Born and raised in Lage Mierde, a Dutch village near the Belgian border, Harrie Smolders got infected with the ‘horse virus’ at a very young age. “Luckily for me, my sister was very keen on riding, so I was able to ride her pony very early on,” the Dutch rider says. “I got ‘the bug’ pretty quickly,” and the rest is history. When the time came to decide on whether to make horse riding his profession, Smolders’ parents sent him with who was then Dutch chief d’equipe Johan Heins, where Harrie got the chance to find a professional setting if he thought he had what it took to make a life out of show jumping. It wouldn’t be until his first big victory at a 3* Grand Prix in Cervia, Italy where an early-in-his-twenties Harrie thought he might actually be good enough for this demanding sport, “That memory will always stay in my mind.”
Looking back at those early stages of his career in horse riding, Harrie would reassure his younger self that “all the hard work will one day be worth the effort,” and that it has proven to be. The two-time Olympian has consistently been part of the top 25 athletes in the world for over 10 years and was awarded Dutch rider of the year, as well as National Sportsman of the Year in his home country. In 2017, Smolders made history by being the first rider to be crowned the overall winner of the 2017 Longines Global Champions Tour before the season finale.
Inside the horse world, the Dutch showjumper has also found a passion as a trainer that recommends his students to keep a recognisable and repeatable training for both riders and horses, as this is how you “get consistency in your results”. According to the Evergates’ rider, working as a trainer should be something younger riders also experience. “If you teach other people, you get more and more aware of how you are solving your own problems. In the end, that will help make you a better and complete rider”.
When asked how he would describe himself as a rider, Harrie answers: “Understanding. I think you really have to understand the horse and how their brain works before you can work together to get the best out of them.” This is also put into practice when choosing new horses, the Dutchman has a special requirement, “I need to see whether the horse really wants to become better and if they want to do everything for top sport”. Currently competing in the highest level in different ‘saddles’, his beloved Monaco is still the head of this stable: “He is one of the best horses in the world at the moment, mostly for his personality”. When talking about his best and most special horses during his career, Harrie couldn’t choose just one, “I’ve had many horses that have changed my life, all coming at different times and changing it in different ways.” According to 5* Grand Prix winner, that’s the beauty of it: all horses are different and have their own unique character. This is cemented by his ability to ride a range of different types of horses every day. “I feel this has really honed my focus and underlines that every horse is an individual, just like us. And so, each ride is different and unique.”
And with different horses come different needs, also when travelling. The goal for all of them should be the same though: “I really want my horses to be relaxed when travelling, to me that’s so important.” Hence, Harrie feels the most important part of his truck would be the travelling compartment. “The horses need to have enough space, but also to feel supported.” This is one of the reasons he chooses Roelofsen, “they have by far the best trucks,” the rider says.
Now that the season has just started and the Belgian based rider will travel all over the world again, Harrie says shows that are “authentic and that have a great history” are his favorite to compete at. As for his goals for this year, the rider would like to win at least one Grand Prix, but will be aiming for more.“A real ambition would be to win a Rolex Grand Prix. “And to be European Champion.” he ends with a cheeky smile.