October 25, 2015--Last to go in a tiebreaker for the $125,000 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Washington, D.C. qualifier, and racing to beat Callan Solem's impressive time on VDL Wizard yesterday, Harrie Smolders was on target with the sparkling chestnut stallion, Emerald, when the horse slipped on a turn.
He had been chasing a mark of 39.43 seconds. Only six in the field of 28 vying for the Washington International Horse Show's prestigious President's Cup trophy at the Verizon Center made it fault-free over the first-round course set by Anthony D'Ambrosio.
When his horse's hind end momentarily went out from under him, Harrie didn't panic, or even hesitate. He simply found a new distance and nailed it, then turned tightly to the final line, galloping home to win.
The Dutch rider bettered Callan's clocking by only a fraction, the fleeting 0.11 seconds caught by the Longines timing equipment, but it was enough to get him closer to his goal of making the Longines FEI World Cup™ Final in Sweden next year.
Harrie's place in the jumping order gave him an edge, and Callan's brave effort offered an incentive that he would have lacked without a fast double-clear in front of him. "On one hand, she put some pressure on, so it was not a present today," he explained. "But on the other hand, I was also a bit pleased that I knew what I had to do. If there was no one clear, you had to decide what you were going to do, but I had no choice. I had to go."
He produced a brilliant finish to a dazzling evening at the show, which featured non-stop action from the Washington International Equitation Finals, won by the multi-faceted Victoria Colvin--fifth in the grand prix on Cafino with 8 penalties in 38.93 seconds--to Shetland pony racing and the induction of legendary U.S. rider Rodney Jenkins into the show's hall of fame. Adding a Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping qualifier to the mix enhanced the magic.
"It's super-important for us to be part of the league," said Victoria Lowell, the show's president. Noting that the President's Cup had long been a Longines FEI World Cup™ qualifier, remaining in the "slimmed down" league was a great honor for the Washington International.
No stranger to the North American fall indoor circuit, Harrie also had won the President's Cup on his first visit to the Washington show in 2006, riding Exquis Oliver Q.
An impressive crowd applauded his efforts on Emerald in last night's class, presented by Events DC in the heart of the nation's capital, just a short walk from the White House and the other landmarks that make the city so special.
The show is a challenge for organizers, riders and horses. Streets are closed off around the arena so stabling can be erected under tents and behind chainlink fencing. That keeps the curious at bay without cutting off their view, and many pedestrians coming up from the Metro undergrounds transportation system are startled and then thrilled to see horses and a flurry of activity when they reach the sidewalk.
Horses out for a breath of fresh air, led alongside the building amidst the bustle of downtown, have little room to warm up when they get inside the arena. Ride times during off-hours in the ring are carefully apportioned to give everyone a chance to do a little work, but it takes a horse who is compatible with those conditions to succeed.
Foreign riders dominated during the show. Belgium's Nicola Philippaerts, who won Friday's $50,000 speed derby, had the fastest round in the grand prix jump-off, 38.17 seconds on H&M Forever D'Arco ter Linden, but a toppled rail put him third.
Until the grand prix, Harrie's greatest distinction at this year's Washington show came from coaching his student, 19-year-old Belgian rider Jos Verlooy, who won the puissance on Sunshine, clearing 6 feet, 11 inches, the day before the President's Cup. While Jos finished fourth with a knockdown and a time of 40.07 seconds in the grand prix on Sunshine, he came away with plenty of other prizes, including awards for the top rider under 25 years old and best foreign rider. Both Emerald and Sunshine are owned by Euro Horse Bvba/Axel Verlooy, who is Jos's father and collected the owner's award.
Interestingly, half of the horses in the jump-off--Emerald, Sunshine and U.S. rider Hardin Towell's sixth-place mount, Emilie de Diamant AS (8/41.91)--were Belgian warmbloods by the Selle Francais stallion Diamant de Semilly. That horse won gold at the FEI World Equestrian Games 2002 and silver at the 2003 European Championships.
Diamant passed his ability along to his offspring, who have great personality, especially Emerald, whose flashy white stockings catch the eye and punctuate his brilliant jumping ability.
Harrie had a lot to say about his horse and the class. Click on the video to hear his thoughts.
Callan bubbles with enthusiasm for the sport and her mount, who she said enjoys the jumping as much as she does. Wizard gets excited when he sees that she has donned show clothes, and whinnies at the ingate before entering the arena. His rider confided she had outside help in her pursuit of the class's $31,250 first prize. The Cup's defending champion and three-time winner, McLain Ward, offered guidance after his horse, HH Carlos Z, dropped a first-round rail in the testing triple combination at the end of the long side of the ring, heading for the backdrop featuring replicas of local landmarks the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. Always interested in playing a part in his sport, he switched gears and gave advice to Callan.
McLain urged her to try for more than a piece of the action. "He encouraged me to do four strides in the first line," she revealed, "and he said, `You’re third a lot. Try to win this class.' "
"I really appreciated that encouragement. Going to these shows on my own, I’m trying to find my way a little bit," she said. "In producing the horses, I always try to leave them better than I found them and sometimes it is nice for me to have a little push. It is nice for someone to say, `Come on, you’re good enough--go ahead and try.'"
Callan misses her mentor, the late Carol Hofmann Thompson, as she mentioned in this video.
Anthony D’Ambrosio, the course designer, praised the caliber of the riders. It is no easy task to set up a grand prix course in the arena, he said, noting it is "a bit of a puzzle" for him but it's obviously one he enjoys, having designed at the show for three of the last four years.
Click on the video to hear him offer more of his thoughts about designing in the Verizon Center.
Erik A. Moses, senior vice president for sports and entertainment at Events DC, explained the show and the President's Cup are a hallowed tradition in the District. "We have every other major sport represented in this city," he pointed out, "and this one means so much to the city because of the President’s Cup with the Presidential seal on it. I was looking at one of the films that showed the original horse show in the U.S. National Guard Armory, which is another one of our buildings. This event is inextricably linked to sports in this town, so we think it really rounds out our portfolio in a unique way."