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Looking back at 2020 – with Harrie Smolders: “I have been in a constant jet lag over the last years”

Thursday, 17 December 2020

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping. Harrie Smolders. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.


Text © World of Showjumping



Over the next two weeks, WoSJ asks chef d’equipes, grooms, riders and show organisers to look back at 2020 – a year out of the ordinary for absolutely everyone. First out is Harrie Smolders, who reflects on the benefits of a less hectic show schedule. 

“It has been a very strange year,” Smolders says. “At the beginning of the year I was travelling back and forth to Florida with more and more shows in my schedule. When I returned home from Live Oak to jump in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, the plan was to head straight back to Florida after. Instead everything just stopped. My horses were already at the show ground when The Dutch Masters were cancelled.”

“The following six months I was in Europe before I managed to get back to the US again. By now, I have been back and forth a few times,” Smolders continues. “I have a few horses over there and others in Europe. However, everything comes like it comes – you can’t plan ahead anymore, and you have to be flexible.” 

When I look back at the last five years, I can’t understand how it was even possible to do what I did.

“Just my travel schedule was hard and then the shows on top of that - I was in a constant jet lag. Two months into the first lockdown, my body had cured itself and I got so much more energy than before. For my body, this break could have come way earlier. It was such a huge difference.”

“The thing is that when you reach the point where you have the right string of horses, with the right age and the right experience – something you have been building towards for 10-15 years and worked so hard for – you need to take the chances given. With that comes a lot of opportunities and your schedule becomes very busy. I really don’t know if I want to do that again, to compete 50 weeks a year. Is it really necessary?” Smolders asks.  “When I was in it, I just kept going – being home on Mondays and Tuesdays to ride, train, find new horses, see the family and then go off to the next show. It was like this week in and week out. It was never a moment to breathe. Once you are in it, it is very difficult to slow down – then everyone else passes you on the ranking." 

For me, this break was very good – both for my mind and physically.

“Personally, I will try to find a life with a better balance – also when the pandemic has passed. My children are 9 and 11 now and I haven’t seen them enough during the last years, so it has been fantastic to spend time with them this year,” Smolders says.

“It has also been an advantage to have more time for the newer and younger horses,” Smolder continues. “If you have a top horse in the right age group, then this would not have been a good year though. However, my top horses have already been retired…”

“The pandemic will of course also affect us all financially; we will all feel it somehow in some way,” Smolders says. 

With less horse trade, many people have tried to find different ways to get income and we have seen a lot of online auctions popping up during the pandemic – and now I am doing one too, together with Walter Lelie and Niels Fabrie.

“When the customers can’t come to try horses, it feels like you need a web shop to bring the horses to the clients,” Smolders says. “In our group, we have some really good expertise and a lot of horsemanship with close connections to the breeders and to the top sport. The horses in our auction belong to one of the three of us, so we know what we have and can totally stand behind the selection of those horses. We will do a try-out for this year, but hopefully it is the first of many. 

“When it comes to next year, we just have to wait and see. The first month of 2021 will still be calm, and then we have to see if the organisers will be able to run shows again – if they can get sponsors and what effect it all will have on the economy. It will not be solved in a short period of time, even with a vaccine,” Smolders closes off.


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