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Tamie Smith

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About Tamie Smith

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‘The Master’ Brings the Heat to California

Phillip Dutton traveled to California this week to teach a clinic in which many West Coast eventers participated. Tamie Smith was kind enough to share her thoughts and what she learned from a "clinic with the master." Thanks, Tamie, for writing, and thank you for reading!

Screenshot via Heather Morris on Facebook. Screenshot via Heather Morris on Facebook.

It was one of those cross country clinics that makes you think, “Why haven’t we had him out before? After all he is the master cross country rider of all time.”

While I was out East, I saw many top riders taking their cross country lessons from Big Phil and I was able to watch many of them as I only had a couple of horses to ride each day. I also had a lesson with him on my Twizted Syster mare and he helped me tremendously.

Here on the West Coast we have access to the best dressage and show jumping help and so I thought, “Let’s get the best cross country help.”

Big Phil riding Fleeceworks Royal this am!!

Posted by Tamie Smith on Thursday, January 28, 2016

The last two days were focused on cross country — how to prepare horses for the questions asked of them at the competition. Like Bruce Davidson Sr. said to Shannon (my groom) and I and in his Bruce voice, “You don’t go to competitions to see how good you are, you go to show how good you are!” That is precisely what we worked on, teaching the horses about how to be better cross country thinkers.

Key points learned while Phillip was here:

  • Never take a jump for granted.
  • Work on the canter every stride on approach.
  • Practice technical lines, but always go back to jumping a gallop fence to gain their confidence.
  • Keep the horses forward to fences without letting them drag you past the distance. If they do, make sure your body is back so they can learn from their mistakes. If they don’t learn from their mistake, you might consider a different sport for them.

Time is made up from going away from the fences, not coming to the fences. It is very important to have your horses to the deep and balanced distance.

Bonner & Buzz

Posted by Tamie Smith on Thursday, January 28, 2016

I was thoroughly impressed with how positive Phillip was, but he also very critical, which I believe are the ingredients of a good coach and making great riders.

Mackenna Shea and Landioso

Posted by Heather Morris on Thursday, January 28, 2016

When things didn’t go as planned he broke the exercises down to get both horse and rider back on track, and each rider and each horse learned and finished their class better than when they started.

We can’t wait to have him back out in March!

Unrealistic Expectations

Tamie Smith had a very successful year in 2015, the product of hard work and sheer determination. In her latest Athletux Equine blog, Tamie writes about the meaning of unrealistic expectations and making your dreams into reality. You can follow along with more from Tamie and Next Level Eventing here. Many thanks to Tamie and Athletux for sharing, and thank you for reading!

Tamie Smith hugs Mai Baum after her beautiful test. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Tamie Smith hugs Mai Baum after her beautiful test at Fair Hill. Photo by Jenni Autry.

I woke up this morning…another day before dawn. For many of you who don’t know me, I was cursed with NOT having the morning time gene. But as I grudgingly sat up and started getting dressed, something pretty profound went through my head.

I was putting on my breeches and then my custom Italian-made boots and thought, wow, it wasn’t too long ago when I couldn’t even afford a cheap pair of riding boots and I had to tape them when the zipper broke because I couldn’t even afford to get the zippers replaced. Heck, I didn’t even have a dressage saddle for the longest time, I borrowed one or rode in my Stübben all purpose saddle that was my mother’s when I was growing up.

I had every odd you can imagine that I would never make it to be a top rider, let alone be listed on a World Class list. The one odd that wasn’t against me was my desire and my false sense of ability (I was always certain that if I had a good horse I could go to the Olympics). I obviously was completely delusional, but was I?

I remember back in 2007 the US Eventing Team coach Captain Mark Phillips called me and said, “You seem to be a good rider, but your horse is a bit long in the tooth, so we won’t be adding you to the developing rider list this year.” I promptly said to him, “Well aren’t you training me, not my horse?” He chuckled and then hung up on me.

Love for the "Black Stallion." Photo by Jenni Autry.

Love for the “Black Stallion.” Photo by Jenni Autry.

