Paardensport Vlaanderen

Topsport: Maak kennis met jong talent Gilles Thomas (ENG)

08-02-2024 · FEI · FEI

The Belgian is already a major champion!

Belgium’s Gilles Thomas has a very impressive record, currently occupying sixth on the FEI Jumping U25 ranking and already in the world’s top 100.

At just 25 years old he’s already won one of equestrian’s most prestigious titles having helped Belgium to Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ Final glory in Barcelona in 2022!


Born into horses

Gilles was born into a horsey family. His mother rode in the Europeans for Ponies and Juniors but stopped riding when he was born. His uncle, Marc van Dijck, previously rode for Belgium, competing in several Nations Cups and championships for his country. Horses were always part of Gilles’ life, as he says, the stable was already there!

But this doesn’t mean that Gilles didn’t look beyond equestrianism, he also tried other sports, but there was always a pull back to his roots: “I always loved it,” says Gilles. “I did some other sports when I was young like tennis, swimming, cycling and judo but always turned back to horse riding as I loved it the most.”


Winning in Barcelona

At 13, Gilles competed in his first Junior Europeans for Belgium, something he did eight times while riding at this level.

More recently, he’s competed in senior Nations Cups – his first being the Barcelona final in 2022. Gilles produced a faultless performance on debut and Belgium were victorious.

In addition, this qualified the Belgian team for the Olympics – what a debut! Here’s Gilles and his teammates on their way to glory…


Gilles' top horses

Gilles has around 30 horses at home but two really stand out for different reasons, Calleryama and Ermitage Kalone.

“Calleryama, the horse I rode in Barcelona, is very special to me,” said Gilles. “She jumped incredibly in 2022. We were fourth in the Grand Prix of Geneva, fifth in the World Cup leg in Mechelen. She was one of my main horses but is taking some time off at the moment. Ermitage Kalone is only ten and he’s one to watch.” This stallion, by Catoki, recently competed in Mechelen and came fifth in the CSI5* Sport Vlaanderen Grand Prix at 155cm, the third time the pair have competed at this level together.

Out of the horses at home, some are homebreds, some are youngsters that are bought, and he also rides for owners too. Ideally, Gilles starts working with the horses when they are six or seven years old, and then builds them up to the highest level. He prefers bringing them on himself, as he explains: “when you have a really good horse, I think it’s good that you start early so you understand them as much as possible. You can then get to know each other in the 6- and 7-year-old classes.”


Good owners are part of the team

With 30 horses at home split between two or three riders, Gilles is kept very busy. He has between 10-15 competition horses, half of these are owned by his family, and the other half by owners who support Gilles and his team.

“There’s a little bit more pressure when you’re riding for owners as you always want to do your best. Luckily, I have great owners who understand horse sport- some days or some weeks aren’t like the others. Horses aren’t machines, they can have an off day. Good owners are very important because finding good horses isn’t easy.”

On a typical day, Gilles normally rides eight or nine horses and focuses on this as his uncle manages the stables and the team’s busy competition schedule.

When asked about training horses and how he does this, Gilles explains a bit about his process: “No two horses are the same, but my top horses don’t jump very much at home. If anything, they’ll do low fences. The young horses jump courses at home for training, but the big ones go from show to show jumping, and at home we focus on fitness. They have enough experience.”


Family support

Gilles’ mum and uncle are closely involved with the horses, and Gilles sees this as a huge advantage.

His uncle’s connections help to ensure a quality string of competition horses, and because of his previous competition experience, he has great knowledge of the venues, which combines with his knowledge from training Gilles and his horses, to find out which will better suit each horse.

When it comes to the future, in February Gilles is heading off to the Sunshine Tour in Spain to prepare for the season, and in the long term he wants to ride for Belgium’s seniors in more championships and the new Longines League of Nations™.


Inspired by Marcus Ehning

As for inspiration, Gilles doesn’t hesitate in saying that he has always been inspired by Marcus Ehning.

“The feeling he has to ride the horses, everything looks so smooth,” said Gilles. “The control of his horses, he can ride fast without asking too much. His horses have long competitive careers too which is brilliant, he’s an all-round horseman.”

While Gilles heads to Spain for the Sunshine Tour, Belgium will be competing in the first-ever leg of the Longines League of Nations™ in Abu Dhabi this weekend. Watch all the action on FEI TV