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Willem Greve’s Life is a Highway TN N.O.P.

DenBosch, Netherlands - March 10, 2024. Willem Greve of the Netherlands riding 12 year old stallion Highway TN T.O.P. becomes the first Dutch rider to win the Rolex Dutch Masters and the first Dutch Rider to ever win a Rolex Grand Slam Series title in the modern era. ©Atlas Media Canada / Mark Spowart

“I could tell that I was behind. I could feel it, but the horse never gives up. We fought to the end and it was enough. So I’m very proud of him and everybody around him. Dreams can come true,” said Willem Greve (NED) on Sunday in s’Hertogenbosch.

Greve’s electric Rolex Grand Prix win with 12-year-old stallion Highway TN N.O.P. is the kind every rider fantasizes about.

Imagine striding into a sold-out arena on home turf as the final rider to jump-off and laying it all on the line. Risky turns at full speed. A ‘Hail Mary’ long shot at the final Rolex oxer. Then galloping through the timers to hear the crowd erupt as -0.04 seconds flashes across the scoreboard.

That legendary finish became Greve’s reality on Sunday night at Indoor Brabant. The 41 year old negotiated the tricky Louis Konickx (NED) designed track in 33.70 seconds to steal the lead from world no. 1 Henrik von Eckermann (SWE) and King Edward (33.74) and log the first Dutch victory in Rolex Grand Slam series history.

Greve could hardly believe it himself.

“I have to pinch myself, it is unbelievable. Words can’t describe how I am feeling. I am so thankful to my horse for his courage and mentality. It means so much to me to win in front of my home crowd, I have been coming to The Dutch Masters since I was a small child, and so to win here is a dream come true,” said the emotional rider.

After the final buzzer Greve didn’t need words to get his feelings across. In perfect style, he added even more leg and galloped straight into a victory lap, tearing off his helmet and launching it into the air.

Greve is now crowned the Rolex Grand Slam Live Contender, but even that name comes second to the one he earned tonight; hometown hero.

“The last turn to the final oxer I got my first distance, then the long one, so it wasn’t the smoothest jump-off I’ve ever ridden with him but it was fast enough,” said Greve of his track.

In any 1.60m Grand Prix the margins of success and failure are slim, as his fellow podium finishers would agree. Von Eckermann, who perhaps set his own astonishing baseline of results, visibly grappled with the disappointment of losing the win in the final moments.

“For sure I don’t want to come second, but all credit to Willem. He went in last and made a fantastic round. I finished second in three Grand Prix in a row. Of course now, sitting here being second you have kind of a bad feeling in your stomach. It changed tonight, but I’m just so grateful to my horse and the owners I have,” said von Eckermann, before cracking a quick smile.

“It’s not the first time, it’s not the last time.”

Third place finisher Harrie Smolders (NED) also felt the win just slip from his grasp when 12-year-old stallion Uricas van de Kattevennen stumbled after landing from the penultimate fence. Smolders clocked in at 34.66 seconds.

“I think my first turn was almost too tight and that slowed me down a little bit too much in the seven stride, and then he stumbled a little bit before the last fence. The level is so high that if that happens in a jump-off you’ve already a little bit lost,” said Smolders.

“So I’m very pleased with third place, he jumped fantastic. This is his first show after a winter break, so we are looking forward to the outdoor season.”

Whether at the show or at home, timing is everything with horses. Greve took his time in developing Highway at a slow, steady pace, though not exactly on purpose.

In Greve’s stable the title of top horse (and the responsibilities therein) went to Grandorado TN N.O.P. With the pressure off, Highway was free to course around the levels at his leisure. Yet, Greve always had a sense his time would come.

“I got Highway when he was seven, and I knew he had the right qualities. He’s always been a very sharp horse with a super mentality. The question was almost always how much scope does he have? So we gave him a lot of time at 1.40-1.45m to the 1.50m level,” said Greve.

It was in fact the perfect strategy for the stallion, and the proof is in the stats. After stepping up to the 1.60m level just last year, he collected three podium finishes, two of them wins. Before heading into the Rolex Grand Prix, Highway already had a 67% top ten finish rate at 1.60m (Jumpr App).

“Grandorado was always named number one and Highway was always the second horse. Yet in the end, looking back, I think that was actually the perfect thing for him because then he could grow in the shadow of Grandorado,” said Greve.

“When Grandorado unfortunately fell out last year, Highway took over and he was like, ‘Why didn’t you ask me before?’ because the feeling that the horse gives you is that he’s always trying 120%. Maybe 200%, he gives you everything, and he’s really matured in his body and got stronger. I think he actually had the perfect path in his career.”

The best moment to reflect on the journey is after a career defining win, but with the 2024 Paris Olympic Games just over the horizon Greve has no time to put his boots up and relax. Now with two proven stallions in Grandorado and Highway, he’s hoping to be part of a Dutch revolution in Versailles.

“First of all, I think it’s a big privilege to have those two horses in the stable…looking forward to the summer towards the Games I can tell you out of personal experience that a lot of things happen. Not only with the horses but also with myself. I broke my leg and arm two weeks before the World Championships,” laughed Greve.

“So we try to make a good plan for both stallions to get them in the best shape possible. First, I’d need to get selected and second, we will see who is in the best shape.”

As Greve will tell you, anything can happen. Dreams, too.

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