This year’s Pan American Games eventing team features a few new faces, including Tamie Smith, who’s debuting on her first senior U.S. championship team.
Smith, 44, was originally named to the team with Judith McSwain’s Fleeceworks Royal, but a minor injury ruled the mare out in early July, so Smith’s headed to Lima, Peru, with Alex and Ellen Ahearn and Eric Markell’s Mai Baum, a 13-year-old German Sport Horse gelding (Loredano—Ramira, Rike).
Smith, who now runs her Next Level Eventing with Heather Morris, grew up riding in California under the tutelage of Kim Scheid. She’s based in Murrieta, California, with her husband, Dave Smith, and childrenTyler Smith, 15, and Kaylawna Cook, 23, who’s following in her mother’s footsteps as a professional rider with an interest in eventing and dressage.
Tamie was longlisted for the Pan Ams in 2011, and in 2015 she won the Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International CCI4*-L (Maryland) with Mai Baum. She’s won the Rebecca Farm CCI4*-S (Montana) three times, and this spring she won the Galway Downs CCI3*-S (California) and the Twin Rivers CCI3*-L (California) with Mai Baum.
In 2018 she and Kevin Baumgardner’s Wembley finished 14th at the Land Rover Kentucky CCI5*-L, but this spring an ill-timed abscess prevented them from competing at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials CCI5*-L (England).
She’s proud to have made a U.S. team while preparing her horses on the West Coast.
“I’m excited. It doesn’t really feel real,” she said. “I tried on the pinque coat, and I felt like I was trying on someone else’s jacket! It’s been a lifelong goal and dream of mine to represent the U.S., and I’m extremely honored. I feel very privileged to be able to do it, and I’m very excited to have done it from the West Coast.
“Amy Tryon did it, and I’ve always looked up to her for that,” she continued. “Gina Miles got a silver medal from the West Coast, and I really wanted to do that. We have our challenges doing it, but I feel like the events are getting to a place where we can properly prepare. I want to try to help promote that because we do need to support our events on the West Coast if we’re going to keep getting better competition out there.”
Who do you admire the most?
There are several people that I’ve grown up riding and learning from who have influenced my career and my education.
I would say that Susie Hutchison is someone, not only with her horses but as a person, that I’ve always really looked up to. She’s very humble, and she’s a very good horseman, and she thinks outside the box. She’s been on teams multiple times, so she gets all the pressure and everything that’s involved with it.
Just watching her, how she is with people and the business and how she is with her horses, she’s been very influential and been a good example. She lives 10 minutes [away], and she’s my go-to person on the West Coast for show jumping.
What are the best and worst things about the eventing world?
I just went to a competition not too long ago that was a very grassroots type competition, and it was fun to see all the Pony Club kids riding around. At that level it’s still affordable. Just seeing the hardworking people who don’t necessarily have an open-ended checkbook—they’re still able to do the sport. I think that’s one of the best things ever. You can affordably still event, and I really love that.
Our sport is pretty amazing. It’s becoming modernized, and I don’t necessarily love the commercial side of where eventing is going, but I also know it needs to go there to sustain and become viable as far as making money and people being able to run events. I don’t know if that’s a bad thing.
I miss the long format at the top level, and that’s one of the things that I wish we could keep. It really helps shape horsemen, and not having that is a bit of a detriment.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? Is there anything you still want to accomplish?
I don’t feel like I’ve had any great achievements yet! I have a lot to achieve still.
I definitely want to ride at every five-star possible and be competitive. Badminton was so close, and that didn’t happen, and I was so bummed about it.
I want to be in a top-five position at a big championship like the Olympic Games and the World Equestrian Games and the Pan American Games. I want to win gold medals and help Team USA get back where they used to be. I want to ride around Burghley and Badminton.
I really enjoy producing my own horses. That’s something I think has been a strong formula in my program. I really love doing that. I won Fair Hill, and that was great, but it didn’t really satisfy me. It just made me feel like, OK, now I need to put my expectations higher.
I’m always a student of the sport. I’m always listening and watching and trying to gain more knowledge. I love watching and learning that way.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
I actually did do another profession before I became a professional rider. I got my four-year degree in business marketing at Arizona State University and the University of Phoenix. It was the best thing I could have ever done. I always tell people they should most definitely go to college if they have an open enough mind.
I worked at a mental health hospital. I really enjoyed it because I ran the intake department at a university. It was basically a suicide hotline. I really enjoyed that aspect of helping people get the help they needed.
I would have probably kept doing that career. My whole goal in life was to get my degree and become a vice president or president of a company. It’s funny, Eric Markell says, “Well you are the president of your own company now.” But I meant a big corporation. I wanted to be running a large corporation.
That’s what I would have ended up doing, but it’s my husband’s fault. He said, “You need to go be a horse trainer,” so I did!
What’s your motto or philosophy for how you train your horses?
I don’t just move them up if I don’t feel like they’re ready. I won’t take a 5-year-old preliminary, and I won’t take a 6-year-old intermediate. I think they’re not quite strong enough to do it.