I was perplexed. I thought, I’m not getting any younger. If I have some ability why can’t they just train me on my older horse? This falls into the category, if I knew then what I know now, I would have graciously said, “Thank you for the call,” and hung up the phone.

My odds consisted of being a young single mother working a full time job, living in a rough part of town because it was all I could afford, driving over an hour away from my house to work and an hour the opposite direction to the barn where I rode, having to pay for daycare, making $100.00 monthly payments on a horse that my trainer gave me because I was in love with him and trying to figure out how I was going to finish my degree because I knew if I had a college degree I had a chance of becoming something.

I told someone once, if I knew it was going to be this hard I’m not sure I would have ever gotten to where I am now and I feel like I’m not even close to where I want to be.

It is so humbling to have people ask to take a picture with you, talk about all of the horses you used to ride and the ones that you currently ride, and to have “fans.” To be the girl that so many have said, “You’ve been such an inspiration.” Even writing those words seem odd.

It’s an unbelievable feeling because it seems like yesterday that just cantering down the center line at my first CCI3* at age 33 and scoring a 61 was the most unbelievable feeling. I had dreamt of riding and competing at the 3* level and never knew it was possible. But I had desire, ambition, drive to work hard, and like I said before, unrealistic expectations.

A bittersweet win ... Photo by Jenni Autry.

A bittersweet win … Photo by Jenni Autry.

I think anyone who wants to become the best at something needs to have those type of expectations.

The amount of people who said you can’t, because of this or that. That I didn’t have the horse and even if I had one horse I would need multiple horses and I would never have the money to ever do that.

Then I was told that I was a wife and mother of 2 kids and because of that I would need to leave my family if I ever thought I would make it to the top. I was asked, “What do you want more, a riding career or your husband and kids?” It astounded me that anyone would ever say that to me, and ultimately that wasn’t even a question I acknowledged because at the time I had no clue that I had all of those odds against me.

I rode horses for free just to ride. In hopes of riding something and it being the one that could take me to the top. If someone said they couldn’t, I would. This wasn’t always the best idea as I got a few broken bones or head injuries, but it made me better. I just remember thinking, if I can be dedicated it will happen.

This winter I have been teaching a lot of clinics and I see so many faces that have the desire I have, some act like it will be impossible, probably because they have people telling them it is impossible. I also see so many faces that have the ability but not the desire, and I’ve said it before, I would rather have heart and desire than ability any day of the week.

Tamie Smith and Mai Baum. Photo by Sally Spickard.

Tamie Smith and Mai Baum. Photo by Sally Spickard.

As I reflect back on the many struggles I have had, it helps me realize the many blessings I have. The struggles I have endured are more than I even want to write about, but just those I spoke about are enough to hopefully inspire someone.

To help give someone the edge to know that it feels impossible but if they work hard they can make their impossible dreams comes true, that you can have children and a husband and still be a top rider, that no matter what the odds are, if you have desire with some natural talent and, most importantly, a ridiculous work ethic, you just might have a chance of someday getting close to your goal and fulfilling part of your dreams.

I remember one of my students was on the side of the warm up a few years ago and a competitor said to a friend of theirs, “That is Tamie Smith, it must be nice to just have people buy you expensive horses to ride around.” My student promptly said to the lady, “She actually got that horse for 10k because nobody else wanted him or could ride him.”

It is very easy to assume that some riders just arrived at the place of expensive horses and glory. In fact, I hear that a lot from people who don’t really know me. If they only knew the amount of tears, broken bones, body aches, heartbreak, sleepless nights, depression, impossible odds that has been endured to gain a small piece of success, they might decide I have a bit of success coming to me.

Whatever the future holds, one of the things I’ve wanted to do for younger girls who were or are struggling is to help shape their future. Help them the way the people who got me to this place helped me. At the very least, I want and try to inspire my students. I have always wanted to be an example to my students and the girls who have worked for me. I am strict, sometimes tough to work for as I expect things to be very detail oriented.

Tamie Smith and Fleur de Lis. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Tamie Smith and Fleur de Lis. Photo by Jenni Autry.

