What happens when you mix financial expertise with a passion for horses and add a sprinkle of entrepreneurship, which has flowed in a family’s blood for over six generations?
By Sara Silvferberg. Photo Malene Nilssen.
You hear it immediately in her voice. This is a woman with drive, energy and passion. But not only that, she is crystal sharp and has that entrepreneurial ear, listening for the important facts and opportunities, and yet she is funny, personal and warm. Simply a person you never want to stop talking to.
This riddle spells Caroline Wilks and today she is one of the most interesting people to follow in the equestrian business world. Not just because of her past in the finance industry and her family’s very intriguing background in horses, but more so due to how she has applied her financial know-how and expertise to develop an innovative new concept around her passion in the showjumping industry.
If you have been around the equestrian scene during the last decade, you may have heard of Tim and Anna Wilks, jumping and eventing their way into the elite. Both being young stars, Anna is known for her bravery and talent in the eventing world and Tim is known for his meticulous style and feel for the horse as well as training and competing showjumpers.
What you might not know is that the talent and passion for horses go back not only a few but six generations in the family tree, wherefrom many tales can be told.
But let’s focus on her. This warm-hearted entrepreneur, the passionate horse lover, full fuelled business owner and the mother of Tim and Anna; Caroline Wilks. We meet her at the family estate Rosehill, a yard with a legacy more profound than the tales may tell. It lies in a beautiful setting, in the middle of the green and lush English countryside, far away from traffic and the busy city life, yet so close to the rest of world with a half an hour commute to Heathrow Airport.
Caroline’s aesthetic eye has guided the renovation of the farm to a combination of old heritage and a new functional, clean and horse friendly design. The surrounding fields and landscape, which are all part of the estate, provide excellent hacking trails and the yard itself is built in a fashion where the horses can have the very best natural setting to be a horse.
Tim and Anna are a part of the team that wakes up early to ride and train the horses that are stabled here. Their yard allows them to educate, train, and produce them quietly, far from the hectic buzz of the international competition circuit. Last year, one of the gems in the stable was sold to Athina Onassis and a few months ago another horse travelled to Sweden to the international team rider Douglas Lindelöw. The horses that are produced here are being sold to some of the best riders in the world and have the potential of becoming the brightest shining stars. This is not a coincidence.
Caroline has cracked the code. By understanding the business world and the equestrian industry, she saw the opportunity to create something unique; a business that combines an innovative financially viable investment proposition with her passion for horses which has unlocked the door for investors into the sport in a way that had not been done previously. The business has a small but top quality team who focus on identifying and producing exceptional horses that work with two exceptional trainers in the sport: Barnabas Mandi and Patrick Vandereyt. The horses are given the time and training from four-years-old, which gives them the tools, confidence, way of going, and strength to be future champions in the sport all from the stables at Rosehill, a quiet sanctuary of calmness.
“For me, the key to success is the quality and skills of the people who are part of the IN Showjumpers’ team, without them the business is nothing, and the vision would not have become a reality. “
“I’ve always loved horses, a feeling that comes from the soul that is impossible to ignore. After spending nearly two decades in the finance, banking and investment industry, I simply couldn’t help myself from exploring what opportunities there were for me to take everything I had learned into the world of horses.”
As with the many amazing ideas born from her predecessors over a hundred years ago, the catalyst was a good bottle of wine and the vision started to become what would evolve to be a new concept in the showjumping world. Partnering up with two professionals in the industry, her vision became a reality and in 2011 IN Showjumpers was founded.
The concept is simple:
“The investors own shares in the company and the business of the company is to identify, buy, and train horses with exceptional promise and potential value uplift. The additional benefit for investors is that the companies, into which they invest, have been approved as Enterprise Investment Schemes, which means that for shareholders with UK source income they obtain significant tax benefits on investment. The concept has brought new investors into the sport and has created a platform to secure the development of the horses owned by the company which gives them a perfect start and allows them to be produced without time pressure so that their future value and success in the sport can be prioritized during the formative years.”
“I’ve always loved horses, a feeling that comes from the soul that is impossible to ignore.”
This innovative asset-backed investment concept inspired financial advisers and investors alike. In fact, the success went beyond Caroline’s original expectations although the initial months required perseverance and having to learn not to take rejection personally. As with all great ideas, it took time and effort to build a solid foundation. A lot of passion was needed to inspire growth and overcome the learning “road bumps” on the journey, which are all an essential part of creating a business model that she believes is sustainable and relatively predictable for the longer term. The track record now speaks for itself and is creating further interest from promoters of the investment industry.
