It’s been a whirlwind past few months for Tamie Smith. In addition to clinching the biggest win of her career at the Dutta Corp Fair Hill International CCI3* with Mai Baum and receiving the $30,000 Rebecca Broussard International Developing Rider Grant, Tamie and “Lexus” also have been been voted 2015 Eventing Nation Horse & Rider of the Year.
“This past season still doesn’t really feel real to me; it’s like an out of body experience. I knew the horse was phenomenal, and I knew that we could be successful. It’s really been unreal, and I’m speechless about the whole year,” Tamie said. “It’s been such an up-and-down emotional roller coaster. The best things have happened and the worst things have happened, and having everyone carry me through it all has been overwhelming.”
Though they only started their partnership at the beginning of 2015, Tamie and Lexus, a 9-year-old German Sport Horse gelding owned by Alex and Ellen Ahearn and Eric Markell, immediately clicked. After winning The Fork CIC2* and finishing second in the Jersey Fresh CCI2*, they established themselves as frontrunners for the 2015 Pan American Games team.
But Tamie and Lexus ultimately weren’t selected to represent Team USA. “This past spring was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced,” she said. “You have something you’re reaching out for, and you’re so close, but then you fail. But sometimes it really is true that the slower you go, the faster you get there.”
After the disappointment of not making the team, Tamie and Lexus started on a hot streak that saw them win the Rebecca Farm CIC3*, Copper Meadows CIC3*, Plantation Field CIC3* and ultimately Fair Hill CCI3* to become the U.S. National Three-Star Champions.
Looking back, Tamie believes a big part of that success — especially winning Plantation Field and Fair Hill — was that she forced herself to slow down. Instead of keeping up with her frenzied competition schedule on both sides of the country, she made a commitment to spend most of her time on the East Coast preparing for Lexus’ final two events of the season.
“I also did a lot of self reflecting,” Tamie said. “It was a long ride home to California after we didn’t make the team, and I started dissecting every place that I could be better.”
Tamie looked at her show jumping as an area to improve, and she called top U.S. show jumping rider Susie Hutchinson for help. “I told Susie, ‘I need an overhaul. I go into the show jumping ring and feel like I don’t have a plan. I’m leaving things on the table, and I don’t want to do that.’
“Susie started coming over twice a week to help me. I think when you don’t have a solid plan and a solid system, that’s when unexpected failures happen. But everyone has to go through it. You don’t get a system until you’ve failed multiple times and know what not to do.”
With a successful system in place and producing top results, Tamie now looks ahead to the 2016 season, in which she’ll be aiming for a spot on the 2016 U.S. team for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, as well as planning a trip to Europe thanks to receiving the $30,000 Rebecca Broussard International Developing Rider Grant, affectionately called the “Big Becky.”
Established in 2011 in memory of Becky, the $30,000 International Developing Rider and $10,000 National Developing Rider grants are designed to “inspire, advance the skills and expand the knowledge” of the recipient. Having also received the National grant in 2012, Tamie said she’s an example of how this support and funding can ultimately change a rider’s path.
“It completely flipped my career and my thinking and my expectations. It’s amazing to have a group of people who give you financial support because they think you have what it takes. It makes you sit back and say, ‘Woah, you think I can do it?’ It gives you a huge boost,” she said.
“Receiving the National grant was tremendous in changing my career, and to receive the Big Becky grant is unbelievable. I keep thinking, ‘What am I going to do to keep this alive?’ How am I going to keep helping other people to strive for what I hoped was possible and what I still hope is possible?”
Aiming for Europe
Tamie’s Big Becky grant will go directly toward funding an extended trip to Europe this fall, as will the free international Dutta Corp flight she won at Fair Hill. “I definitely want to go to Europe, but I probably won’t go until the fall. With the Olympics being in August, I want to stay home and stay focused on that through the spring,” she said.
“The plan will likely be to go over to Europe at the end of August and stay through September and October. If (the selectors) decide they don’t want to take a three-star horse to Rio, then I might go over at the beginning of August. I’m really excited about the opportunity to take multiple horses.”
As for whether we’ll see Lexus make his four-star debut this spring, Tamie confirmed that he won’t go to Rolex. “It’s tempting to go give a four-star a crack now, but this horse has a really awesome future ahead of him, and I need to be patient. He’s only 9 years old and really has only competed at the Advanced level for six full months. There’s no reason to rush him.”
Instead, Lexus will aim for a spring CCI in making his bid for the U.S. Olympic team, and Tamie said she is working with U.S. Team Coach David O’Connor to develop a competition schedule with the horse’s best interest in mind.
“David has been really good about working with me to develop a plan, and we really had Rolex off the table even before Fair Hill,” she said. “As much as I want to go to Rolex and I feel like I have a horse that could be competitive, I also want to have a long career on him as well.”
In addition to campaigning Lexus at the Advanced level, Tamie will also have Twizted Syster back out competing this year, as well as Kevin Baumgardner’s Advanced partner Wembley. “I was just doing my entries for Fresno, and it’s so crazy to me that I am competing three Advanced horses and three Intermediate horses this year. I’ve never had that many horses competing at the upper levels before, so I’m really excited.”
‘Have the Guts to Keep Fighting’
In accepting the honors as Eventing Nation Horse & Rider of the Year, Tamie said she would like to thank Lexus’ owners, Alex and Ellen Ahearn and Eric Markell; her groom, Shannon McCormick; her husband, Dave, and kids, Kaylawna and Tyler; and her whole support crew.
“Shannon has been unreal this year and worked incredibly hard. My husband and kids are the unsung heroes; they’re the ones behind the scenes supporting you at home,” Tamie said. “This season wouldn’t have been possible without Mackenna Shea and Heather Morris holding down the fort,” Tamie said. “Niki Clarke, my dressage trainer, also helped keep all the horses going while I was away competing.”
Tamie wrote candidly about the challenges she has faced in getting to this pivotal point in her career in this blog, and she said she hopes her journey can encourage other aspiring professional eventers to never give up.
“I feel really fortunate to have had the rough start that I had because I feel like I can speak to a lot of people who feel like they don’t have a chance. It’s not if you’re going to fail, it’s when — and you’re going to fail multiple times. But you have to have the guts to keep fighting, keep after it and keep putting a smile on your face,” she said.
“I want people to know that if you don’t come from a certain background or feel like you don’t have the right support, keep working hard and keep your eye on it. It’s possible to get there.”