12 November 2020

Checking in with…… Harry Buurman!

The sport of combined driving has had the privilege of knowing a great number of people who have had a lasting impact on the sport. Hoefnet went in search of a number of these legends to ask how they are doing now. In this chapter we are talking with Harry Buurman.

Gestrikt als groom

Harry Buurman (1946) was introduced to combined driving through his friend Dick Groenewoud, the brother of team driver Sem. Harry and his sisters rode horses at the famous Midden Heuven equestrian centre that was owned by the Groenewoud family in Rheden, The Netherlands. Harry was recruited to groom for Sem as he started is four-in-hand driving career. The third member of the team was their friend Karel Pepping, who was a former rally sport driver.


From groom to course designer

The driving world was a part of Harry’s life by the time Sem left for the United States and he made the move to study course design. His day job of being a landscape architect lends itself well to this new undertaking. The legendary horseman Daan Modderman took Harry under his wing and showed him the ropes. As Modderman’s assistant Harry helped build courses in Midden Heuven, Posbank, Beek, Beekbergen, Exloo, Zelhem, Arcen and Blaricum.


The course designer

Over time Harry began to be regarded as ‘the’ course designer and he soon began designing competitions in Deurne, Oisterwijk and Waregem in Belgium.

The first World Championships held in Apeldoorn in 1976 was built by Harry, together with Daan Modderman and assistants Frans Welling and Jos Olders. Harry looks back fondly on the time and the many adventures he had:

“During that time there were a lot of animal activists trying to sabotage the competitions. We even let the assistant course designers sleep in the obstacles to keep them from being destroyed.”



Four-in-hand World Championships Apeldoorn 1988 with Harry Buurman, Prinses Margriet, Baron van Lynden

Wonderful experience

Harry ended up building ten World Championships and European Championships including Riesenbeck, Gladstone, Apeldoorn 1988 and the World Equestrian Games in 1994. One of his most wonderful experiences was the World Championships in Gladstone in 1993: “Everything was possible, that was unbelievable. There was a new dressage ring that was set in a valley. There had to be trees removed and the ground levelled. When I returned a month later the ring was there, perfectly level with drainage and sand! I recently saw a number of photos from the grounds and they are still using the same obstacle models.”


Horse friendly trade mark

Harry’s building style reflected his knowledge as a course designer, as well as his experience as a landscaper. This, in combination with his experience grooming allowed him to build obstacles that were known to be horse friendly.

For his contributions to the Dutch driving sport he was awarded with Horseman of the Year at Indoor Brabant in 1988. At that time Harry was the only Dutch FEI course designer.


Beautiful Championship

After the World Equestrian Games in 1994 declared bankruptcy which also impacted Harry, he decided to retire his course designing career. He made just one exception: the organizer of Riesenbeck, Heinz Kerckhoff asked him to build the 1997 Pair Horse World Championships. As Harry had been the course designer in Riesenbeck for years he agreed and the result was an beautiful championship. Harry built Riesenbeck together with Joop Brink and in the following years was also active as a FEI Technical delegate.




Harry looks back at an interesting and inspiring period in the Dutch driving sport and still follows the sport from the side lines. His beautiful collection of carriages, sleighs and harness has been given to the renovated Kasteel Biljoen in Velp, The Netherlands where they are displayed in the carriage house. Harry and his wife continue to enjoy their collection as they live close by and are good friends with the head of the family.


Organization committee of the World Championships in Appeldoorn 1988. L-R Charles van Dalen, Jacques van Leeuwen, Jan Went, Gé König and Harry Buurman

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