World of Showjumping
Menu

This week

Coming weeks

CSI5*-W/CSI2* Oslo
Norway

CSI5*/CSI2* Grimaud
France

CSI5*/CSI2* White Sulfur ...
USA

CSI5* LGCT Samorin
Slovakia

CSI4* Vilamoura
Portugal

CSI3* Oliva
Spain

CSI3* Tryon
USA

CSI3* Coapexpan
Mexico

CSI2* Lier
Belgium

CSI2* Cluny
France

CSI2* Vejer de la Frontera
Spain

CSI2* San Giovanni in ...
Italy

CSI2* Dunkerque
France

Holly Smith: “Put the effort in the preparation and let the performance take care of itself”

Wednesday, 07 July 2021
Interview

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping
Holly Smith was a part of the British team at the 2018 World Equestrian Games in Tryon and at the 2019 European Championships in Rotterdam – where Great Britain won a bronze medal. Now she is ready for her first Olympic Games. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

From 1.20m level to rank 50 on the current world ranking; Holly Smith has made a huge career leap in just ten years. The 32-year-old was a part of the British team at the 2018 World Equestrian Games in Tryon and at the 2019 European Championships in Rotterdam – where Great Britain won a bronze medal. Now she is ready for her first Olympic Games. 

A professional career as an international showjumper was not in the cards for Holly though. Until she was 22, she had never competed higher than at 1.20m level. She did well in school, and was advised by her parents to get a “proper job” and only keep horses as a hobby. “Even though I secretly in my heart always wanted to do what I am doing now, it was never really the aim,” Holly smiles. “My mother Amanda Gillott has always been horse-mad and I got into the sport through her. I was lucky that she gave me a very good understanding of basic horsemanship. My mom taught me, and growing up I competed in all disciplines in the pony club. The pony club is massive in England, and it educates children in all disciplines. I think it is a really inclusive environment, there are a lot of events, we get a decent level of coaching – I think that maybe sets us Brits apart.”

Opening doors with Dougie Douglas

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping
“I could have gone either way – I still love both – but that horse cemented the love of showjumping for me and when a door opens, I try to go through it," Holly says about Dougie Douglas. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Scouting and producing average horses for sale as well as running a business was what Holly and her husband Graham Smith were focused on – until Dougie Douglas (Douglas x High Roller) came along. “Together with my husband, I then tried investing in better types of horses because we suspected I could compete on a higher level,” Holly explains. “We found a horse called Dougie Douglas – one of our first purchases of a horse that went all the way. That was the start of my international showjumping career. Later, Dougie Douglas was sold to American rider Katie Dinan."

With a love for both eventing and showjumping, Holly’s decision to focus on the latter was not an easy one. “I think Dougie Douglas made me choose showjumping,” she says. “I could have gone either way – I still love both – but that horse cemented the love of showjumping for me and when a door opens, I try to go through it.”

Living and breathing showjumping

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.
"Now, for once and for all, I have understood that I want to put all my effort in being as good as I can be in showjumping – and finally, I am ok with that decision,” Holly tells. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Until Holly made it to the British national team, she was only taught by her mother – and herself. “I watch, I study and read a lot,” Holly tells. “I go around with my eyes open! There is a lot to be learned like that.”

For the past few years, Holly has trained with Di Lampard. “Luckily, Di lives close by and we work well together,” Holly tells. “She is great, very laid back and I think we have a lot of trust and honesty between us. It has always worked very smoothly. Prior to Di, Rob Hoekstra was instrumental for me: He was the first Chef d’Equipe I rode under. I was very green in the technical aspect of showjumping at that stage and he really managed to fast-track me.”

“It is all a matter of team effort though, I could not do what I do without my husband,” Holly continues. “He is very talented in assessing the horses and has a very high level of horsemanship – and is a good farrier, as well. He supports my career and looks after everything at home.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping
“I think every rider would say the same: It is the team behind you," Holly says about what it takes to make it to the top. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“My husband is great with our daughter, but having children makes it incredibly hard for female riders,” Holly says about the lack of women at the very top of the sport.

“I think every rider would say the same: It is the team behind you. My groom Kate Dodd as well, who has been with me for quite a few years now, is absolutely fantastic,” Holly continues. 

