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.