‘There’s never a dull moment’ — what makes Don VHP Z one of the world’s greatest horses?

  • The 15-year-old stallion Don VHP Z NOP, the ride of world number three Harrie Smolders, is one of the world’s leading showjumpers. The hugely imposing 17.1hh liver chestnut, who was produced through his early years in Great Britain, has helped the Dutchman win individual silver at the 2017 European Championships as well as some of the most prestigious grands prix in the world. What makes him so good? We find out from those who know him best.

    1. “I’ve never ridden a horse who jumps 1.60m fences so easily and, because he’s so scopey, it doesn’t cost him a lot of energy,” says rider Harrie Smolders.

    2. “He showed that big scopey jump right from the word go,” says former owner/producer Shirley Light of the Brendon Stud, whose father Cyril bought “Paris” from Belgium as a two-year-old after seeing him loose jumping.

    3. “Travelling in the lorry he just goes to sleep and doesn’t move. But when you open the ramp, he’s ready to go and you can’t get him off the truck quick enough otherwise he tries to get off before you do,” says Don’s groom Alex Tyler-Morris, who has looked after the stallion for the past five years. “There’s never a dull moment with Don around.”

    4. “Don’s very trainable at home and a pleasure to ride. He’s very cool headed, too — he’s never impressed by a fence or anything new,” says Harrie, who will be aiming Don VHP Z at this year’s European Championships in Rotterdam.

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    5. “He would make you smile every day in the yard with his hilarious sense of humour and I think he’s still as cheeky as he ever was,” says Shirley Light. “Louise [Pavitt, who rode him until he was sold as an eight-year-old] always said if it took three of us to tack him up, she knew she was going to win.”

    Don’t miss the full feature in this week’s showjumping special issue of Horse & Hound, out today (Thursday 21 February 2019).

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