“We now have a strong understanding of the business model which for us can give maximum consistency and return, with the least risk to investors. For me, the key to success is the quality and skills of the people who are part of the IN Showjumpers’ team. Without them the business is nothing and the vision would not have become a reality. The team includes the “best in industry” farriers, vets, riders, trainers and grooms… All are equally as important to deliver consistent success. The horses also benefit from a really good, correct start in their career, especially in an amazing environment with talented riders and trainers, without the rush or stress or going from rider to rider.”
“The investors own shares in the company, and the business of the company are to identify buy and train horses with exceptional promise and potential value uplift.”
Nothing could be truer than that the team behind IN Showjumpers is the key to success and it is definitely a top team. Here you find trainers like Barnabas Mandi, a legend in the sport. Being one of the best flat trainers you can find in the world, Barnabas has shaped the style in which Anna and Tim rides and trains. You also find people like Patrick Vandereyt, a Belgian Wizard you would typically spot at any young-horse tournament, where his sharp and skilled eye is looking for the next future star. During his entire career, he has identified and produced young horses that have gone on to compete successfully at the top of the sport. Not to forget the two key riders, Tim and Anna. Anna coming from the eventing world, being crowned individual gold medal winner at the European Junior Eventing Championships in 2014, is now an important member of the team. And Tim, who’s career is peaking, representing Great Britain at senior level on four occasions over the past eighteen months. Debuting and jumping double clear at the CSIO 5* Nations Cup at Falsterbo last year and finishing as number five in the Grand Prix this year with a beautiful double clear
“We are a close-knit team, and we enjoy working with each other, exchanging knowledge and ideas, and we share the same values and ethics when it comes to horses and training. We are spreading that passion for horses and the sport to our investors, and together, we have all contributed and have been a part of creating the business.
What about the future?
“I don’t dream of a future where we are bigger, but I do dream of a future where as a result of our success we are able to take the truly exceptional horses to the championship level ourselves prior to selling. I know this time will come if we keep on doing the right things, stay focused and true to our investors and our business vision. And most importantly, to our horses.”
After hearing Caroline’s story, one thing becomes clear to us; the heritage and passion for horses will continue for the Wilks family far beyond six generations. This family has yet many stories to tell, and this one has just started.
This family has yet many stories to tell, and this one has just started.
The six generations of Wilks
‘Six generations of the Gilbey/Wilks family have been friends of the horse.’
No saying can better illustrate the part that this family has played in the horse-world over the last two centuries. It started in the 1830’s when Henry Gilbey, Caroline’s great great grandfather, was the proprietor of the Cambridge Fly and a stagecoach who plied between London and Cambridge. Like many fellow coach proprietors, he scornfully ignored the challenge of the railways but was eventually ruined by them and died penniless leaving thirteen children of whom Walter and Alfred were the eldest. The two young brothers left school at an early age and after a short time in commerce went as civilian pay-clerks to Florence Nightingale’s Hospital at Scutari during the Crimean War. There they both raced local ponies and acquired a taste for the local wine. As a result of the latter, on their return to England, they started their highly successful business W & A Gilbey Ltd from the proverbial shilling.
Walter, one of the two brothers who inherited his father’s love of horses, devoted his life to the world of horses. At Elsenham which is now known as the stables of the world’s top showjumper, Ben Maher, he had a stud which became famous throughout Europe for the Shires and Hackneys which he bred. Walter became not only a founder member of the Shire Horse Society, but also its president, twice. He was also the co-founder of the London Cart Horse Parade, a founder of the Hackney Horse Society and played a leading part in many other horse societies.
His great passion and dedication for horses and the very dutiful and honorable posts was soon earned not only by one, but two new generations of the Gilbeys. One son and grandson showed equal qualities of leadership, vision and equestrian savviness. Walter Anthony, his grandson, was also a true horseman in every aspect. He was a very active participant in the horse world since attending his first London Cart Horse Parade at the age of two and having his first riding lesson aged four. He also competed in numerous events; driving, dressage, eventing, hacking, hunting, showjumping and TREC. Of course, like his father and grandfather before him, he carried the role as president and committee member of the Shire Horse Society, the British Show Horse Association, he was chairman of the London Cart Horse and Harness Horse Parade, a member of the Masters of Draghounds and Bloodhounds Association and the founder of the Manx Horse Council, the coordinating body for horse organisations in the Isle of Man. He did not only dedicate his life to the horses, but he was also blessed with a daughter who has the same love and passion for the horses. Yes, you’ve guessed it. Her name is Caroline. Exactly, breathe it in. This is a heritage with capital H. Now you get the idea what background Caroline comes from and the size and velocity of her visions and dreams when it comes to making a difference in the equestrian world.