It’s only fitting that Holly Jacks-Smither’s first four-star mount is an off-the-track thoroughbred; OTTBs have been a way of life for Holly since a young age. She started breaking and galloping young horses for a trainer when she was 12 years old, met her husband Bruce Smither while galloping racehorses on the side, and now she’s brought one all the way from four-year-old to four-star.
Holly has known More Inspiration (Inspired Prospect X Gentle Buck) since he was a two-year-old on the track. When “Morris” retired from racing as a 4-year-old his trainer contracted Holly to restart him and help sell him. While they couldn’t find a buyer for Morris, Holly took a liking to the bay gelding while working with him and wanted to buy him herself, but couldn’t afford to at the time. Her grandfather ended up purchasing him for her for $2,000.
Though he hasn’t been the easiest horse to bring along, Morris has always been a promising talent with an enthusiastic personality. “I’ve never been bucked off a horse more than him,” Holly said. “Not maliciously — he’s just fresh. He leaps, cracks his back and squeals. He’s a pretty happy horse, and I like having a happy horse!”
While flatwork was never Morris’ strength, he was a very talented jumper. Due to his careful jumping style, more than one person has encouraged Holly to sell him as a pure show jumper. While bringing him up through the levels, Holly began to suspect he had upper-level potential and never gave up on him as an eventer despite the naysayers. Though they’ve had mixed results throughout their history, particularly at the two-star level, Holly stuck with him and they made their three-star debut together in early 2015.
That same year, the pair finished 12th at Jersey Fresh thereby qualifying for the Canadian Olympic team and a few months later Equestrian Canada extended a last-minute invite to Holly to compete for Canada at the FEI Nation’s Cup in Aachen. The short notice meant that she had to finance the trip herself, but Holly knew it was an experience she couldn’t pass up. Holly and Morris both came back to North America with a newfound confidence after having completed the toughest test of their careers thus far. “He’s really stepped up to the plate after the international experience,” Holly said of her mount.
With her first overseas competition under her belt, Holly declared her intentions to be considered for the Canadian Olympic team and structured her winter and early 2016 training and competition schedule around trying to achieve that goal. Back in the States, Holly and Morris rode their high from Aachen to finish fourth in the CIC3* Plantation Field at Plantation Field a month later.
We actually saw Holly and Morris initially on the Rolex entry list last year, but the pair withdrew about a week ahead of time opting to route to Jersey Fresh CCI*** instead. “I didn’t want to go to Rolex just for the sake of going to go to Rolex or completing a four-star when the real goal was the Olympics,” said Holly, “and of course the team coach has a lot of say in what we do.”
Unfortunately, Holly took a spill in the main arena portion of the cross country course at Jersey Fresh. She and Morris were able to bounce back and finish 12th at the Bromont CCI*** a month later, but ultimately the pair was not selected to represent Canada in Rio.
Despite the initial disappointment, Holly didn’t let not making the team get her down for too long. She relished spending the remainder of the summer with her students in Ontario and over the winter she and Morris prepped to come back strong by training with Buck Davidson in Ocala.
They placed in the top five in the Advanced divisions at Richland Park and Plantation Field last year. Early this season they claimed top ten finishes in Advanced at Pine Top, Red Hills, and Chattahoochee Hill. This year on their way back to Ontario from Ocala, Holly decided they were ready to make a quick stop in Kentucky.
Out of all the phases, Holly was most nervous for the first one. “Once dressage was done, I was like ‘OK, I can do this,’” she said. “For our first four-star test, I wanted it under 60 and we did that.”
Though the course was imposing, Holly was confident in her and Morris’ partnership and preparation as she looked ahead to cross country. “We’ve answered every question at some point in our career, just not all together,” she said, but she wasn’t expecting to run into an equipment issue that she’s never dealt with before.
After slipping her reins over the A element of the question at the first water complex, the Frog Pond, they slid through her fingers when she tried to gather them back up on her way to the B element. Without enough contact, Holly wasn’t able to guide Morris over the rest of the combination and the pair picked up penalties for crossing their tracks as they rerouted over the option.
Holly still had trouble gripping her reins throughout the Head of the Lake, but navigated it without issue and while galloping away was able to take off her gloves and stick them in her pocket, hoping bare hands would be better able to grip the reins, but it didn’t help. Holly guesses that she had somehow gotten grease on them.
“If Morris was a strong horse we would have had to pull up. Thankfully he’s not so I figured as long as I could get enough contact to guide him and point him in the right direct we could keep going.”
“You kick yourself now for taking the option because you want to be competitive, but it’s our first four-star and he’s amazing and I didn’t want to make him do something he couldn’t do,” Holly said. “He came home sound and happy and this horse owes me nothing. He carried me around — I didn’t help him.”
Morris’ careful jumping came in handy in the final phase on a day when rails were falling left and right, keeping all of them in the cups but one and just barely not staying inside the time. Holly was thrilled with her horse, particularly after having tackled their longest cross country course to date the day before.
“I’ve never felt him get tired before, but when we got the final water I felt him start to fade a little. The fact that he came back the next day and performed so well and was all business was just amazing. It was definitely a confidence building weekend.”
“I think he just gets better and better. Flat work will always be a bit of a struggle, but I’m excited for the future. He’ll be right up there with the top horses with a little more experience.”
When asked what’s next for her and Morris, Holly says she’s going to defer to Coach Buck Davidson, who was an invaluable mentor to have in her corner over the winter and throughout Rolex. “I can’t say enough good things about Buck,” said Holly. “He has a lot of faith in Morris and it was really good to work with someone who loves my horse as much as me.”
After a confidence building weekend, we’re sure to see more of Holly and More Inspiration. Even without the Olympics on their resume thus far we find Holly’s tenacity, faith in her horse, and their journey from track to four-star, well, inspiring.