inside turn to the third fence on his 18-year-old partner but it didn’t pay off.

“In hindsight, maybe it wasn’t the best decision because I didn’t get the turn right. We had an extra stride and up-and-down jump and that takes a lot of time so I lost the victory there. But the horse jumped amazing!” he said, after stopping the clock in 35.99.

Von Eckermann was two tenths of a second faster in 35.72 on his multi-hyphenate title holder King Edward—and this after getting jumped off in the warm up ring—but it wasn’t enough to catch the young Dutchman.

“My horse jumped really, really well, maybe too well in the jump off and he lost a bit of time,” said von Eckermann. “But this is a good way to lose. Of course I wanted to win but with how King Edward jumped you can only be happy. Especially with what is coming this season, the World Cup Final and then Paris [Olympic Games] this summer.”

For 24-year-old Kersten, and no doubt his father, it was a pinch-me moment in Gothenburg’s famed Scandinavium Arena.

“I’ve seen Henrik and Peder in so many jump-offs so I know they are capable of being faster than me. But I think I was pretty fast and in the end it showed that it was not that easy to beat me so I’m very, very pleased with my mare. She absolutely gave 100% today!” said the 24-year old.

“The moment she turned five I took her over and it’s special for me that we have done this journey together,” Lars continued. “We already had some very nice placings but almost nothing beats winning the World Cup here in Gothenburg! It feels a bit unreal! To sit in front of these guys [von Eckermann and Fredricson] is not easy and most of the time I will be behind them, so today is a big, big day!”

Gothenburg saw the final leg of the 2023/24 Western European League. Eighteen athletes from the Western European League will advance to the Longines Final 2024 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 16 to 20.