2014 was for Joe Clee the year of great growth and full of success: the year of his entry into the British official team
The World Championships, Caen September 2014; Joe Clee and Utamaro d’Eucassines are part of the British team. A long-awaited ending and the starting point of a brilliant career: "When I was a child and I rode the ponies at the riding school near where I lived, I dreamt of becoming like John Whitaker. I was fascinated by the extraordinary pairings of John and Milton and of Michael and Midnight Madness. I was dazed looking at them and I imagined myself already grown up and successful like them" says Joe Clee talking about his debut in the riding world. Indeed he was right to believe in it because life had already put him on the right track, given that he had been born in Yorkshire, the home of the equestrian family par excellence, the Whitakers. Yet to realise this dream would involve a long journey for him.
Born in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, England, on 2nd January 1978, last year he became a member of the British first team. Since officially joining the team of one of the strongest and most respected nations in the world, Joe Clee has not disappointed expectations. His excellent performance since the beginning of 2014, has, in fact, confirmed that the decision to include him in the first team was the right one and participation in the WEG in Caen with Utamaro d'Eucassines, his 'home-made' stallion, last September was the rightful crowning of his great commitment and dedication. Joe Clee loves his land, the land where he grew up, breathing in deeply the air of horses, being proud to belong to the Great Britain team. This is demonstrated by the fact that despite living near Brussels, Belgium, with his wife Julie Wauters, daughter of the great champion Eric Wauters to which each year Jumping Mechelen is dedicated, the traditional year-end competition that closes the season, he firmly holds the U.K. flag in his hands and is not going to let it go, even for a team as strong as Belgium. "My mother had a farm in Cornwall, raising pigs in the far south of England, while my father is an engineer - says Joe - Having ponies and horses at home was always part of the tradition and culture of the country and my mother, who was very passionate, kept a few horses and ponies on the farm. As such, it was normal to have them with us and so as a child I enjoyed riding the ponies. At first it was just a game like any other but the opportunity to understand that it was true passion came early. When I was ten we moved to West Yorkshire, five minutes from the stables of John Whitaker. My older sister began to ride in a pony school close to home, in the same centre where Robert and Louise Whitaker rode. It was there that I met John Whitaker; it was the days of Milton. I was fascinated by that fantastic pairing and I felt very strong emotions every time I saw them in the field training together. And that's how I started to become seriously interested in horses. My mother of course encouraged me and so when I was twelve and thirteen I was riding at John's stables. I could hardly believe I was standing next to my idol and my admiration for him and for his beautiful horse grew day by day. Obviously he hardly noticed me, busy as he was with his horses. I was followed by his riders but still I was there, watching him every day at work. Meanwhile, within a few years, I was already entering good races with the ponies, including international ones. My family, however, wasn't rich and so we did what we could but my mother believed in me and insisted that I go ahead, at the cost of great sacrifices. So, at the age of sixteen she sent me to Oxford to improve my knowledge of flat work in the stables of a horseman and dressage and combination instructor, Lars Sederholm, Consultant Head of Training for the British Showjumping Association, one of the greatest instructors, horsemen and disseminators of traditional principles of riding in the last forty years. He was a military man, thus with ironclad discipline and rigour, precise and uncompromising, with an extensive equestrian culture. I was with him for two years, receiving training with his rigorous system that I appreciated so much and that was a real help in the years to come. At eighteen I had my first job with an owner in Sussex, Cyril Light, at Brendon Stud. He was an owner who always wanted to win and we rode numerous horses. After a year and a half I moved to the stables of Robert Smith to increase my experience but then I returned to Brandon Stud. During that period, particularly in 2002, I won many national competitions, mainly thanks to Unbelievable Darco, a horse with little experience but with a big heart; perhaps it was thanks to him and to the confidence in myself that he was able to give me that I took the decision to move country in search of new opportunities. In Britain I was strong nationally but I wanted to try and make a quantum leap by moving to central Europe. I went to Holland to work with Eric Berkhof where I remained for a year. Then I moved to Belgium to Stephex Stables and there, at the end of 2003, I met my wife Julie Wauters. Undoubtedly going to Belgium proved to be the right choice. After a year I moved to the Starhorses stables of Albert Peffer, in Morkhoven, where I remained for three years. It was Albert Peffer that in 2007 introduced me to Ludwig Criel and his wife Jasmine who asked me to ride their horses and I decided to build a private stable in Sint-Katelijne-Waver, near Brussels. We've been inseparable since that day; for eight years now they have been my current sponsors and owners. We bought young horses and for two years I dedicated myself to their growth until Diablesse de Muze arrived, princess of the stable, the mare that has a special place in my heart. She's like a lady that's a little grumpy and that needs her space. With her, you have to make compromises and mustn’t ever force her to do something she doesn't want to do. She's not a horse you can ride in the classic sense because she has a lot of character but she always fights with me; she is an inseparable friend and an extraordinary competition companion... ". From this point on, Joe Clee's life changed radically and the British rider finally saw his childhood dreams come true.