“I used to worry that I did not have a hobby, but I have changed my stands on that,” Holly laughs. “I have realized that it is because I am so immersed in what I do, and that is ok. I live and breathe showjumping, it is what I love doing and I am comfortable with that now. I just changed my way of thinking: I listened to a podcast with a professional snooker player, who said the same about the lack of hobbies and it was like a switch clicked. I used to be the type of a person who saw other people with the best clothes, house or garden, and thought ‘I must be like that, too’. It is all nice and I admire all that, but now, for once and for all, I have understood that I want to put all my effort in being as good as I can be in showjumping – and finally, I am ok with that decision.”

Hearts Destiny to thank

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping
“I think I have Hearts Destiny to thank for where I am today,” Holly tells. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“I think I have Hearts Destiny (Heart Throb x Rabino) to thank for where I am today,” Holly tells about her championship ride who sadly passed away in August 2020. “It just shows what you can do when you have two really good, consistent horses. Unfortunately, as everybody knows, I lost Hearst Destiny, and he has left a gaping hole in my string of horses.”

“Hearts Destiny was a horse with an interesting background,” Holly tells. He came to me from his breeder: He had been sold to a rider where it just did not work out, and at the end he stopped jumping for a few years. When he came to me, he was eight but very green. He was nine when he competed at the World Equestrian Games in Tryon: People would not understand how green he was. However, even though doing both the World Equestrian Games and the Europeans a year after might seem like rushing him, it felt right in my heart. And thank God we did what we did with him, because we could not know how short the time we got with him was.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.
Holly at the Europeans in Rotterdam, where she helped Britain to team bronze and Olympic qualification. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

So far in her career, the team bronze medal at the 2019 Europeans in Rotterdam has meant the most for Holly. “There was lots of pressure; we needed to qualify for the Olympics,” she recalls. “However, I felt very confident all week; my horse was in the best possible shape, we had a very good build up winning the Nations Cup in Dublin a few weeks prior. That is how I am: I try to take the positives from everything and only be positive about any situation. It is easy to say that when you are sat on a very good horse: Hearts Destiny had already proven himself at championship level the year before, so it was easier for me to think like that. It was a big occasion and only when it was all over did it really hit me; the pressure we were under.”

“However, absorbing the pressure and going through the process seem to be something that comes easy to me,” Holly continues. “I think it comes from practise. It is something I have conditioned myself to be like: I think it is important to ride without nerves. Obviously, we have to strive to be the best and put maximum effort in, but at the time you are performing, the preparation is done. I have learned to put the effort in the preparation and let the performance take care of itself.”

There is more to it than your ability to ride a horse

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping
"I am proud of where I have gotten to and I appreciate all I have, but my aims are higher," Holly says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

The performances with Hearts Destiny are what rocketed Holly up the rankings. “I think that the horses’ wellbeing and welfare is paramount. You have got to be able to rest the horses well and jump them in a rhythm that they are comfortable with,” Holly says when we move on to speak about the chase for world ranking points. “As a rider, you need the right athletes for each class; you can’t manufacture this. When you have got two or more horses working together and sharing the load, everything all of the sudden just becomes easy. It takes time to build this, but when it does work it is poetry in motion. I think an important aspect for the whole of the showjumping world to understand, is that there is more to it than your ability to ride a horse. It is probably 80 % about running and managing your business, your owners, finding horses - and only 20 % of actual riding. Obviously, you have to be exceptional to compete on the highest level - but there are many exceptional riders without the horsepower to go for the ranking. The top of the sport today is very hard on the riders; there is a lot of traveling, but all in all I think it is a great sport. It is easy to moan and pick on things, but I love our sport and I am enthusiastic about it.”

Holly’s world ranking means that she could be competing every weekend at three- to five-star events. “At the moment I don’t have the horsepower for that,” Holly says. “My goal is definitely to be inside the top ten in the world ranking. When I am at those top events, I feel like I am always incredibly competitive and I know I can be up there and beat the best of them. They have the edge over me at the moment horsepower-wise and in practise: Every week, they are at five-star shows. I am proud of where I have gotten to and I appreciate all I have, but my aims are higher.”

