“I created this situation myself”

Harry Smulders at the Dutch Masters in March on the Monaco horse, owned by Jennifer Gates.Statue of Jerry Bowler / de Volkskrant

Not only has Harry Smulder broken into the world top in the last decade as an exhibition jump contestant, but he has also done so as a coach. Because of his good results, the son of a pig farmer from Brabant, who led the world rankings for eight months in 2018, is in high demand as a jump coach by the elite of equestrian sports.

In 2018, Smulders received a phone call from America from talented show-jumping contestant Jennifer Gates, daughter of Bill and Melinda Gates, founders of the Gates Foundation. When Smulders talks about the 26-year-old Gates, he chooses his words deliberately and allows for long silences. He is discreet, and the privacy of his well-known pupil is of paramount importance at all times.

At the World Championships in Herning, Denmark, next week Smulders will compete for the best horse of Monaco, owned by Jennifer Gates. With a 13-year-old Gulf eunuch, Smulders finished second in this spring’s prestigious World Cup final. The combination is also one of the favorites for a medal in the World Cup.

Cooperation between Smolders and Gates began a few years ago when he regularly met the eldest daughter of a Microsoft billionaire at competitions in the United States. “I had a lot of success with other American clients, and Jennifer saw it. The fact that I was number one in the world at the time must have played a role too,” Smulders explains.

famous father

Did he think it was special to be called Gates? If you’ve ridden yourself at a high level for a long time and provided high-level training, it makes sense that someone like Jennifer would at some point be interested in collaborating. Her father was famous, but it could have been someone else with the same ambitions. With celebrities, you often see that the people around them begin to act differently, but this is not necessary for this.

De Brabander often went to America – until Corona hit – to train Jennifer Gates. The rider achieved impressive results, including third place in the five-star (highest level) competitions in Hamburg and Calgary. Gates also represented the United States at the African Nations Cup.

Currently, her jumping career is on the back burner and she prefers her studies. “Jennifer now only rides as a hobby on weekends in America. She’s a woman who wants to get a lot out of life and has broad interests. I have a lot of admiration for that,” says Smulders, who occasionally travels to the United States to train for the Gates.

The rider comes sporadically to their Belgian base Evergate Stables. Jennifer Gates purchased this stable four years ago for herself and her husband, Egyptian-American show star Nile Nassar.

The current top Smulders horses, such as World Cup horse Monaco and second horse Darry Lou, are owned by Evergate Stables. Smoders shouldn’t be afraid of a scenario like the one that happened to show jumper Jeroen Dobeldam last year, when his best horse was sold out shortly before the Olympics. Jennifer Gates will not sell her horses. Smulders: “They take me back that way to the Gates family. But in the end I created this situation myself. I had to invest a lot of time and energy for the recognition I get now. Sometimes the top rider sits at the table with Bill Gates.” Having fun conversations with him.”

A self-made man

Smolders (42) can rightly be called a self-made man. He grew up in Laje Merde in Brabant, near the Belgian border. His father was a pig farmer and his grandfather and grandfather were a farmer. Pa Smulders raised horses as a hobby, so Harry got into contact with ponies and horses at a young age. After graduating from high school, he began working as a stationary rider with then-national coach Johann Heinz at Maple.

Since Smolders was not a natural talent, his parents urged him to develop as widely as possible. That’s why he started training young riders. After his stint at Maple, Smulders worked at the Euro Horse stables of the Belgian Verlooy family for twenty years, and Evergate Stables is now his Belgium residence.

Over the past two decades, Smolders has shone among showjumping coaches around the world, including many of the top riders. But I gained most of my knowledge by taking a closer look at the competitions. Just watch how great show jumpers interact with their horses, how they communicate and how they ride the ring. The higher the level, the more detail. By providing jump training, you have also become a better rider.

Smulders describes himself as the coach who emphasizes recognition and repetition. “When the horse and rider know exactly what to expect, you create a system for continuous performance.”

Jennifer Gates describes Smulders as “a great jockey and coach.” “Harry taught me to develop confidence in my own abilities and taught me the skills that I can use in the ring so that I can trust my own abilities. Harry has made me believe in myself more and made me more patient with horses,” Gates said in an American magazine last year.

Smolders is optimistic about his chances at the World Cup. “The feeling with Monaco has been very good in recent months,” he said shortly before leaving for Denmark. “But in equestrian sports, it’s all about the look of the day.”

The World Cup provides the first opportunity to qualify for the Olympics

The World Equestrian Games will henceforth be known as the World Equestrian Championships. the reason? Chaotic scenes during the previous edition of the 2018 quadruple event in America. With eight equestrian races in place at the time – and 800 athletes from 70 countries – the event turned out to be too massive to organize properly. That is why it was decided to split. There are four disciplines in the program at the World Equestrian Championships in Herning, Denmark (6-14 August): vaulting, dressage, vaulting and dressage. In Italy, the world championships for three other disciplines are held in the fall: four-wheel drive, event and endurance. Raining is no longer part of the FEI.

Dutch showjumping and dressage teams will have the first chance to qualify for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris during the World Championships in Denmark. The showjumping team must finish in the top 5 in the Nations Cup, the top 6 ranking is enough for dressage riders.

National showjumping coach Guus Lansink has to dispense with seasoned authorities Mark Hotsager (his top horse injured) and Willem Greve, who broke his arm and ankle last month when he fell off his horse. The jumping team consists of Harrie Smolders, Maikel van der Vleuten, Sanne Thijssen and Jur Vrieling. The last time the Netherlands won a World Cup (gold) medal was at the Nations Cup in 2014.

The dressage team traveled to Herning with a damaged squad. In addition to the lead character Edward Gall, who has taken a break from competition, Hans-Peter Minderhude has lost due to an injury to his horse. For the first time in history, the Dutch dressage team consisted only of women: Dinga van Lier, Emily Schultens, Marieke van der Putten and Thamar Zwistra. The 31-year-old, ranked sixth in the world rankings, is immediately one of the contenders for the medal in her World Cup debut.

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