I am a perfectionist and that isn’t always fun to work with. I have learned to be a bit easier to be around now that I have a system but I have always been very adamant about teaching a work ethic, that the horses welfare is first and foremost the most important above all, and to be honest.

I hope that my story will help inspire someone who has all the odds against them.

Be honest, honesty will always let you sleep at night, and at the very least you will always know in your heart you got where you belong because you earned it, not because you cheated or tricked your way. That will always catch up with you in the end.

Be gracious, your success is always because of someone, most times several someones. Work hard, at the very least by working hard you are making your mark and working on your legacy. I have gained so many good friends and people I consider family in my quest to achieve success.

I feel fortunate because of it. I have also learned that my imperfections are not always well received but ultimately appreciated because the ones that get to know me know I would do anything for the people who ask or need anything.

I guess my point is that if you think you have what it takes to reach a dream or a goal, you probably do. You need unrealistic expectations to achieve them, but in the end you just might end up surprising yourself and exceeding what you ever thought was possible.

My unrealistic expectations are even more unrealistic now that I am getting closer to achieving a little success. It is probably what makes me a better rider and horseman.

Keep dreaming, and fighting. It will be the biggest fight of your life but the dreams start to become reality and then you stop and think back and you have no idea how you ever got to where you are now but you know you have what it takes to keep after what you have always wanted.

Remembering the Horse Who Gave Me Wings

We just learned that Tamie Smith's former upper-level ride, Chaos Theory, was euthanized due to complications from colic. He had been enjoying a well-earned retirement in Tennessee, and Tamie wrote this beautiful tribute to the horse who gave her wings. Thank you to Tamie for sharing, and thank you for reading.

Tamie Smith and Chaos Theory at Rolex in 2009. Photo via Tamie Smith. Tamie Smith and Chaos Theory at Rolex in 2009. Photo via Tamie Smith.

“Buzz” & “Buzzard” were just the common nicknames I had for this special horse. He was quirky, I think very misunderstood, and the sweetest animal on the planet. He had a magnificent gallop and an unconventional way of jumping, but had scope to burn. He wasn’t the ideal looking dressage horse, but he let go a lot of his physical limitations and tried harder for me more than any horse I’ve ever ridden.

He came to me at 14 years old and introduced me to one of my best friends. I spent months in the round pen re-breaking him as though he was a three-year-old getting backed for the first time. I learned everything both on the ground and on his back that I know now. He gave me the chance I needed to get to the top. My trainer at the time said, “He’s not ‘the one’ but you don’t have the money to buy that, but he’s going to take you there and everyone needs to start somewhere.”

I was 29 years old at the time and had never ran Advanced. I had gone to college, got a degree, got married, had my kids, and rode after my 8-5 job everyday. I rode every weekend and after I had my son Tyler my husband said he thought I should become a pro. Buzz was my chance.

When one door closes another opens, people tell me, and most often I find that to be true.

The person who owned Buzz had stopped eventing due to a tragic accident and my longtime friend Margie told me I should call and ask about him. Buzz created a bond between Jessica and I and we’ve never looked back.

Buzz taught me so many lessons. I often find myself reflecting back on those lessons and know that if it were not for him I would not be what I am today, both as a person and a horsewoman. We struggled at the beginning to find our partnership, but by eight months we clicked. He took me to several two-stars, twenty seven three-stars and eventually my first CCI4*.

He gave 110% of everything he had everyday. Somedays that was not a lot, but most days it was more than he had. He was hard to sit the trot, he was hard to get on the bit. The type of OTTB you see that does his job because of heart.

I committed myself to getting to Rolex Kentucky and giving it my all. I felt like I owed it to him. I knew it would be an “experience lesson.” He gave me the best ride I could have asked for. I believed in him and he believed in me. I committed to him that after my debut at Rolex I would retire him from FEI competition and when I returned home I said I wasn’t going back until I was ready to be a threat, he gave me his approving nudge and I haven’t been back since.

He was always a giver. I lent him to my friend Gina Economou to have a horse to run Advanced again so she could get her confidence back at the level. He then retired sound and happy without ever having a soft tissue injury and went off to Tennessee to live in huge grass fields with a dear friend Joan Childs at Finish Flag Farm.

