The past year has been a whirlwind for Tamie Smith and her team at Next Level Eventing. Thanks to a shrewd eye for talented horses and a supportive team, Tamie’s found herself with four horses showing promise at the upper levels of the sport, and she’s still pinching herself every day.
Tamie originally took the ride in 2013 on Twizted Syster from Heather Morris after it was discovered that the mare had terrible allergies in Texas. “It got to the point where you couldn’t even ride her,” Tamie said. “So Heather asked if I’d be interested in trying to sell her on the West Coast.”
“Chloe”, a 7-year-old Irish Sport Horse, was a handful from the start — a challenge Tamie was more than game to take on. “I ran her at Intermediate at Galway, and I basically got run away with,” Tamie ruefully recalled. “Heather had suggested I ride her in a certain bit, and I thought I’d try something that was a bit less but of course she got out of the start box and ran away. I knew she was for sale and that Mike (Huber) would have my head if I didn’t go double clear so I just hung on for dear life and we went double clear.”
Looking back on that wild first ride, Tamie knew she was on something special, even if it was running away with her at the moment. “I knew I had to have that horse,” she said. “I agreed to keep her on the West Coast to see how she dealt with the changing seasons, and I just ended up falling in love with her.”
After campaigning the mare successfully through the CCI2* level, it was announced in October of 2014 that Tamie had officially acquired Chloe with the help of the newly formed Twizted Syster LLC Syndicate.
Tamie is grateful to have had this partnership with the talented mare, calling it the best of learning experiences. “She’s not easy, and she’s a mare,” Tamie said. “It’s been a very good learning experience for me to develop a partnership with her. I’ve had to conform a bit to her thinking process and learn to be a horseman, thinking about what suits her best in competition. She’s always going to be strong on cross country, but at four-star level that’s what I want to see.“
This year, Chloe will make the step up to Advanced at Copper Meadows before Tamie packs up and heads east for a spring campaign including the Fork and Jersey Fresh. Twizted Syster is currently aimed at the CIC3* at The Fork in April followed by the CCI3* at Jersey Fresh in May.
Sunsprite Syrius, a coming 7-year-old Trakehner gelding, is another superbly produced young horse in Tamie’s barn who’s shown real talent when it comes to eventing. After being sold to Sunsprite Warmbloods, Gina Miles rode Syrius in his four-year-old year, competing him at the Novice level before Tamie took over the ride late in 2012.
“Gina did a fantastic job of putting education onto him,” Tamie said. “He’s a really spectacular horse in his mind, and he’s got a fantastic jump. He’s not the flashiest to look at, but once you see him go you perk up a bit and pay attention.”
Sunsprite Syrius was the second highest ranked 5-year-old Young Event Horse on the West Coast in 2013, which puts him into contention to earn a ticket to Europe to compete in the 7-year-old class at the FEI World Young Horse Championships at Le Lion d’Angers this year. The Holekamp/Turner YEH Lion d’Angers Grant, which will award its first recipients this year, will send the highest scoring 5-year-old who is qualified to compete in the CCI2* competition to Europe this fall.
Syrius will move up to the two-star level this year, having contested his first Intermediate at Twin Rivers at the end of February, where he finished third on a final score of 31.7. “He’s 100% the best minded individual,” Tamie said. “He’s got a load of scope and a huge willingness to try that I think will take him far.
Sunsprit Syrius is also aimed for The Fork and Jersey Fresh, where he will contest the CIC2* and CCI2*, respectively. “There isn’t a day where I get on and that horse doesn’t try his guts out. Even when he’s tense, he settles in and I’m able to ask as much as I can from him.”
Fleur de Lis
An 8-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, Fleur de Lis is a testament to Tamie’s patience and work ethic as a horsewoman. Originally sourced by Matt Flynn, it was Jennie Brannigan who thought the gelding would be a good fit for Tamie.
“In 2011, after I broke my leg at Rebecca Farm, I got a call from Jennie, who told me that I needed to come out and see this horse,” Tamie recalled. “She told me he was tough, and I said ‘No, I’m not doing any more tough ones.'” Jennie insisted, and Tamie flew to Pennsylvania a week post-surgery to take a look.
