There’s nothing like the feeling of a dramatic and unexpected victory. But for 2017 LGCT Champion, Harrie Smolders, that sensation this fall was a bit premature—and for the very best of reasons.

At the Longines Global Champions Tour of Rome in September, the Dutch rider became the first person in history to secure the championship title ahead of the series final in Doha, Qatar, nearly two full months away. This weekend, Smolders’ Global Champions League team, the Hamburg Diamonds, also secured the overall GCL title victory, meaning the Dutch rider had officially earned an unprecedented double. With this year’s competition securely in the rearview, Smolders is now free to celebrate his history-making accomplishment and the talented string of horses he’s ridden to the top (and to the not-so-shabby €1,099,736 in LGCT prize money!).

One of those mounts is his partner of more than three years, the 13-year-old Zangersheide stallion Don VHP (Diamant de Semilly x Voltaire), who finished 16th with Smolders in the LGCT Grand Prix of Doha this weekend (the win went to Qatar’s own Bassem Hassan Mohammed & Gunder). But Harry & Don have earned consistent top placings this year at five other LGCT legs—Shanghai, Madrid, Hamburg, Paris, and Rome—and also helped to lead the Dutch team to victory in the 2017 Longines FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping Final.  

“He’s always been a good horse,” Smolders has said. “I also know him very well—which turns he likes, where I have to help him, and where I have to be passive.”

And though the pair’s regular combination hackamore bit may look intensive, according to Smolders, it’s mild enough to accommodate Don’s soft mouth and already solid rideablity. The setup’s chief benefit? Supporting the quality of Don’s jump, especially at certain types of fences.

“In the beginning, I didn’t always have the right connection. In the take-off, he was always a bit behind me and I didn’t like the quality of jump. With the tall verticals, he was sometimes a little slow off the ground. I searched [for bits] and I finally came up with this,” Smolders explained.

“It’s nothing special. It’s a double broken bit, because he actually has a very good mouth and his rideability is good, too. I just wanted a bit more connection at the jump and in the take-off. I can have control with other bits, but the hackamore gives me a better quality of jump with this combination.”

-As told to Esther Hahn. Photo credits: Thomas Reiner (2); Erin Gilmore.