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From youngster to international Grand Prix horse: Don VHP Z

Wednesday, 18 October 2017
From youngster to international Grand Prix horse

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson Don VHP Z at the European Championships in Gothenburg with Harrie Smolders in the saddle. Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.

Don VHP Z: One of the most consistent five-star Grand Prix horses in the world with an individual silver medal from this year’s European Championships under his belt. But, once upon the time – long before he became famous – Don was a big and unfinished stallion that could not hold his canter around an entire course, and on top a real handful to handle that sometimes would answer his rider Louise Simpson by bucking her off. World of Showjumping discovers what one of the sport’s true super stars was like as a youngster.

It all started at Brendon Stud, when the stud’s founder Cyril Light bought Don VHP Z as a 2-year-old in Belgium. Bred by Guy De Schuymer, Don is by Diamant de Semilly out of the Voltaire-mare Sara van het Parelshof – also the mother of HH Carlos Z that is hugely successful under McLain Ward.

“Cyril loved a big horse, and would call Don the ‘big French horse’ – not really remembering his actual name – there were so many horses at Brendon Stud,” laughs Louise Simpson. “I started to ride Don – or Paris as we called him – when he was four, for the Brendon Stud. From day one he loved to jump!”

“There is a great story actually, from when I took him to his first show,” Louise recalls. “It was a winter indoor show, and at one end of the ring was a quite spooky double so Shirley – one of his owners at Brendon – told me as I went in to go up there and show it to him. I did as she said, but in the same moment that I was going to turn around from the double he just jumped it from a stand still. We laughed so much about it, obliviously he was not a spooky horse!”

“Don always had a massive character; he would kick in the door of his box until you came to give him attention or take hold of the hoodie on your jacket and not let you go. He could be quite naughty, and sometimes I had to tell him off a bit when going into the ring – there were times he answered back by simply bucking me straight off!” Louise laughs. “Don was quite a stallion too. Because he also was so big, we usually would be two people – one on each side – when loading him off the truck at shows and taking him into the stable. Also, getting him to the trot-up and then behave in the line while waiting was not easy – sometimes I even rode him there. However, he would never do anything to hurt anybody – he was just full of character and a real handful. And, I believe he still is,” smiles Louise.

“However, after ten shows or so he kind of got it. But, he would get tired very quickly – mainly because he was such a big horse I think. Halfway around the course he would just break into trot because he could not hold his canter. Still, he jumped and was always clear,” Louise tells.

“At the age of four and five, Don had jumped nearly every round without making mistakes. However, I don’t know if we believed back then that he would end up being as good as he got. Shirley and I have asked each other that question many times over the last years. It was hard to tell back then, because he was a late developer – however I guess the answer was in all his clear rounds. Shirley’s father Cyril always believed in him. When I jumped Don when he was five, Cyril would say ‘This one will be really good’ – he already saw it at that point and was right.”

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson "A real handful," says Louise Simpson about how Don VHP Z was as a young stallion, and by the look of it he still can be – here during the medal ceremony at the Europeans with his groom Alex. Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.

“Don was not only good with me,” Louise says. “When he has six, I broke my leg and Damien Charles rode him for a while – and he was just as good with him. Also, when he was seven we had so many young horses so Shane Breen took him to Portugal where he won the 7-year-old final with him.”

“Don became really successful half-way into his eight year. By that time, he was mentally more like a 10-year-old and such a good horse in the ring. We brought him to the five-star show at Hickstead where he jumped double clear to finish fourth in the King George V Gold Cup and he did it so easy. Although it was quite a lot to ask for an 8-year-old I knew he would be just fine, he coped with any type of atmosphere – actually the more the better – and any type of ring. By that time, he had also gotten more control of his body and was much stronger,” Louise says looking back.

“In the UK, he was well-known by then – he had done very well nationally in many big Grand Prix classes. But, at Hickstead he caught the attention of foreign riders and really got noticed. A week after, everybody was calling for him and then he got sold. I guess he also looked so easy, there was this big horse with this little girl just taking her around a 1.60m Grand Prix track,” laughs Louise.

“Both Shirley and I would have loved to have kept him forever, but Cyril wanted to sell. It was so much money in the picture, and of course such a risk to keep him – everything could have happened. It was hard then, but looking back Cyril made the right decision even though Shirley and I were quite upset at the time,” Louise laughs. “What makes it a lot easier now, is that Don has gone on and done amazing things. Some horses you have and they are really something special, then you sell them and never see them again – that has not been the case with Don. Sometimes when I watch old videos of rounds with him I can get a bit sad and nostalgic, thinking ‘Oh, it could have been me’. On the other hand, Harrie is an amazing rider and the whole management around is so professional – he is in the best possible place!”

“One thing Don kept is his consistency. It was amazing already back then, and this has continued to this day. It’s hard to be as consistent as he is at such a high level!”

Even though Don is no longer at Brendon Stud, his offspring carry on his legacy and both Louise as well as her sister Nicole have a few themselves. “They are very similar to their father. Don’s offspring all look a lot like him, and also have a real character. Like he was, they are a bit slow coming out. My sister’s oldest one is six now, and we are really excited about how they all are developing!”

Watch Don VHP Z with Louise Simpson at Horse of the Year Show in 2011:


Text © World of Showjumping by Jannicke Naustdal // Pictures © Jenny Abrahamsson

No reproduction without permission

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