A smart fluid damper includes a damper body defining a cavity with smart fluid having first and second cavity portions. A piston head within the first cavity portion is slidingly displaceable. A flow control element is disposed within the second cavity portion. The flow control element includes a stationary main body having a central core, and a stationary outer housing that surrounds the main body and is spaced apart therefrom to define a fluid passage between the main body and the outer housing. The fluid passage extends axially through the main body to permit fluid flow therethrough. The central core includes an energizable coil operable to apply a field. A plurality of field barriers are provided, each operable to locally block the field generated by the energizable coil such that the field cannot pass directly therethrough. The field barriers are configured to focus the field within the fluid passage.