Lexington, Ky.—Aug. 30
For several years Diane Smith had big eventing dreams. Not competing at Land Rover Kentucky dreams, but dreams of competing at preliminary and doing a two-star. Her first shot was with a mare named Stella, with whom she competed at two Nutrena USEA American Eventing Championships at beginner novice and novice. But that mare developed severe ringbone which necessitated an early retirement.
Then she thought she’d get there with her next young horse, but a bad fall from him left her with a fractured tailbone, and it scared her enough that she didn’t want to compete anymore. So instead she turned to dressage and has small training business in Woodstock, Georgia.
It wasn’t until a Bashkir Curly named Have A Little Faith entered her life that she began to entertain the idea of returning to eventing.
“You just want to come back,” said Smith. “She has been my wings. She got us here [at the AEC, where we’re competing beginner novice], and she’s a blast. She’s so good; she’s so sweet.”
Jan and Rob Lesser were looking for a hypoallergenic horse for their daughter Sarah, so they purchased the now 17-year-old mare (Mead’s Aishihek Sorrel—Shyanne) as a yearling from South Dakota.
“Faith” started her career with Sarah in the western disciplines, and Sarah started training with Smith when she was in college. Smith started showing Faith in 2017, and the pair contested the National Dressage Pony Cup classes. In March of this year, Smith entered her first event with Faith at beginner novice.
“I wanted to walk away from it on a little healthier terms, and Ms. Lesser said, go for it,” said Smith. “[Faith’s] done so well, like, OK, this feels good. I just wasn’t ready to walk away from it the way I had to walk away from it. I’m not saying no [to eventing another horse]. This yearling we have might be fun out here. I’m not ready to close the door, but one step, one stride, one jump at a time I’m taking it now. Experience and age kind of gives you a little different perspective. I just couldn’t quite say no to it all together yet.”
They competed in five events in Georgia this year to book their ticket to the AEC in Kentucky.
“She’s a saucy, redhead pony mare, but she tries, and she’s a thinker,” said Smith. “Sometimes she can be a little sassy. She’s so chill. She’s a blast to jump. Just like any other pony, you have to be careful with her. She can get a little quick and lay on the shoulders a bit. We work hard on that and our tempo, especially because you don’t want her to get quick, quick, quick. When she’s really balanced and using her body she’s so cool and jumps clean. She can catch a rail if you let her get too quick and on the forehand.
“Cross-country she’s so much fun,” she said. “She’s like, ‘OK, I got your back; you got my back; let’s do this.’ She’s fun. I can ride around here bareback if I wanted to. She can get her fancy on and really get it done. She’s done really well this year.”
The Lessers own two of Faith’s half-sisters, and while Faith was the first Bashkir Curly Smith has worked with, she loves the breed’s versatality.
“They’re thinkers,” she said. “They want to please you; they really do. I think if mishandled from the beginning, I bet you you could ruin these guys in a heartbeat. But once you establish that trust, this mare’s like, ‘OK, you want me to do this?’ I’ve only had her question me one time, and she just needed a second, and she was like, ‘OK, I got it.’ She’s got my back. She’s a great partner and just game to do whatever. It’s crazy—she’s given me my confidence back, and she hasn’t done this, so that’s a gift. She’s sweet, she’s endearing, she’ll boob-check you, she’ll shove you around. She’s got the pony in her.”
Smith grew up in a military family, and she started riding in Portugal before they moved to Berlin, and she rode with the British Pony Saddle Club. Later she rode in Vienna with a grand prix show jumper.
“I had a fantastic background riding all the way through high school. My parents knew nothing about riding, and we thought I needed to get to the States to do better riding, and I should have stayed in Vienna!” she joked. “I rode at St. Andrews College (North Carolina) for a year in hunter/jumpers and knew nothing about that. We didn’t have that in Europe. Then ran a couple of facilities in North Carolina, and we moved to Georgia.”
Smith has a husband of 21 years whom she considers to be her biggest supporter (and is often mistaken for Michael Jung—one year he was even asked for an autograph at Land Rover!) and three boys who know their way around horses, but prefer motorcycles.
So she can spend more time with her family, her business is primarily focused on training horses, and the Lesser family are her primary owners.
“Doing this this year after doing dressage strictly for three years has emphasized truly, and we all know it, the cross-training,” she said. “[Faith’s] become so much stronger, just playing around at the lower levels. It’s been fantastic, and the partnership grows more and more when you come to do things on the flat; it’s lovely.”
The Chronicle is on-site at the USEA American Eventing Championships bringing you coverage and beautiful photos from the competition. If you know a pair with a unique story, email Kimberly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ride times and live scoring are here: https://eventing.startboxscoring.com/eventsr/aec/ht0819/
The schedule is available here: https://useventing.com/events-competitions/aec/aec-schedule-of-events