Harrie Smolders has a habit of taking his horses to the US in autumn time to compete for World Cup points on the other side of the Atlantic. 2011 was no different, apart from the fact that last year he added Azerbaijan to the map when he went there to compete as well. In the end of February he flies off to the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington. WoSJ decided to find out why Smolders keeps leaving Europe.
“The reason why I went to the US in November is that I only had one World Cup qualifier in Europe that was assigned to me and that was Mechelen. So, I needed to get some points before December and I needed to get them elsewhere. In Holland, the Chef d’Equipe takes a look at the standings after Mechelen and decides who get to ride the remaining qualifiers. So, in order to get to ride Leipzig, Zürich or Gothenburg I needed some points and left for the US,” Harrie explains.
And the plan worked as Harrie has no less than 42 points and is rank fourteen ahead of the last qualifier in Gothenburg, which should be enough to take him to the final – just like in 2011. “I won quite a lot when I was in the States, so it paid itself back money wise as well – which is always nice. If you really want to go to the World Cup final it’s worth it, even if you don’t get all your investments back in prize money,” Smolders says.
“The level in the US is good. Out of the 35 riders in the bigger classes, I would say that about 15-20 had the chance to go clear – with riders such as McLain Ward, Richard Spooner, Laura Kraut, Rodrigo Pessoa and Nick Skelton you have good competition. When I went to Toronto it was maybe a little easier with only 25 riders in the big classes. But overall it matches the level in Europe,” the Dutch rider explains.
“When it comes to my trip in Azerbaijan I went there as one of the riders that train with us at Euro Horse – Jamal Rahimov – comes from the country. Jamal has three horses at home, so I borrowed them to compete on. But nobody knew who I was over there; it was Jamal who was the super star,” Harrie laughs. “The level was definitely different than here; if you were clear you were in the top five – not quite what we are used to,” he says. “But the federation is doing a great job in Azerbaijan and is building up a huge new arena. I think they are aiming for the Olympics in 2020 – and want to show that they are serious!”
“Now I’m off again, and this time we’re heading for Wellington and the Winter Equestrian Festival. I bring the Nut (Walnut de Muze), and two promising horses called Deuly Z and Emerald. It will be a good preparation for the outdoor season for these horses – and for my boss Axel [Verlooy] Wellington is good for customer relationships as well. And Axel’s son Jos – who is 16 – will also compete there, so we’ll have a good time in the sun,” Harrie concludes.
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