I really put a lot of weight on to what the horse tells me. Not every horse is ready to move up. I try to keep each horse being its own individual and progressing when it’s ready to progress, not get so stuck in what the majority is doing. They all mature at different times. They all grow differently.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Derek di Grazia said this to me a long time ago when I was just trying to figure my life out and having all these life lessons that nobody likes to have. He said, “Always remember, the slow way is the fast way.” I have really tried to keep to that saying because I believe it’s true.
One of the hardest things in coming up through the ranks and becoming a professional and trying to find your way, it’s really important that you stick to what is best for your individual horse’s plan and not necessarily what competition you think it should be doing. As soon as you start planning to have a horse compete at the Pan American Games or the Olympic Games, as soon as you start making their schedule around something like that, it never really goes the right way.
You want to prepare them, and you want to have goals, but you want to do what’s best for the horse and not what’s best for you and your ego. When people have an ego that’s when it starts becoming difficult.
What qualities do you look for in a person?
Honesty, loyalty and hard working. You can pretty much be anything as long as you’re those things! If you’re honest and loyal and hard-working, I’d be your biggest advocate.
If you could ride any horse, past or present, who would you pick?
I think I’d love to give good old Totilas a spin; that looks fun. Presently I think Tom McEwen’s Toledo De Kerser looks unbelievable.
Do you have a favorite event?
At home in the U.S., Richland Park (Michigan) was my all-time favorite event. I wish they were still there. I loved that place more than anything—the people, and it was just a very down-home event. The course builders made the Saturday night dinner with corn on the cob. It was a family atmosphere, and the actual event was tremendous.
My favorite event now running is Rebecca Farm (Montana). [It offers] all the [divisions] from novice through four-star long, and young rider championships are there, and it’s really exciting to see everybody in one location. It is chaotic. It has its challenges, but it’s so cool to see the riders that event has produced and people in our sport and how many people come out to support it and volunteer. Even the people from Richland Park, I see them there helping. It’s a great family, and what they do for the sport and West Coast eventing, having an event at that level is really incredible.
What qualities do you look for in an event horse?
When I’m looking, there’s just a “look” about them that you just get a feeling. I really like a horse that’s shortcoupled and lighter-boned. I want them to be uphill and have a good neck and a good mind.
I didn’t always look at the percentage of Thoroughbred in the past. I never say “no” if a horse isn’t a high percentage of Thoroughbred, but for soundness, I will say a high percentage of Thoroughbred blood is really important for the top of the sport.
I really want one that has a little bit of quirkiness to it. I like a horse that’s confident and a little bit cocky, but I also try to refrain from having something that’s not sensible. Because I’ve ridden a lot of difficult horses, and it takes just as much effort and time and money in producing one that’s a little bit of a crazy nutbag as it does to produce one that’s a businessman and a workhorse!
I also want a little bit of quirkiness. I really enjoy when they have a fun personality, even [if they are] a challenge. It’s important that they’re thoughtful even though they’re challenging.
What is the last book you read?
I’m not a big book reader, but I’ve been traveling a ton, and I felt like, if I’m going to be on this plane for 11 hours, maybe I can learn something.
“The Ideal Team Player: How To Recognize And Cultivate The Three Essential Virtues” by Patrick Lencioni, was about how to manage millennials. I was brought up in the era of when you didn’t do something you got the crap beat of out you! People were hard on you to perform. There was no sympathy; you weren’t allowed to cry; you weren’t allowed to have feelings. You just had to bear down and get through it, and that’s not how kids are raised these days.
Telling them to toughen up and yelling at them doesn’t work, so how am I going to get through? You’re mentoring these kids who are wanting to do what you do, and they’ve not really had the life you grew up in. Our generation in our late 30s and 40s and 50s think you’re not allowed to complain: You just have to man up and do it. I do believe there’s an aspect of that, but when you’re trying to mentor people where that’s not been their lifestyle, they shut down if you try to get after them.
Not everybody was raised [the way I was], and it’s not a bad thing. You just have to learn how to be more empathetic in their way.
Do you have a favorite TV show?
I am a binge watcher of Netflix and Hulu. I don’t have a favorite, but when I get hooked on one I’m basically up all night watching it until I’m through every season. I have a binge-watching problem.
I also love real life murder shows like “Snapped” on
Lifetime. It’s where women go crazy and kill their husbands. That’s a fascination, which is really funny because my husband was a homicide detective. I always asked him to bring his case books home because I wanted to review them.
Do you have any other hobbies?
My husband is an ocean lover. He’s a free diver and an avid spearfisher. Going out on the boat with him is one of the things I love the most to relax.
What is your drink of choice?
A Moscow mule and Coca-Cola.
What three things are likely to be found in your refrigerator at all times?
Luna Bars, ice cream (in my freezer) and Coca-Cola.
Jack Russells, yes or no?
No. I have a 2-year-old French Bulldog named Will Smith.
This article appeared in the July 22 & 29, 2019, issue of The Chronicle of the Horse as part of our Pan American Games Preview issue.
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