Today, he had a bad episode of colic and had to be euthanized. I never imagined that would ever happen to one of my horses. I never imagined Buzzard would ever not be around. She sent me this email tonight;

“Tamie, I’m so so so sorry, but we had to put him down. The meds were wearing off and he was showing signs of pain…he was such a tough guy that he never complained, but I could see how much he was hurting as his vitals began to worsen. I read him your email and gave him lots of tearful hugs. His pasturemates are all upset as well…we will all miss him so very much. The night is very clear and there are thousands of stars out. I know we are in a peak meteor shower period, but I choose to believe the one I saw on my way in to write this was him galloping off to the great pasture in the sky.”

It’s heartbreaking to know he has left but I know he is with all of the legends who have made dreams come true.

RIP Buzzard. You gave me wings!

How Dylan Taught Me to Stop and Smell the Roses

Athletux rider Tamie Smith kindly allowed us to share her blog on how her dear friend Dylan Morris' battle with cancer has reminded her to take time to stop and smell the roses. The EN team extends our love and well wishes to Dylan; you can follow updates on his battle with cancer at this link.

Family — not by blood — but by love and friendship. Family — not by blood — but by love and friendship.

It’s well into February and we are already coming into the second event of the season. We have been to a HITS Thermal jumper show as well as Fresno County Horse Park and had a phenomenal couple of shows.

As I take a look at the calendar, I get a bit overwhelmed, but I am very happy to have the opportunity that has been afforded to me.

Each year I look at my business and the horses I’m competing, and I feel so fortunate and a bit of relief that after all of the hard work, countless hours and sleepless long nights driving, it feels very rewarding.

I don’t know what is in store for me as my career progresses, but I do know that I enjoy the process every day.

You hear people say it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey, and until you stop focusing on the destination and focus on the daily process, you don’t quite understand what that really means.

In September 2013, my best friend’s brother, Dylan, was diagnosed with stomach cancer. This was the same week we were competing together at the American Eventing Championships and the same week Heather lost Rebel Express, her horse who showed her the ropes and taught her how to produce a young horse all the way to Rolex Kentucky CCI4*.

It was the same week we found out another dear friend of ours, Nancy Andriotti, lost her life to brain cancer.

This month changed my life more than any other event in life. More than giving birth, getting married, college, high school, living on my own, my first horse, my first heartbreak, more than any event in my life — this month was life changing.

My brother — not by blood — but by love and friendship was diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer. I thought it would all be fine. They would do surgery and cut it out, he would have chemotherapy or radiation, and he would pull through — because that is just what’s going to happen!

But that’s not entirely what happened. They couldn’t cut out the cancer. It had spread and matastized all over his stomach, heart and pelvic area. It was devastating to even imagine that a strong, heathy, good man of 33 years old would somehow be diagnosed with such a horrible disease.

It put a lot of things in my life that seemed so urgent and important in a different category.

I’m grateful that he is still fighting his fight and doing quite well. He has always been the guy with that smile, funny joke and positive outlook.

It makes you stop and realize what the important things in life are all about: friendship, family and meaningful times with the important people who surround us and make our life complete.

It might sound corny to say, but I feel that too often people get so wrapped up in their careers that they never stop and smell the roses, and before you know it, the roses have bloomed, died and you can’t even remember what they looked like.

As my career grows, as I grow as a human, rider, competitor, business owner, mother, wife, sister, friend and mentor, I have learned through Dylan to stop and smell the roses — to take a bit of time each day and appreciate this wonderful life we have all been given.

Life is very much what you make of it, and I am a very good example of that. As much as I want to be the best rider and competitor in my sport, I also want to live my life with my glass half full.

I want to win gold medals and gallop across every CCI4* in existence, but not to the point of losing what is most important — and that is the people who have supported me all of these years to get a little closer to having something great. Those people are my village. They make it all possible, and each person has made it possible for me to get where I am today.

I live each day happier, more grateful and with more meaning than I ever did before, and I have Dylan to thank for that gift.

