It All Came Together: The Year of Harrie Smolders

Harrie Smolders & Don VHP Z during the 2017 Longines FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping Final in Barcelona. ph: Thomas Reiner Photography

Harrie Smolders has proven time and time again that no matter the horse, the circumstance, or the venue, he is a force to be reckoned with. It’s been a whirlwind of a year for the Dutch rider, who has reached a level of consistency that not only benefits himself, but the Nations Cup, championship, and Global Champions League teams that he proudly represents. Win after win, placing after placing, Smolders is quickly climbing his way up the Longines FEI Rankings list, most recently jumping from the 16th position into 6th.

Rob Ehrens, The Netherlands’ Chef d’Equipe for the past 13 years, has known Smolders since he was a junior. While success isn’t a new notion for the 37-year-old rider, Ehrens believes that Smolders’ year of consistency is a credit, in part, to the solid team he’s built around him.

“It’s important in show jumping that you have the support of very good people around you, which Harrie has had for a very long time,” said Ehrens. “You also need the horses that will help you achieve good results in the arena, and Harrie has worked really hard to get all those things together.”

“He knows exactly what he has to do to successfully manage his string, and that’s also a bit of a gift.”

As the anchor rider for The Netherlands at the 2017 Longines FEI Nations Cup Jumping Final in Barcelona, Spain, Smolders produced double clear rounds to help his team secure a 1st place victory on September 30, a stark contrast to their 8th place finish at last year’s Final.

Several weeks prior on August 27, he finished with an individual silver medal at the FEI European Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden as one of only two Dutch riders to qualify for the event. In between both shows, Smolders casually made history on September 23, becoming the first rider to ever win the Longines Global Champions Tour Season Championship ahead of the series finale.

The LGCT is one of the most demanding events of the calendar year, and Smolders picked up multiple grand prix wins and placings during the season. Amongst a field of top horses and sport, this is where Smolders has noticeably found his rhythm over the years, both individually and as a member of the Hamburg Diamonds GCL Team.

“I’m very happy that I have two horses, Don [VHP Z] & Emerald [N.O.P], that I can alternate. They both jump a very high percentage of clear rounds, and at the moment, I think my horses are at the right age and have the right amount of experience,” said Smolders. “The timing of everything just fell into place this year, and I’ve felt really confident. I know the horses can do it and they feel really great, so that’s what we focus on. If you’re confident, the success will come.”

“In our sport, the horses are not to be looked at as tools, you have to create them.”

The near year-long LGCT/GCL features 15 legs of competition, 13 of which have already seen the attendance of Smolders and his versatile string of top level horses. Seemingly unfazed by the demands of the LGCT and outside events that co-exist, both the horses and Smolders himself have managed to remain in top form.

“Harrie manages his program extremely well, and with the amount of grand prix horses he has, he is also very selective in what shows he wants to do. He makes a very good plan in not doing too much and not doing too little,” said Ehrens. “He said that he wanted to join a [GCL] team and compete at the shows, and he always shows up to perform at his best. He knows exactly what he has to do to successfully manage his string, and that’s also a bit of a gift.”

With only one competition remaining in the 2017 LGCT series, Smolders has his eyes set on helping the Hamburg Diamonds secure the GCL series victory in Doha, Qatar, set to take place during the November 9-11 event.

“We have five weeks between now and Doha. After Barcelona, Don [VHP Z] will get a bit of a rest and I will see how he recovers. When the time comes, I’ll see which horses are in the best shape and then I will decide on who I’m going to take to the final.”

In the future, there are a few more accolades Smolders would like to add to his resume, including a win at the World Cup Final and a ticket to the 2018 World Equestrian Games in  Tryon, North Carolina. Overall, he simply hopes that his success and consistency from this year will continue “for another 10.”

“No matter the horse, the circumstance, or the venue, he is a force to be reckoned with.”

For Ehrens, it’s Smolders work ethic, humility, and understanding of his horses that makes him stand out from the rest.

“Working with Harrie is a pleasure. He is a very normal person and is never ‘high in the sky’ when he gets good results. He’s a very nice person to work with. He listens, he wants to listen, and he has a very good feeling of riding and as a horseman.

This has been a great year for him. All the riders know that when you’re in the ‘flow’, you have to be very careful to not over do it, that you keep following the feeling. That is also one thing Harrie does very well and it shows in his results.”

For a talent looking to emulate the success of Smolders, there are a few things that can be learned from his ongoing efforts.

“They can learn that hard work, staying normal, and not walking around with their nose up in the air can bring them success. In our sport, the horses are not to be looked at as tools, you have to create them. That’s also what Harrie does extremely well with all of his horses, especially now at the moment with Don VHP Z, a horse that he produced very slowly. In the beginning he was a little bit behind the horse, but he knows exactly what the horse needs in training but also in the warm up. Those things are very important, and that’s not something you can get by buying a million euro horse to compete in the arena. He made them all himself.”

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