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111 clear rounds at 1.60m level: a tribute to the phenomenal Don VHP Z

The great showjumper Don VHP Z was retired from the sport in an emotional ceremony at the Longines Global Champions Tour show in Valkenswaard, the Netherlands on Saturday 12 September. Harrie Smolders, who jumped the stallion internationally for the past six years, described the 16-year-old as “one of a kind”.

“I don’t think many horses will ever match him,” said the Dutchman.

As a tribute to one of the sport’s most successful grand prix horses, we picked out just a handful of our favourite “Don” moments.

1. Don, or ‘Paris’ as he was known in his early years, was owned by the Brendon Stud and produced through his early years by Louise Simpson (then Pavitt). The supremely talented youngster earned the title of six-year-old champion at Horse of the Year Show in 2010, won the Walwyn novice championship at Royal Windsor 2010 and was crowned grade C champion in 2011.

2. The precocious talent also finished fourth in the King George V Gold Cup at Hickstead with Louise when just eight years old.

“He showed that big scopey jump right from the word go,” says Shirley Light of the Brendon Stud. “He would make you smile every day in the yard with his hilarious sense of humour.”

3. Don VHP Z was sold as an eight-year-old in 2012 and USA rider Saer Coulter took the ride. The Coulter family, under the Copernicus Stables banner, still own the stallion with Harrie Smolders taking the reins in 2014. Don went on to become one of the most consistent five-star grand prix horses in the world.

4. Standing 17.1hh, Don jumped a phenomenal 111 clear rounds over 1.60m tracks. The pair won individual silver at the 2017 European championships and the stallion helped his rider become world number one.

“He’s been jumping clear rounds all his life and what makes him so special is that you know exactly how he’s going to be tomorrow — he’s very manageable, very straightforward and that behaviour makes him so consistent,” says Harrie. “It’s rare to see such a big horse that is so careful.”

5. The stallion son of Diamant De Semilly is out of Sara Van’t Parelshof (Voltaire x Ramiro), who also produced McLain Ward’s grand prix showjumper HH Carlos Z and was bred in Belgium by Guy De Schuymer. Among their many successes, amassing nearly €2m in prize-money in the process, Don VHP and Harrie took the Global Champions Tour-Global Champions League championship double in 2017.

6. Some of his best grands prix victories came in Hamburg, Shanghai, Rome, Vienna and Royal Windsor, but his outstanding consistency made him a brilliant team player, too, in Nations Cups and championships.

7. Don VHP Z was retired in a moving ceremony in Tops International Arena in Valkenswaard on Saturday 12 September. Harrie said: “Don and I are an inseparable pair, I really enjoyed riding him and I will miss him very much.” Won’t we all? Farewell Don, you’ll be very much missed, but we are already enjoying watching some of his wonderful offspring in action around the world. The legend lives on.

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