There’s no sure-fire way to make it to the top of the show jumping rankings list, but if you could pick a place to start, your trajectory might look a lot like 11-year-old Mel Van Der Kamp’s. Thanks to hard work and plenty of natural talent, this young rider from The Netherlands has landed a coveted riding position with Stal Wilten sales barn in Nieuwleusen, where he’s been taken under the wing of co-owner, Roy Wilten. Along with riding and competing his own ponies, Mel also helps to campaign a number of Stal Wilten’s hunter, jumper, and equitation prospects, a fact he credits with helping to make him the well-rounded rider he one day hopes to become.

With dreams of an Olympic show jumping career ahead of him, there’s no reason to doubt this dedicated junior will reach his goals—most likely, much sooner than expected! Here, Mel shares 10 things he’s learned as an apprentice at Stal Wilten.

1. Ride with feeling.

To me, this means that if I am relaxed on my horse or pony,  I can feel what’s happening beneath me and can then adjust my ride to what I feel my horse will most benefit from.

2. Horses are individuals. 

Every horse or pony is different and each one teaches me something new. They can all react in their own ways to different things while riding or tacking up.

3. Patience and persistence.

Sometimes, in training, you won’t always succeed on the first try. But I have learned that you need to keep on going because in the end, you will notice the progress you’ve made.

4. Think like a horse.

To me, it is very important that my horses come out of their stalls a few times a day. This is not only good for training, but also for their happiness, be it getting turned out to play or going for a hack in the forest.

5. Believe in yourself and your horse.

This way, even if you are not as successful as you’d like in a competition, you’ll still remain positive in the long run. Also, it helps you to have confidence in yourself that you can make it better the next time.

6. Ride as many different horses as you can.

I get to ride different horses and ponies at Stal Wilten and I learn a lot this way. I am so glad I get the help from [Roy Wilten]. He lets me figure out a lot of things on my own, but he is always there to answer my questions or help me work through a particular issue.

7. Set high goals. 

I hope my experiences at Stal Wilten will make me a well-rounded rider and that I develop the skills to ride all types of horses. This way, I might get good enough to ride in grands prix one day, and maybe reach the Olympic level. This is my goal.

8. Be an active participant in your training.

Listen to what your trainer has to say so that you always have things to remember and practice when you are in competition or training on your own.

9. Hang onto the positives.

Your confidence will grow when you do well and win prizes and you should think back to those moments when things don’t go as planned.

10. Keep smiling!

Roy Wilten always says to, “Keep on smiling.” In Dutch, it is, blijven lachen!

-Photos courtesy of Stal Wilten.