Focusing on Fundamentals: Learning with Tamie Smith at Stable View

Tamie with some happy clinic participants. Photo by Amber Heintzberger.

In her first clinic on the East coast, California event rider Tamie Smith spent three days teaching at Stable View in Aiken, Sc. The Monday-Wednesday clinic was sandwiched between the Carolina International Three-Day Event, where Tamie competed several horses, and the spring 4* at Stable View, so the facilities were buzzing as preparations were underway for competitors to arrive.

Tamie had a fall at Carolina, but it was before the event that she sprained her ankle while leading an unruly horse, and then broke her hand while jump schooling another. Spending time seated in a golf cart while she was teaching gave Tamie a chance to ice and elevate her ankle, and despite hobbling around on crutches to offer advice and corrections to riders she looked to be in better shape at the end of the clinic than when it started.

Riders ranged from Beginner Novice to Intermediate level, and Monday started with dressage work and basic fundamentals in riding. Tamie used a simple exercise on a circle, with ground poles set up for trotting and cantering if horses and riders were ready for the exercise.

Tamie emphasizes the basics of the German training scale in her teaching, encouraging riders to focus on learning to establish a systematic program. Each session over the three day clinic began with a patient and focused warm up.

She encouraged riders to ride the horses from back to front, focusing on transitions to help the horses become better balanced. She emphasized the importance of the canter depart and explained to riders how to keep a mentally disciplined structure when trying to execute transitions. Riders worked on maintaining overall balance in each of the gaits during all three phases.

Photo by Amber Heintzberger.

On Monday afternoon the Beginner Novice and Novice groups schooled jumping exercises in the arena, with a double bounce to a one-stride, and a couple of verticals set to practice turning to the fences and keeping a steady rhythm and balance on the approach and landing and between jumps. She had riders focus on riding in a balanced, steady rhythm that is safe for the horse and rider rather than using speed and momentum to get over the jumps.

“I feel like the one key ingredients to successful riding is learning how to keep your horse in a good balance,” she said. “That the horse can stay in front of the leg without being fast and out of balance; if it is behind the leg, or running through you, transitions are a super way to get the horse pushing and not rushing.”

Both Monday and Tuesday evenings featured gatherings at the Pavilion at Stable View, with charcuterie boards by Board in Aiken, and drinks from the pub at Stable View. These were sponsored by Haygain and Nutrena Feed, respectively, and gave clinic participants the chance to ask Tamie questions and enjoy a visit with the clinician. Joanie Morris also did a demo with her Haygain hay steamer and answered questions about their products.

Tuesday was spent on the Boyd Martin/Eric Bull Equine Construction Schooling Cross Country Course at Stable View. The course is usually only Training level and up, but course builder Sam Nichols was nice enough to add a selection of Beginner Novice and Novice-sized portable cross country jumps to the mix so that all of the riders could school.

“We worked on taking momentum away to execute terrain jumps that didn’t have height, like a ditch and a bank,” explained Tamie. She had horses walking over ditches and up and down banks, teaching the riders to stay with the horse and stay in balance.

Photo by Amber Heintzberger.

“Although these exercises can be intimidating because you aren’t using speed, it is very eye opening how much you and your horse will gain confidence if you practice walking non-height questions. Eventually you will both understand it’s much easier and not as scary as you think.”

There was obvious improvement in horses and riders over the course of the clinic. Carol Tresan, whose daughter Devon brought two horses to the clinic from their home in Alpharetta, Ga. said, “My daughter has a talented horse, Zavallo, who can be quirky and a bit complicated to ride. Even when the horse acted up Tamie remained patient, encouraging and supportive. She gave Devon tools and a training system that allowed Zavallo to relax and show us his abilities; there was such a profound different by the third day, the auditors didn’t even believe it was the same horse!”

Danielle Downing, a professional trainer from New Hampshire, rode an eight-year-old horse that had previously campaigned by Tamie to the Intermediate level. Danielle has also competed to Intermediate, but it’s been a long time. She said. “I’ve had him for about a year now, and it was really helpful to get her opinion on what to work on with him.”

Photo by Amber Heintzberger.

She and the horse had a fall last year and had some confidence to regain, and she hadn’t schooled cross country in a while. “Tamie helped me stop riding him like a green horse. I hadn’t done upper level stuff since about 2012, and today was definitely out of my comfort zone. I also hadn’t been on a cross country course since November and I felt a little rusty, but Tamie helped me tremendously.”

Downing also rode a Novice horse and had several students riding in the clinic. “Over the three days I felt a lot of improvement overall,” she said.

Training level and up show jumped on Wednesday morning in a big arena with a full course of jumps. Tamie had them start with an exercise on a large circle, using a ground pole and cavaletti and using transitions between these to get the horses in a good balance, in front of the leg, and not falling behind the motion. She explained that the riders need to be disciplined in the warm-up as they learn to ride the horses from back to front and help the horses learn to coil like a spring so that they could release that energy over the jumps.

“Overall, I see a common lack of understanding of having horses in a good balance,” she said. “We must teach this to our students and help them understand that balance over all things is the priority. We must create a simple system in our day-to-day training that allows us to train correctly and gain better balance overall.”