Articles Written 8
Article Views 28,187

Tamie Smith


About Tamie Smith

Latest Articles Written

Perspective: Quantity Over Quality Will Stifle the Grassroots of Eventing

A number of riders have shared with us their opinions about a recently proposed rule change by the USEA concerning the increased number of MERs to move up to Preliminary, Intermediate and Advanced. As of March 12, this change has been tabled until the 2023 competition season. Tamie Smith recently appeared on an episode of The Jon and Rick Show to discuss the proposed changes, and she shares those opinions with us today. To read other Perspective pieces on this topic, click here.

Tamie Smith and Danito. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve spent countless hours on the phone discussing the implications of the proposed increase in events used as Minimum Eligibility Requirements (MERs) from four to 10. As a professional rider and ICP Level 4 coach who has based on the West coast for nearly the entirety of my career, it’s hard not to foresee the starvation of a sport that is already suffering in Area 6 – and the stifling of thousands of other grassroots riders who live in even lesser populated areas – should this change go into effect.

I’m happy to hear that the USEA and the Safety Committee have pushed this proposal to 2023, hopefully to consider more feedback and better options, but my questions and concerns remain. The proposal suggested a number of 10 events with MERs achieved in order to qualify for a move up to Prelim. Here’s why this is problematic for eventers in areas such as California, the Midwest, or essentially anywhere aside from Areas 2 and 3.

Speaking from my experience as a California eventer, trust me when I say we are not lacking for power in numbers of riders here in Area 6. We are a strong community full of professional, amateur, and young rider talent – you can clearly see the talent rising to the top in the most recent Under 25 Training List, where several talented kids named hail from the West coast.

No, what we are starving for here is events. We are used to driving five to eight hours to compete in California, traveling up and down the entire coast of the country in order to complete one season.

In 2021, there are 22 USEA-recognized events on the Area 6 calendar; several of which remain under “Pending USEF Approval” status. By contrast in Area 3, you are at nearly 30 recognized events just by the end of March. Now add in the hundreds of miles driven to get from one end of California to the other (or to drive from other, less populated states, such as Montana or Arizona), and you’re facing a steep challenge for even the most well-supported, well-funded riders.

If the number of MERs increases to 10, the sport will starve in areas except for those on the East coast. It’s simply not a sustainable number. And the argument to relocate is not feasible for the majority of riders. Essentially, what this rule tells me is that the talented riders who have made their livelihoods in areas that are not hubs of the sport will find themselves far out of reach of achieving necessary qualifications.

It’s a no-brainer to me that the more experience you have as a rider, the less likely you are to have an accident. But there has been no quantifiable data made available that shows a direct correlation between a minimum of 10 MERs and a safe cross country round. So why are we jumping straight from four to 10 without first making the MERs more stringent? Let’s start there.

After lengthy discussions with other professionals on the West coast, a formula that emerged was the idea of six MERs (up from four), with stricter requirements for each phase.

It’s my opinion that a horse scoring a 45 in the dressage and consistently having four poles down and a lot of time on cross country might not be ready to move up to Prelim. Horses and riders need to be properly developed, and only skating by on minimums does not accomplish this. In addition, there is evidence that a better dressage score doesn’t necessarily constitute safer jumping. However with all of the components together, the MERs will help with safer and better educated riding.

The formula that we spent hours discussing involves making an MER a 40 or better dressage score, 3 or fewer rails in show jumping, and 10 or fewer time on cross country would set the bar for quality riding a bit higher, creating better and more effective riders who are more suited to tackle Preliminary. The time requirement for cross country could be set to 10 or fewer for only one or two of the MERs, to encourage proper education and progression on speed.

By increasing the number of MERs to a more reasonable threshold such as six, you’re still asking riders to have more experience (which is never a bad thing) without freezing so many out before they even have a chance with a high number like 10.

What happens if you pick up 20 penalties on cross country? Your number of MERs would then increase to eight, giving you more time to go back to the drawing board and make some improvements.

While these figures aren’t concrete, they’re a starting point for a better solution than arbitrarily choosing a (very high) number, seemingly based on a very limited amount of supporting evidence.

An increase to 10 MERs may not seem like a big deal to those who are either flush with cash or who live in eventing hubs such as Florida or Virginia (or both), but they are a huge deal for everyone else. And even for the wealthiest of riders, 10 MERs means more miles, more potential for maintenance, and more bills – all things no one wants more of.

I’ve spent the last few years traversing the country to bring my upper-level string to the East coast to measure myself against the best of the best on a regular basis. I do not want this to become my only option, and this is what I fear would happen, eventually, if these proposals move forward. And I am lucky enough to have this opportunity regularly – what of everyone else who works just as hard? This sport is built on the dollars and participation of every rider, not just us professionals. We need to do more to support those riders, and pulling the sport away from those who happen to live in less heavily-populated areas will do nothing but damage any progress that has been made.

Eventing should not be the sport that people or horses do because they are not “good enough” to do decent in dressage or show jumping. Eventing is the most demanding of all the equestrian disciplines, and ultimately we need to have higher expectations and be better horsemen.