Learning to love the process

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping "Not every day is good and we all know that – there is a lot of hard work in between, but I have learned to love the process," Holly says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Today, Holly and Graham are based in Leicestershire, in the middle of England. Being on two championship teams for Great Britain with her wonderful Hearts Destiny has changed the setup at home though. “We have two yards; one focusing solely on my showjumpers for the sport and the other for the dealing business,” Holly explains. “We have always sold normal riding horses alongside what I do and only in the past couple of years have we split the yard. I have approximately 20 ridden horses for myself, including the young ones. We have done a bit of breeding, but on a very small scale, it is something we are looking to expand.” 

“A normal day at home starts with a school run: Our daughter Rosie is 10-years-old now,” Holly tells about their daily routines. “Then there are the young horses to oversee, the older horses to exercise, entries and administration work, just all the normal stuff. I train a few young riders also. I probably only do 1-2 shows a month internationally, I only really have one top string, so I try to make championships an aim. I don’t over-jump my horses but instead work towards a bigger goal. However, I have room in my string to expand – but it is a work in progress.”

“The best part of my job is the relationships we get to build with the horses,” Holly says. “There is nothing like the feeling when you click with a horse and anything seems possible. I don’t want to disrespect any of my other horses, but for me, Dougie Douglas, Hearts Destiny and Denver have made five-star level feel possible and easy. Some elements of my competitive nature are also a motivation for the daily work, but I love what I do and I believe you have to love the process, and love the ups and the downs. Not every day is good and we all know that – there is a lot of hard work in between, but I have learned to love the process.”

Taking on anything that jumps

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping
"I tend to have a lot of success with horses that might have been bred to be showjumpers but have found their way to top level jumping through other disciplines," Holly says – here with Denver. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

The young horses Holly rides come from different sources: either people send them for her to ride or she and her husband buy them. “I would take on anything; any horse that jumps,” Holly laughs. “Bringing them through to the highest level that they are capable of, is my goal with the youngsters,” she continues. “To give them time, I have a very good rider for them at home – Nicole Lockhead Anderson. She won pony gold a few years ago, and it is mainly her taking care of the younger horses. We try to do as little as possible with them; we bring them up in a very natural way. They do lots of riding out around the farm; hacking and cross country. For example, my 4-year-olds did some work during the winter and have spent all of this year on the pasture. I am not too bothered about doing so much with them until they are five, even six. They have a good understanding of life and I know I like them, so I am in no hurry.”

At the moment, Holly’s best horse is Denver (Albfuehren’s Memphis x Chico’s Boy). However, the 13-year-old KWPN-gelding was not supposed to be a showjumper. “He competed at four-star level in eventing until 2019,” Holly tells. “He became a bit too strong in the cross country, so he found his way to me. I tend to have a lot of success with horses that might have been bred to be showjumpers but have found their way to top level jumping through other disciplines. I think it says a lot about the importance of not over-jumping the showjumpers as young horses.”

With the devil on her shoulder

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping “Being a part of the British team has always been an incredible source of pride for me,” Holly says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

This year, Tokyo is on the agenda for Denver and despite the uncertainty around the event, Holly is optimistic. “We still have a little bit to prove, but so far Denver has done everything we have asked of him,” Holly tells. “In my heart, I feel that there isn’t a track that he cannot jump. I think the only way is to be positive; we have to assume that the Olympics are happening, prepare the best we can and be tunnel-visioned about it. It is something that is out of my control, so I try not to worry about it.”

“Being a part of the British team has always been an incredible source of pride for me,” Holly says. “Ever since I had Dougie Douglas, it was a massive goal of mine. I felt like my lifetime achievement would be made if I ever got picked for a Nations Cup team. Naturally, as the competitive person I am, I always wanted more – when I got picked on a team, I wanted to win; then I wanted to be on a championship team, then I wanted a medal, then an individual medal… for a competitive person, the devil is always on your shoulder, driving you on.” 

 

No reproduction without writter permission, copyright © World of Showjumping

 



This photo has been added to your cart !

Your shopping cart »
This website is using cookies for statistics, site optimization and retargeting purposes. You consent to our cookies if you continue to use this website. Read more here.