Sunday 20, May

The father-son duo teaming up in Madrid

It's not uncommon for sons to follow their fathers into a professional sport.

To have both generations competing together at the very highest level, however, is exceptional.

This weekend the world's elite show jumpers descend on Madrid for the first European leg of the 2018 Longines Global Champions Tour and Global Champions League.

And among the competitors will be the Dutch father-and-son duo of Maikel and Eric Van der Vleuten.

Now in its third year, 19 teams make up the league, which takes place alongside the individual competition, the Global Champions Tour. The league doesn't just provide riders from different nations the opportunity to unite on the same team. In the case of the home team, Madrid in Motion and the van der Vleutens, it also provides an unusual chance for a family to pull on matching team colors.

'We're on the same wavelength and have the same views on how to get the best out of our horses,' says Maikel, 30, who was part of the Netherlands' silver medal-winning team at the London Olympics in 2012. Softly spoken, he is one of the most popular riders on the tour.

Renowned for building a strong bond with his horses, he has been riding his top horse, Verdi for 12 years and together they've won many of the sports top prizes.

Maikel is based in Samoren, the Netherlands, alongside his father, Eric, 54 who has returned to competition at the highest level having concentrated on coaching in recent years.

He won an individual European gold medal for the Netherlands in 1982 and has been to three World Championships with his country.

The Global Champions League has played its part in tempting Eric back to the international stage and he is now "chef d'equipe" as well as an integral team member of Madrid in Motion.

"I think my father enjoys competing on the same team as me,' says Maikel. "It's pretty unique to both be at the top of our sport but we work well together.

"He knows me so well that when we walk the show jumping course together, having him there gives me that extra bit of confidence on making decisions. He's always there for me.'

After three events this season, Madrid in Motion sit 14th in the Global Champions League. The rankings are topped by London Knights whose British riders, Ben Maher and Emily Moffitt, took victory in Shanghai last time out.

Looking beyond the league though, could the Van der Vleutens become the first father-and-son duo in equestrian history to compete at the same Olympics?

'We both have super horses at the moment and if we can continue to get the results then who knows we could be competing together at the Tokyo Olympics," said Maikel. "That would be a dream."

Individual ambitions

Maikel finished second to compatriot Harrie Smolders in the overall Longines Global Champions Tour rankings last year.

"The aim is of course to go one better," he admitted. "I'll be trying my best all season to get the results. I finished seventh in Shanghai so it would be great to finish on the podium in Madrid."

He's no stranger to the podium, having won the grand prix in the Spanish capital in 2014 as well as finishing third there last year.

"Personally I love competing in the big grass arena in Madrid as it's different to the usual sand arenas," he added. "The ring, surrounded by its historic looking grandstands, is definitely one of the most beautiful events of the year and always has a super atmosphere."

Rich History

The Global Champions season takes in 17 cities over the course of the 2018 season, distributing a record $40 million in prize money.

Madrid is the fourth leg, following on from Mexico City, Miami and Shanghai; three relatively new events compared to the one in the Spanish capital.

For the last five years, the Global Champions Tour has been the center piece of the oldest equestrian show in Spain.

The Madrid International Show Jumping Competition is now in its 108th year and with such a long history, the show carries a certain prestige and status within the equestrian world.

The event is held on the outskirts of the city at the exclusive country club, the Club de Campo Villa de Madrid. Formed in 1929, it is regarded as one of the most esteemed in Spain with a wait-list said to be in the thousands.

Its golf courses, one of which is designed by Seve Ballesteros, have hosted European Tour events.

It's also staged international tennis, hockey and with its purpose-built equestrian facilities, the Global Champions Tour is a natural fit for the club.

Year after year the charming white grandstands and grassy banks that surround the jumping arena are packed with a stylish local crowd, passionate equestrian fans and a huge number of families who come to see the world's best horses and riders. They include two-time LGCT Champion Scott Brash who is currently leading the rankings on 99 points.

The British rider holds a 27-point lead from nearest rivals Edwina Tops-Alexander and Daniel Deusser both of whom sit on 72 points, and are just one point ahead of fourth placed Gregory Wathelet.