World of Showjumping
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WoSJ Exclusive; Harrie Smolders – on his horses, family & digging poles into the ground

Tuesday, 07 June 2011

Harrie Smolders on Walnut de Muze. All photos (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.
Harrie Smolders on Walnut de Muze. All photos (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.

Harrie Smolders is at the age of thirty one of Holland’s best riders with an impressive career behind him, but also a promising future ahead of him. WoSJ decided to find out more about the top rider, and discovered Harrie to be a true family man and somebody who will easily bring a smile on your face.

Horses have been in the Smolders’ family for generations. Harrie’s grandfather had horses working in the fields at home, and the Dutch rider’s father is also a horseman. So, Harrie and his sister started riding ponies as small kids – Harrie was then eight years old. “At first I didn’t like it, I played soccer as well and I liked that more. But when the pony that belonged to my sister was to be sold, I decided to take it on,” Harrie says. “At first I was really scared; they had to dig the poles into the ground the first year to make me jump,” Harrie laughs.

Harrie Smolders.
Harrie Smolders.

A few years on Harrie turned sixteen; he still played soccer and at the same time he rode nine to ten horses every day for other people, and had started to make some money on the horses. In the weekends it was soccer games on Saturdays and horseshows on Sundays. “I had to do the riding after school and after I had helped my father with work at home on our family farm. It was time to make a choice between the soccer and the horses, and I chose the horses,” Harrie smiles.

When Harrie finished school at nineteen he decided to make a living out of the horses and went to the famous showjumper Johan Heins, who was looking for a rider. “I needed to learn, and that was a good place to start for me. I stayed there for four years, and did two young rider championships during that period. One with Odessa, and one with Liverpool,” Harrie says.

After staying with Heins, Harrie moved on to work for the Belgian Axel Verlooy – who runs Eurohorse and who was once a very successful rider himself. “Johan was a true horse dealer, and bought young horses to sell them as six or seven year olds. I had three really good young horses, among them was Beezie Madden’s Authentic, but they were sold as a part of the business. I decided I had more ambition, and went to Verlooy for further development there,” Harrie explains. “Axel does both sport and dealing, which suits me better and now I’ve been there for about eight years,” Harrie smiles.

Powerfee and Harrie Smolders.
Powerfee and Harrie Smolders.

Harrie’s average day of work is quite special, as he travels back and forth to Verlooy’s yard in Grobendonk in Belgium on the weekdays. “It’s about 60 kilometers one way from my home in Holland, but I’ve decided to do it that way because of my family, girlfriend and friends,” Harrie says. Harrie’s girlfriend works in Holland as a speech therapist, and as he puts it; “It’s important that she has her own thing going on”. “Also most of my friends are in Holland, and are not involved with horses at all,” Harrie tells us.

The Dutch rider manages to combine family and a career that requires a lot of travelling, and says; “My girlfriend grew up with me, so she know how this works and that travelling to the shows is a part of my job. Sometimes she comes with me, but mostly to the shows that are in nice locations so that she can do other things as well – like in Cannes or Monte Carlo,” Harrie smiles.

Harrie also travelled as far as the states for the 2010/2011 World Cup season; “Holland could only send two Dutch riders into each of the World Cup qualifiers, and we had ten possible candidates for qualification for the final so everyone of those got one or two chances to go. So when I got an invitation to the states, I decided to go there to try and get some points,” Harrie explains to us.

So what are his plans for the outdoor season this year? “Well, there are enough shows to choose from – that’s for sure. Which ones I’ll go to depends on the shape of the horses. The last few months have not been the best ones for me, so we’ll see,” Harrie says.

Harrie Smolders and Regina Z.
Harrie Smolders and Regina Z.

Several good horses are at Harrie’s disposal this season; among them is the 14 year old stallion Exquis Powerfee (Fedor x Erdball xx), the 15 year old stallion and Harrie’s long time partner Exquis Oliver Q (Quattro B x Maykel), the 12 year old mare Walnut de Muze (Nabab de Reve x Chin Chin) and the 11 year old mare who was the Dutch rider’s partner at the World Cup final Regina Z (Rex Z x Savoy Hanover). Powerfee and Walnut are both owned by Team Exquis and Jos Verlooy, Oliver belongs to Team Exquis and Axel Verlooy, while Regina Z is owned by Jos Verlooy.

“Oliver and Powerfee are not the easiest horses to ride, as they can become a little aggressive. But they both have an unbelievable heart and mind. They are both horses that want to jump,” Harrie smiles. “Regina has quite a personality; she has her ears pricked when she’s given a sugar cube, the minute it’s gone she will turn around on you. Her previous owner actually used to put a sugar cube in the mouth and let Regina take it out and eat it; I don’t think I would attempt that,” Harrie laughs. “Walnut is a true power woman! And she has not only been used for the sport, she actually has had 17 foals – 16 of these have been by embryo transfer! Walnut has two full siblings that both compete at Grand Prix level, and has also produced two approved stallions so it’s an unbelievable line she comes from,” Harrie tells us.

Does Harrie have any favorites among his horses? “They are all special, and I wouldn’t like to pick out just one,” Harrie concludes with a smile on his face.


Photos by Jenny Abrahamsson/Text by Jannicke Naustdal - copyright © 2011.

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