So appreciate your life. Big or small — enjoy the process of living. Take each opportunity and make it better. Each person with ambition and drive can achieve a level they never knew was possible.

Thank you to my village. I wouldn’t be here without YOU!

David O’Connor Works His Magic at West Coast Training Sessions

Tamie Smith and Matt Brown rode with Coach David O'Connor in the first USEF Eventing High Performance training sessions of the year last week at Tucalota Creek Ranch in Temecula, California. Read on as Tamie gives us a behind the scenes look at the training sessions.

Tamie Smith and Twizted Syster. Photo by Mackenna Shea. Tamie Smith and Twizted Syster. Photo by Mackenna Shea.

It was an excellent week riding with U.S. Team Coach David O’Connor in the first High Performance training sessions of the year on the West Coast. I was nervous coming into these sessions, as this is my first time I’ve been put on an official “list.”

I have been listed on the Developing Rider program with Capt. Mark Phillips and ridden with David before; however to be one of those “listed” riders — this is the scary reality of being careful what you wish for. Are my horses going well enough? Are they going to be sound for the vet evaluations? What are my plans for 2015? Needless to say, I was a bit wound up preparing and wondering how it would be different this time I was a “listed rider.”

The vet evaluations — although I experienced them for the 2011 Pan American Game selection trials — there was a different feel, a different meaning behind them this time. Luckily, they went well, and they are behind us. Dr. Susan Johns was amazing and so open, and Dr. Emily Sandler, my veterinarian, was there to hold my hand. You just never know what you’re going to see when the ultrasound probe gets whipped out.

Now for the fun stuff: The lessons with David were incredible! He has a very good technique in explaining what he wants and putting the exact amount of pressure on the horses, who progress and improve by leaps and bounds daily. It is not every day that I just throw out compliments to trainers that I take a lesson from. There have been a handful that I can really say do their “magic”; David definitely did some magic this week, which is good, since he is “The Boss” for our eventing team.

Matt Brown and Happenstance. Photo by Cecily Brown.

Matt Brown and Happenstance. Photo by Cecily Brown.

The first day, I rode three horses with him. We worked on getting the horses moving with all of their parts — shoulders and hind legs, mostly on a circle. The lessons were very simple and back to basics.

David got on Twizted Syster, “Chloe,” and spent about 15 minutes figuring her out and what she needed. He was happy to feel what she felt like, as I think it was different from what he saw on the ground. I love that about David. He isn’t afraid to get on the horses and feel what is going on underneath you.

We worked mostly on stretching down and out to the contact in all three gaits. When I got back on her, she felt like a different horse. I could see subtle things he did to make her change, but they were very calculated and clear. His lessons were just the same — calculated, clear and fair. That is how horses learn.

Each day we had more progression, and by the end of the training sessions, we schooled cross country in a snaffle. If you saw what I ride her in cross country or if you have ever seen Twizted Syster run out over those solid jumps, you will understand what a huge accomplishment it was to be able to have the rideability in a snaffle.

The best part of training this past week was to be able to ride with David with multiple horses, as well as watch Matt Brown ride his horses. It makes you stop and focus on yourself and learn. I have found myself teaching his lessons, and when I rode with German eventing team coach Christopher Bartle this past weekend for the USEA ICP West Coast Symposium, it was an extension of all of David’s lessons.

The biggest thing I learned from David was that my aids needed to be very clear. He said this with his angry face. Oops! I quickly applied his tactic, and life became very easy.

Watching the Eventing 18 and Eventing 25 riders was also great and fun to see how new Developing Rider Coach Leslie Law will put his stamp on the up-and-comers. We had very talented riders in that session, and it was impressive to watch how disciplined they all were. (Click here to read Helen Bouscaren’s E25 recap and here to read Madison Temkin’s E18 recap.)

I have my homework to do and am working hard to be way beyond where I was when “The Boss” comes back next month.

Thank you to Joanie Morris and USEF High Performance for creating an amazing opportunity, and thank you to Alan and Kay Needle, the owners of Tucalota Creek Ranch and home of Next Level Eventing for providing a first class facility. Hosting the training sessions is an event in itself, and it makes me always appreciate our organizers that much more.