A Retirement Tribute to Wembley

Wembley, the 17-year-old KWPN gelding owned by Kevin and Gretchen Baumgardner and campaigned in recent years by Tamie Smith, will retire this year after a successful upper level career that included a top-15 finish at Kentucky in 2018. A much loved member of the Next Level Eventing team, Wembley was certainly deserving of his own retirement tribute. Tamie Smith was kind enough to allow us to publish her tribute to Wembley here on EN:

Tamie Smith and Wembley. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Wembley……a pretty perfect name for a horse of his presence. He definitely has the presence of Wembley Stadium and if you ever had the privilege of grooming, bathing or putting his bridle on, his head is about as tall.

Wembley managed to get himself more nicknames than any horse I have had in my life. Snowflake, affectionately named by Alex Franklin. White Lighting was one, fainting goat, Wembles, and white giraffe were the most used. But he was our real life unicorn and we have a story for each one.

Many horses have lifelong careers at the top level. Wembley had fewer years at the top but they were some of the most impactful ones of my career.

If you knew this boy, you were perplexed. Seeing me try and clip his ears or actually anything “he” decided he didn’t want you to do, was usually eventful and the list was long. It was a mutual compromise only he and I managed to agree to disagree. If he didn’t like the way a stall looked, it could take you well over a hour to get him in. He had a move that earned him the nickname “fainting goat” because if he didn’t like a turn or the way the trailer moved he would stiffen his entire body and fall over. Wembles overall demeanor was grumpy on the outside, but a very stoic and intelligently calculating sweetheart on the inside.

I remember when we first saw him in England at Tim Price’s farm, his mane was a bit long, parts missing from where it wouldn’t grow and he didn’t have a bridle path. His overall look was a bit rough. He had been just put out for the winter in a field. But when the tack went on and you watched the spider leggy, Icabad Crane looking animal move you were in awe of his power.

Tim & I jokingly laughed as we watched Kevin get mildly taken for a ride when he schooled him cross country for the first time. It quickly became a desperate cry out to Kevin, are you ok? Is he taking off on you? With a sort of joking laugh.

At that time I never imagined Wembley would be the horse that gave me wings to gallop around Kentucky with a national Top 10 finish.

Wembley. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

But that was him. He was full of surprises. As a young horse he was an awkward and fairly weak horse. I was told from the people that had him when he was a jumper that they were pleasantly surprised he was able to stay sound at the top level of eventing. Ironically, he was probably one of the soundest horses I’ve had in my barn.

As the years went on, watching Kevin and Wembley was incredible. Kevin has an amazing ability and still does, of staying completely out of the horses way, and Wembley had quick feet and power to spare to jump any fence he ever needed to as a event horse. His scope is like no other horse I have felt and his gallop was equally as impressive. It was so much fun not only riding but watching he and Kevin tackle some big tracks.

Some horses make an impression on you because of a specific thing, but Wembley had too many things. The more we did for him, the more he demanded. He became the most high maintenance horse in the barn very quickly after he was promoted to the A Team.

He was a horse that made you think outside the box. He wanted to do his job, more than anything and it showed. But he also smacked you in the head and ran out at a jump the second you thought something was easy. You had to ride him like you were riding for your life to get a clean round. Too often because it was so easy for him, he lulled you into thinking it was right there……and just like that it wasn’t. Frustrating at times but teaching us so many lessons.

Kevin Baumgardner and Wembley. Photo by Jenni Autry.

I’ve never ridden a horse that had a neck as long as his. I remember telling Kevin while warming him up for the 3* at Plantation Field, just let go, keep riding forward. I’m pretty sure Kevin was ready to tie the reins around my neck and choke me with them, but he managed to do it and scored the lowest dressage score he had. The funny thing is I felt the same frustration with my dressage trainer Niki when she would say the same thing. If it feels bad, just remember it looks great. Lol

When you decide a horse needs to retire typically it is because they are lame or just very old. Wembley isn’t that old yet, and he’s sound, but Kevin and Gretchen have decided that Wembley proved more than he needed to and how better to retire a horse than when they are sound and happy. At 17 years old he won’t be galloping around 5* tracks and with Kevin very busy with his career it only made sense to let white lightening live out his years with the perfect soul mate “Jewels”

I periodically look across the property and see the giant white giraffe and his cute pony galloping in their field. I can’t help but think it’s too bad he just can’t teach someone else the ropes, but then I’m reminded how he spun Kevin off in the dressage their first competition together.

Tamie Smith and Wembley III. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Wembles taught both Kevin and I so much. He achieved things that most didn’t think were possible, and he continues to be the King in his and our world.

This tribute is to all of the horses that help make our dreams come true. Help teach us how majestic and amazing creatures they are, show us how to have the biggest hearts and humble us just when we think we have it figured out.

Thank you Wembley…….thank you for taking such great care of K BAUM, taking me threw those finish flags at Kentucky, for tormenting every person who ever had to bathe you or take care of you. Thank you for teaching us all to never say never and if you believe you can then you can, and for our amazing matching Unicorn tattoos that we will forever have with us!

Cheers to you Wembley!