“Milton” was definitely quirky, but Jennie thought that with the right partner he’d come around, and she thought Tamie was just the one to do it. “I trusted Jennie and Matt, so we did a handshake deal and I bought him,” Tamie said. Now owned by the Team Milton Syndicate, Milton is coming into his own and flourishing under Tamie’s tutelage.
“We spent a lot of time in the air at first,” she recalled. “He’d try to get me off however he could — run me intro trees, all kinds of weird things. But once he decided that I was his person, everything kind of fell into place. Even now, I’m the one who does all of the riding on him. He’s just happier that way. He’s a very kind horse, and he’s a very correct and elegant mover. But I’d say it’s taken until now to really get our partnership to where it needs to be.”
Indeed, Tamie took it slow with Milton, waiting to make his USEA debut until 2013, where patience paid off and the gelding took home a win in the Open Training at Galway Downs. From there, the pair never finished worse than eighth, most recently picking up a third place in Milton’s Intermediate debut at Twin Rivers.
“I think his brain has really come full circle, and my mind is just blown. He was very ‘troubled’, as I like to say, but now I think there’s a lot in his future. I don’t necessarily know that he’ll be a Burghley horse, but I think he will do well with a select number of four-stars and many three-stars. I hope to make a team with him; he’s just a very reliable and consistent horse. Matt did a great job of picking him out, and I really owe it to Jennie for calling me that day.”
Milton is also slated to get on the trailer heading east this spring, taking the same path as Sunsprite Syrius and aiming for the CIC2* at The Fork and the CCI2* at Jersey Fresh.
Just over a year ago, Alex Ahearn came to Tamie’s barn for training, bringing with her a top-tier talent in Mai Baum, a 2006 German Warmblood gelding. At the time, Alex and “Lexus” had competed through the one-star level together but were experiencing some difficulties, which prompted Alex to search for a suitable working student position.
Sourced by Michele Pestle, Lexus exudes a showmanship and talent that is immediately recognizable in the ring. “Everyone wants to ride that horse,” Tamie said. “Michele did an excellent job with both him and Alex, and she has picked many incredible horses who have made their mark in the sport.”
Alex and Lexus campaigned at the Intermediate level in 2014, completing the AECs as well as the tough CCI2* at Fair Hill before being named to the Eventing 25 training list in 2015.
“(Alex) did a great job with that horse,” Tamie said. “I knew she was having some struggles, but my hat is off to her for completing at Fair Hill. She was having trouble making it to that next level, but I never in a million years thought she’d ask me to ride Lexus.”
When Alex and her family asked Tamie to take over the ride, she was floored. “(Alex) said she wanted to go to school, and she felt that she and Lexus were at a point in their partnership where they couldn’t teach each other anymore, and she felt they were struggling,” Tamie said. “I was so proud of her for recognizing it, but I told her that I’d ride him at HITS Thermal so she could really make her decision — it’s tough to hand the reins over to someone else. Saying it is one thing, but watching someone else ride your horse is totally different.”
Alex watched Tamie compete at HITS, and she thoroughly enjoyed her role as “horse mom”. “She had tears in her eyes, and she told me she loved seeing us together,” Tamie recalled.
Alex’s parents have told Tamie that Mai Baum is not for sale, and that they plan to support her with the horse for the foreseeable future. “Alex has done an immaculate job with him, and it’s just an amazing opportunity to get to ride such a phenomenal animal,” Tamie said.
Tamie has been working through a few quirks that Lexus carries with him, and she credits Alex with the job she’s done producing him to this point. “She’s 19, and they basically grew up together,” she said. “She’s the one who rode him and did all of the work — it’s been really impressive to see.”
Tamie’s first event with Mai Baum was the CIC2* at Fresno in February, where they picked up second place. This was followed by an Intermediate win at Twin Rivers late last month, and now Tamie plans to see how far she can go with the stunning gelding. She’ll step him up to Advanced at Copper Meadows and will also be taking him east to The Fork and Jersey Fresh.
At the end of the day, Tamie feels nothing short of blessed to be at this point in her career. While she prepares to take her East Coast trip, she’s got myriads of supporters cheering on her every move. “I have such an amazing team of supporters behind me, I feel so blessed to have them,” she said. “It’s scary to think that all of these talented horses are sitting in my barn. It’s just been really fun.”
To learn more about Tamie’s program and how you can get involved, visit her website here.