Veerle Thienpondt, Belgian tractorpulling champion
Tractor pulling is a popular hobby within our industry. The heavy machinery, the roaring engines, the whole atmosphere is indescribable unless you have experienced it. One may think that this sport, which requires a lot of guts, would be reserved for men. But that would be underestimating the women in our industry. Veerle Thienpondt, former Belgian Champion of tractorpulling in the class 3.5 ton standard, is proof!
Veerle, can you tell us about your background?
You could say that I grew up in the agricultural sector: both my grandparents were farmers, and my parents have a company that specializes in the sale, repair and rental of agricultural and horticultural machinery. As a little girl I was already between the cows and the machines.
I studies youth and disability care in high school, but higher studies didn’t work out for me, so I started working in a nursery through a temp agency after school. Unfortunately, I couldn’t work fulltime in that job. Just at that moment my mother needed extra help with the administrative tasks in the family business, and that was a great opportunity. I decided to join the family business and haven’t regretted it!
What exactly do you do? Tell us briefly about your work.
As I mentioned before, I work at my parents’ company Peter-Bilt b.v We sell, repair and rent agricultural and horticultural machinery. I am mainly responsible for the rental branch of the company. My tasks include: planning the reservations, preparing the machines and lubricating, checking and transporting these machines. I have a C driver’s license, so am on the road with the truc regularly .
I also help out in the warehouse, where I check all incoming orders and make sure they are put away in the right place. But I’m also flexible and just jump in where needed during busy periods, whether that’s administration, helping out in the workshop or marketing.
Since when have you been doing tractorpulling, and how did you get into it?
That was my father’s doing! When I was little he would occasionally go to watch tractorpulling competitions, and I would go with him. At the time, I enjoyed watching for a while but also wanted to go home pretty quickly. When I was 14, I got the chance to participate in a competition. It was exceptional because the official starting age is 16. That first time was with a Deutz Fahr Agrotron 180.6. From that day forward, I wanted to go every weekend!
I grew up between cows and agricultural machinery. I wanted, and still want, to be able to drive any machine, no matter how small or large. So when I got the chance to participate in a tractorpulling I grabbed it immediately, although with the help of my father. The fact that there weren’t that many girls participating back then was extra fun for me!
What is a memorable moment in your career for you?
That has to be that time I became Belgian Champion in my class, 3.5 ton standard, in 2011. I remember there was a celebration, organised by the Belgian Federation for Power Tractors, and I was the only girl standing between nine men!
Professionally, I will always remember the day my parents asked me to join the family business very fondly. They had invited me for dinner and asked me the question while we were eating. And I really didn’t expect it.
Is there a difficult moment you’d like to share with us? How did you deal with that?
That would be the time my Deutz 13006’s front wheels came off the ground for the first time during a tractorpulling. I was startled and immediately pressed my clutch and brake, stopping immediately. My father was angry, because that had been a bad reflex on my part. His response was “if you stop because the wheels go up you shouldn’t be driving”. I cannot stand harsh reactions and shut down in moments like that. So for a while, I couldn’t find the courage to drive again… but one day I decided to try anyway and I conquered my fear then. Now, I will never stop again, no matter how high my tractor rears!
Is tractorpulling still a man’s world, in your opinion? Do you notice a difference in how you are treated as a woman there?
I still think it’s a man’s world, although more and more women are joining in. And as for how we are treated as women… To me, we are treated the same way as men on tractorpullings. As drivers we have to put the tractor in front of the tow truck ourselves, and whether you are a man or a woman makes no difference. On the other hand, I notice that most tractorpullings have one or two women’s classes where only women are allowed to participate, and I can see how that could make the threshold a bit smaller for women who want to start tractorpulling. Still, I don’t think it’s so great either, because we women can beat those men in the same class, they shouldn’t set us apart! I just want to clarify that the separate classes for women are not mandatory: we can compete in all classes and if we want to ride against the men, we can.
What do you think should be done to improve the position of women in agriculture? How do you see the role of women in the industry?
In my opinion, the clichés are still far too present. Men are supposed to do the heavy work on the field and women take care of the household. That is no longer true, though! Women do the same job men do, and we do not talk enough about that. The women in our sector, and I mean the real agricultural women, deserve more attention. Don’t do that by putting an actress on a tractor or in a stable but just come and have a look at the work on the farm and put that forward.
What are your ambitions?
That is a really good question! I am already very happy that I get all these opportunities: I have a C driving licence and therefore have a permanent truck and tractor that I can drive. Maybe I’ll try for the CE licence after all. I have too much stress when the examiner is there, which makes me block, but I would still like to achieve that.
Do you have any advice for girls and women who want to start tractorpulling?
If you want it, you should try it, and not think about what others might think of it.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Start in the standard classes, then you can always evolve to the more challenging ones. And maybe also a warning: once you start you won’t be able to stop!
This article was published in Women in Ag Magazine 2021-4. Click here for an overview of the magazines.