Orange is the unofficial color of the autumn season, and it’s only fitting when one takes into account The Netherlands’ recent string of accomplishments on the show jumping world stage. Just a week after Harrie Smolders made history at the Longines Global Champions Tour of Rome—becoming the only rider to win the LGCT championship title ahead of the series finale in Doha, Qatar—he was back at it in Barcelona, Spain, helping to lead the Dutch team to victory in the 2017 Longines FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping Final. 

As anchor rider, Smolders and the 13-year-old Zangersheide Stallion Don VHP Z were the last to go on Saturday, September 30, jumping clear to secure victory for his fellow teammates: Jur Vrieling aboard VDL Glasgow V Merelsnest, who also jumped clear; Michel Hendrix and Baileys, with one time fault; and Marc Houtzager on Sterrehof’s Calimero, who posted four-faults which became the team’s drop score. Smolders says he was extra proud of his “incredible” stallion, given that he felt Don VHP Z was tired in Saturday’s second round, but still gave his all to jump clear.

Team USA finished in second place thanks to clear rounds posted by veteran partners McLain Ward & HH Azur and Lauren Hough & Ohlala. Belgium, who tied the U.S. with a cumulative 4 faults, finished third with slightly slower cumulative combined times. Ward, Hough, and Smolders—along with Belgium’s Gregory Wathelet and Canada’s Eric Lamaze—will also walk away with an added bonus: a split portion of a €100,000 pot for jumping clear on both Thursday and Saturday evening.

The weekend’s victory is the icing on the cake in an already impressive season for the Dutch team, thanks in large part to their esteemed chef d’equipe, Rob Ehrens. On Saturday, Ehrens heroically downplayed his contributions after the class. “The only thing I have to do is tell them what time to get out of bed, what time to get into bed, and what time to walk the course. I have an easy job and I’m a happy coach!” he joked.

If you’re still getting to know your 2017 Nations Cup-Winning team (including which two members gave up their soccer careers for riding!) never fear. Here are 16 fun facts about The Netherlands’ super-talented squad:

  Jur Vrieling & VDL Glasgow V Merelsnest

  • Vrieling is currently ranked 45th in world and was part of the silver medal-winning Dutch team at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
  • VDL Glasgow V Merelsnest is an 11-year-old Belgian stallion whose mother is full-sister to McLain Ward’s famous Olympic mount, Sapphire. This was Glasgow’s first championship appearance.
  • On May 28, 2017, Vrieling (riding Glasgow) became the first Dutch rider to win the €200,000 Grand Prix of Rome CSIO5* in 85 years.
  • Vrieling is a soccer fan and grew up focusing on the sport. He switched to riding horses when he noticed that his rider sister came home with medals and trophies, not just points, and he wanted in on the action.

 Michel Hendrix & Baileys

  • Thirty-year-old Michel is part of the Stal Hendrix show jumping dynasty (his father Paul and his uncle Emile own Stal Hendrix stables, which has facilities in Baarlo and Kessel in the Netherlands).
  • Baileys is an 11-year-old KWPN gelding owned by Stal Hendrix that Michel has been competing for the last three years.
  • Hendrix has spent time training with Emil Spadone in the U.S. and Ludger Beerbaum in Germany.
  • Hendrix and Baileys previously won the £60,000 Bolesworth CSI4* International Grand Prix in June 2016.

Marc Houtzager & Sterrehof’s Calimero

  • Houtzager began riding at age 10 at the local riding school where his parents operated the café.
  • Sterrehof’s Calimero is a 10-year-old bay KWPN gelding owned by Stoeterij Sterrehof.
  • This March, Houtzager and Sterrehof’s Calimero won the €62,000 VDL Groep Prize at the Indoor Brabant CSI5* in the Netherlands.
  • Houtzager is married to fellow showjumper Julia Kayser, who represented Austria at the 2009 European Championships in Windsor, England. The couple have two young daughters.

Harrie Smolders & Don VHP Z

  • Harrie Smolders was also an avid soccer player who gave up the sport for show jumping at age 16—but actually began his riding career competing in dressage and eventing.
  • Don VHP Z is also related to a top McLain Ward mount, sharing the same mother as HH Carlos.
  • Smolder’s record-setting LGCT accomplishments this year include a grand prix win in Chantilly; podium finishes in Paris, Hamburg and Rome; and top-ten placings in London, Shanghai and Miami Beach.
  • Smolders says that having a few top horses in his string has heavily impacted his ability to be consistently competitive in the sport. “The flexibility [of horses] is my strength—we have so many shows, but that’s why I can sometimes use Don VHP Z and sometimes use Emerald N.O.P. They [do] an unbelievable job,” he has said.

-Photos by Thomas Reiner.