❤️ T Smith

A Letter to Me — Tamie Smith

If you could write a letter to your 20-year-old self, what would you say? That’s the topic of a new series by Equestrian Marketing Firm Athletux. First up to the plate: Tamie Smith. 

Photo by Sherry Stewart.

Dear Tamie,

It’s all worth it … the heartbreak, struggle, uncertainty … it’s all worth it, I promise.

As I start to write this letter to you, my 20-year-old self, I smile at how proud I am of you and all you have accomplished.

Earning your degree, being a single mom, maintaining the ability to ride and never giving up on your dream of someday becoming a professional rider and representing your country. It is all going to happen!

People will say you won’t be able to do it. They will say you will not be able to get to the top of your sport. They will say you have no business even trying, being a single mother and all. Not having a strong financial backing, they are telling you no way. At times you will wonder why you are trying at all, but I promise it’s all worth it.

Photo courtesy of Tamie Smith.

You feel broken right now, scared and overwhelmed. You’re not sure how you will put gas in your car tomorrow, and at times even what you will eat for dinner. You will find a way. You will manage to fight through the barriers that seem to be holding you back.

Focus on the goal … that impossible goal you have. The one you can only dream of now — you will surpass it and end up where you have only been able to dream of being.

Embrace the supportive people who love you. Keep them close and know that it is OK for you to accept help. You can’t do it all by yourself.

Photo by Kim Miller.

You will receive a grant to further your education that will change not only your career, but your outlook on yourself. It will feel surreal, but that is just the beginning. The impact that this grant makes on you as a person and athlete will shape your success and inspire you to try and become one of the best. It will be one of the biggest opportunities in your career. It will be a turning point for you, and it will fuel you in a whole new way.

The horses that you will get to ride will be magical. Not just one but all of them. You, yes you, will have a unimaginable string of world class horses and truly remarkable owners who stand behind not only their horses, but you. You have learned to have an empathetic approach to horses and training and have learned how to think more like your horses. The tricky horses, the ones no one else wants in their barns, they will teach you the most. But, when you have learned from them, also be OK with then realizing some horses are not suited for you, and that it is OK to eventually ride the nice ones, rather than only the difficult ones. I know, you are thinking I have to take every horse possible to be the best I can, but there will eventually become a time when this is no longer the case, just trust me.

Tamie Smith and Wembley at Kentucky. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

You will compete all over the world. I know, it’s hard to believe, you probably can’t imagine it now, but it’s true. Just put your head down and keep working hard, stay a student of the sport, and don’t ever let anyone tell you that it’s impossible. The way others will look at you will only fuel your fire. Your relentless pursuit of becoming better is what will help you achieve your goals — don’t ever lose that attitude and perspective.

I don’t know if it gets any easier, it just gets different and I can also say the tribulations will make you strong, brave and unstoppable. Riding is a lifelong lesson, believe in your program, but also keep an open mind as you always have.

Tamie Smith and Dempsey at Boekelo. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Your heart will always break when you have to sell a horse or one gets injured, but you will learn to cope with that, it is part of the business. Your horses will be your closest friends and the greatest listeners.

It’s important to just keep working hard and believe. That is what makes amazing competitors. The sooner you truly believe you can be what you’ve always dreamed of being, the sooner it will happen. Belief is one of the important lessons on this journey. Saying it is one thing, believing it is another.

Tamie Smith and Fleeceworks Royal at the American Eventing Championships. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

People will judge you for surpassing their expectations. You will be ridiculed, picked apart, and eventually they will realize that you have become what you’ve become because you worked your ass off. You are never satisfied with being the same. Make sure you continue being a student of the sport. Study, watch, listen and surround yourself with people who want to push you to the top, not ones who are trying to pull you down to them. You will end up leaving those people behind — the ones that tried to prevent your success.

Tamie Smith and Mai Baum at the 2019 Pan American Games. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

You still have so much further you want to go, but you are so close, and maybe if you could just believe a little sooner, your inevitable success would happen much faster.

Above all else Tamie, focus on what is truly important for you and your horses. Don’t chase a goal or try and make something happen. Focus! Stay focused on the process and progression. Keep your head down and do what you instinctively know is right. That instinct will never steer you wrong!

Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

You’re a champion! You are going to make all your dreams a reality. You will be a 5* (yes 5 not 4*) rider, wear the coveted Pinque coat as you represent your country, and you will still want more even then! All you have to do is believe in yourself, and not give up. Be proud of yourself Tamie. Your hard work and determination will get you wherever you dream, so dream big.

Oh and that little girl of yours, she will grow up to be even more incredible than you knew possible. She too will ride, and she too will be a top-level rider like her mom so keep horses in both of your lives. You will both be glad you did.

Kaylawna Smith-Cook and Passepartout. Photo by Kim Miller.

Love, Tamie


Equestrian Marketing Firm Athletux has recently restructured its business model to focus on three main areas: equestrian brandsathletes and events. This is a particularly exciting development for brands, who will benefit from Athletux’s wealth of industry insight to help build their image, maximize use of social media platforms and email marketing campaigns, manage sponsored riders, assist with graphic design and more. Learn more by visiting the just-launched new Athletux website here.

‘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.