Tamra Smith is reinspired after a CIC** win with a new partner.
This spring, Tamra Smith’s eventing career seemed to be stalled. She’d returned home with an injury from her first four-star (see sidebar), which she wasn’t able to complete, and she’d already determined that it would be the last season of advanced for her 18-year-old horse.
But things started to look up when she was sent a 12-year-old English Thoroughbred, Bubbles At Brickey, to be sold. And with a win in their first FEI event, the CIC** at Richland Park, Aug. 20-23 in Richland, Mich., Smith is once again optimistic about competing at the top levels.
“It’s a refreshing feeling to have ‘Bubbles,’ ” she said. “I have high hopes for him. He definitely has the talent to do the job, and I just hope there are no bumps in the road.”
The quirky gelding belongs to Dani Sussman, who used to groom for Amy Tryon. When Sussman moved to Colorado to follow her husband’s job, she found there wasn’t much eventing to be had in their area, and she hated to see her horse wasted.
When Smith and Bubbles immediately began winning their competitions—in addition to the win at Richland Park, Smith won the open intermediate at Rebecca Farm (Mont.), placed second in the intermediate at Coconino II (Ariz.) and won a preliminary division at Copper Meadows (Calif.)—he came off the market.
“He’s been quite a fun horse for me,” said Smith, of Temecula, Calif. “He’s lovely on the flat and has been a phenomenal cross-country horse. He and I kind of click.”
Bubbles had a bit of a reputation for being difficult on the ground.
“When I first got him, I got calls from people saying you’d better be careful, he’s crazy,” Smith said. “Dani did a good job of getting his ground manners better and did great work on his flat. He’s been a get-on-and-go type ride for me.”
In preparation for Richland Park, she’d schooled the water at Three-Day Ranch (Calif.), since she’d felt some hesitation at water in previous events.
“He was pretty sticky at the water before Richland, so I was nervous going in as to how he’d be,” Smith said. “But he was phenomenal, really confident.”
Now she plans to go back and school the water again, with a different goal in mind: “I want to do an easy water, so he stays confident and knows that not every time he jumps in it’s going to be tough.”
Bubbles easily made the time over the cross-country course, one of eight horses to do so in the CIC**, to move up from second after dressage to the lead.
“He’d been easily making the time at horse trials before this, but I was not sure if that would be the case at Richland Park, with the terrain and woods,” she said.
“It was easy. He felt fantastic, and I was up [on the clock] 5 seconds at the third minute.”
Show jumping is the one thing that hasn’t always come so easily to Smith and Bubbles. The same relaxation that makes his dressage good can work against him in the final phase, said Smith.
“He tends to be a little lazy, and I’ve been working hard on his show jumping,” she said. “I was beyond excited to do a double clear. I wasn’t expecting that.”
Smith trains with show jumper Susie Hutchison at home, and she’s also worked on her jumping with Capt. Mark Phillips, who’s had her focusing on staying up off Bubbles’ back. “That [advice] seemed to be the ticket,” she said.
After running advanced at Twin Rivers (Calif.) in September, Smith plans to take Bubbles to the Galway Downs CCI** (Calif.), with the goal of competing at the Jersey Fresh CCI*** (N.J.) next spring.
Smith drove for four days to reach Richland Park, but she said it was well worth it to get a qualifying CIC run in—and because it’s her favorite event anywhere.
“It’s unbelievable what they do there,” she said. “It’s not because it’s run any better than Rolex Kentucky or Rebecca Farm, but [owners] Bob and Kay Willmarth and the whole community put their heart and soul into that place, and it shows, with the camaraderie. You feel like you’re part of the family.
“They put so much into the footing, and that farm is there for this one event every year. [The footing] is like running on memory foam. It’s a great family atmosphere. I love that place.”
Smith, 34, has been a professional trainer, running Next Level Eventing for six years. She rode as a junior, graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in business marketing, and worked in network management for a mental health department and in an escrow office for real estate before her second child came along.
“My husband said, ‘You should probably stay home with the kids, but you can’t stay home or you’re a spaz.’ So I started doing [the horses] professionally,” she said.
Her 13-year-old daughter, Kaylawna, competes at training level, although her 5-year-old son, Tyler, hasn’t shown an interest in horses.
Law Repeats In CIC***
Leslie Law and his promising young mount Hugo Fast won the dressage in the CIC** and, after adding 6.8 time penalties on cross-country, finished 2.1 points behind Smith. But in the CIC***, part of the Adequan USEA Gold Cup series, he and Fleeceworks Mystere Du Val led from start to finish to defend their win from last year.
They started with a dressage score of 42.7, more than 7 points ahead of second-placed Phillip Dutton on Woodburn (49.9).
“His canter work was really good, and both his changes were clean and accurate,” said Law. “He was just focused and had a very good outline. He didn’t do a lot wrong, although he broke in his first medium trot, which was the second movement. But we composed ourselves and had great canter work.”
Law, Bluemont, Va., and Ocala, Fla., produced one of the faster times over Ian Stark’s revamped cross-country course. Stark took over this year from Michael Etherington-Smith, who has been the event’s course designer since 2001.
“It followed the same routes, but there were subtle changes,” Law said of the course. “There was a quite serious question at fence 4, with two very big tables on a curving four strides, possibly five strides. The second table was a bit blind, really, in a treeline, and the horse couldn’t see it until he was a stride from it. That’s quite a significant question and early on in the course.
“When we’re training at home, we make sure the horse focuses and can see the fence, and in this situation you’re not going to see it until you’re right on it,” he added. “It’s a little unfair. But that was the one fence I had reservations about. It was beautifully built, and the rest of the course was fabulous.”
The first water complex also provided a difficult test, with a jump shaped like a toad in the water, followed by a bounce on a forward four or waiting five strides, said Law.
“It’s a bold course and encourages good jumping,” said Law, who added that the footing was near perfect after heavy showers on Thursday.
He also produced a double-clear show jumping round—one of 11—over Richard Jeffery’s course. “It had quite flattish cups and light rails and good related line questions,” he said.
Law hasn’t decided whether he will run Fleeceworks Mystere Du Val, who finished third at the Jersey Fresh CCI*** (N.J.) in May, at the Fair Hill CCI*** (Md.) or just focus his work toward Rolex Kentucky next spring.
But he has put Richland Park permanently on his calendar.“Richland is on the map now. It’s one of the premier events, and they do a good job of organizing it,” he said. “Last year was my first year there, and I thought it was a very good course last year as well, and the going is so good. Anytime you can get a run on good footing you take it.”
Hollywood Stars In Advanced
With riders like Law, Dutton and Boyd Martin in her advanced division, Kelly Sult wasn’t expecting to win at Richland Park. But she thinks her 17-year-old Thoroughbred, Hollywood, had a different plan.
“He was awesome in dressage, although I wish we’d scored better,” she said. “On cross-country, he was on top of everything; he definitely wanted to go. He liked the course, and the footing was good. And in show jumping, he jumped his heart out at every jump. I think he wanted to win.”
Sult, 22, vaulted from 11th after dressage to first after cross-country with the only round inside the time in the division.
“I wasn’t really pushing for the time, but he made it easily,” said Sult, of Erie, Pa. “He has such a big stride; it doesn’t take much to make the time.”
Sult plans to compete in the Fair Hill CCI*** in October, then spend another winter training with Bobby Costello in North Carolina before competing Hollywood for a third and final time at Rolex Kentucky next spring.