With Diablesse de Muze Joe Clee entered the circuit of major international competitions. 2014 was a year of great wins and prestigious rankings including the coveted and awaited CSIO Rome, where, unfortunately, however, things did not go according to plan. Diablesse committed four errors in the first round of the Nations Cup: "Something was wrong, Diablesse would never have made so many mistakes, in fact she hurt herself - says Joe - She is such a generous mare that she completed the competition without showing the problem until right at the end. We stopped her, we gave her all the time she needed to get back on track and now she has resumed the work at home at a relaxed pace". The forced stop of Diablesse in the middle of the racing season was a difficult time for Joe and for the British team, a period now successfully over with the arrival of the beautiful stallion of Utamaro d'Eucassines, a fantastic jumper with which Joe formed a winning pairing: clear rounds in the Nations Cup in La Baule, Falsterbo and Dublin which allowed him a Normandy landing at the WEG with the British team. "Utamaro is different from Diablesse, he is easy and always receptive and is not as unpredictable as she is. Even if he is a stallion, he is more interested in grazing the paddock that in the mares. At home he is always calm and quiet while during competitions he is always very attentive, focused and competitive".
Joe and Julie have three beautiful children, Katie, Liam and Emilee, and they live in Sint-Katelijne-Waver, near Brussels: "I get up every morning at 6:30, I'm with my children, I take them to school and I go to the stables at 8.00. I ride nine or ten horses a day. All the horses come out of the box three times a day. First they move with reins then they are ridden and if the weather is good, they go into the paddock, otherwise they go free in the sand arena. In the stable we also have a track where when the weather is good we bring the horses to gallop for fitness purposes and athletic conditioning. The horses perform flat work two or three times a week and the rest of the day they go to gallop in the countryside. In preparation for the riding season, we work on small gymnastic exercises, cavalletti and in-outs to develop the muscles and athleticism while with the season started the horses at home no longer jump but improve condition and relax. The physical and mental health of the horses is a priority; if the horses are well and happy at home, during the competition they have fun and are happy because they are full of energy and eagerness. When my horses see the van, they get in by themselves and this means that they don't approach competitions with stress but with serenity".
Joe Clee was trained at the military school of a combination rider and as such absorbed the rigour and discipline: "Good horsemen evolve continuously to keep pace with the times but they always and in any case remain good riders because talent is an innate quality that improves with work. A good horseman adapts to his horses and to contemporary sport. The best riders in the world are the result of talent and work. If you have talent but don't work, you don't get to the top; work improves talent".
Joe Clee can count on an excellent stable with many good horses aged three and upwards. Diablesse de Muze and Utamaro of d'Eucassines are his key subjects, so different from each other but both champions: "The first quality that a horse must have is the desire to achieve a clear round, to do the best they can. They must feel like a winner. There are incredible horses, real stars with exceptional talent but there are not many of them and they are not easy to find. A good talented rider has the right feeling to identify champions, s/he knows what to look for, they sense the quality and know how to bring it out at the right time. "Thanks to his important stable, Joe Clee continually expands his experience, training horses from when they are young and with the aim of establishing their careers. 2014 was an unforgettable year for Joe Clee, with two amazing horses and stables still full of great subjects on which to focus. Last year he set his sights on participating in its first Nations Cups, this year he is already planning this. It's amazing how things can change in just one year...