She may have just done her first intermediate horse trial last summer, but Kaylawna Smith-Cook has been making headlines on the West Coast with her two upper-level horses Passepartout and MB MaiBlume.
This weekend, Smith-Cook will compete at Rebecca Farm in Kalispell, Montana, aboard Passepartout in their fourth advanced start. *Update: She finished fourth, adding just cross-country time penalties to her dressage score.
The 11-year-old German Sport Horse gelding (Pasco—Preschel, Pardon) competed to preliminary with Megan Beyer before Smith-Cook bought him in 2019. Last year they topped the Woodside International CCI3*-S (California) and finished fourth at the Galway Downs CCI3*-L (California).
“He’s my first real upper-level horse, and I would say I’ve not sat on a horse yet that tries as hard as him,” said Smith-Cook of “Pasco.” “I feel like there’s been such a drastic change in his flatwork and even the show jumping since I got him. I’m really grateful to Megan, who let me purchase him. She had to go off to college and be responsible. He’s a little bit quirky in the barn and is not super personable at first. He doesn’t particularly like strangers, but once you warm up to him he’s the sweetest horse in the barn.”
Smith-Cook recently got the ride on MB MaiBlume, a 10-year-old Dutch Sport Horse mare (Sir Schiwago—Free Lady, Fierant), from her mother, five-star rider Tamra Smith, who’d taken the mare through the CCI3* level.
“My mom has a lot of horses, and she’s a very hot mare, and we just felt like I got along with her super well,” said Smith-Cook. “She said she would love to see me shine with her because she knows how much I love her.”
The pair did their first advanced together at Galway Downs this month and finished third.
Smith-Cook, 24, is part of the Eventing 25 list and has spent her downtime during COVID-19 training.
“Erik Duvander has come out once or twice to help us train, and we’ve been getting help from Jo Hinnemann with the flatwork, and just really taking advantage of clinics as soon as we were able to,” she said. “Boyd Martin came out, and we also had Scott Keach out for some show jumping. We’ve just really taken the time to learn who our horses are and grow the relationships with them and get them ready for showtime.”
Smith-Cook operates her own business out of her mother’s Next Level Eventing in Temecula, California, with about 15 horses in training and for sale and several regular students.
It wasn’t always eventing though for Smith-Cook. She was assistant to dressage rider Niki Clarke for two years, and she stopped riding regularly in high school to pursue water polo, volleyball and swimming.
With Clarke, she was able to compete in her first CDI.
“I really learned what true dressage is,” she said. “She’s one of my idols as a rider and a person. I still work with her. She’s a big part of the reason why my advanced horse is the way he is now. She’s helped me a ton, as well as my mom. That was really good for my riding. I wasn’t quite sure what road I wanted to go down, the dressage or eventing. I think learning the dressage made the eventing that much better—getting that foundation. It’s not a dressage show, but it does help to have that foundation.”
Smith-Cook says growing up watching her mom compete, become a professional a bit later in life, and strive to get better has been inspirational.
“Now more than ever it’s been very nice to have her and utilize her from the business standpoint of advice on clients to, ‘Hey I’m having a hard time on this horse, what do you think?’ Just because she has the experience and the years to make the right decisions and teach me how the business is supposed the be run,” Smith-Cook said. “Our businesses are separate, but we very much work together. It’s really nice to have. It can be hard to work with family, but we have found a way to really make everything awesome. It’s so nice to have her in every way. But don’t get me wrong, we bicker!”
As a bi-racial equestrian, Smith-Cook has been interested in the recent conversations about diversity in horse sports.
“I have never experienced any racial encounters within my sport as a rider. I have always felt extremely welcome,” she said. “I understand talking about it, but I really do feel there are two types of people—ones who look for negativity and ones who just get better and look for positivity. Ones who look for sympathy and those who grow stronger from hardship. I’ve never looked for someone to be racist towards me, and every time I’ve had something like that come along, it has not been in the riding community, which I’m very grateful for.”
Smith-Cook believes more than anything that there’s a lack of education about Black culture. “People know all about the Holocaust and how terrible that time was, and they know about Martin Luther King back in the day, but they don’t really know the true history of slavery and how brutal it was, compared to how they explain the Holocaust to you in high school,” she said. “If you go to Germany, it’s heartwrenching to walk through over there. They have that respect for that time. I think if people had the education to know how brutal it was and is, they would have a bit more respect and just not be blurting unnecessary words or inappropriate words—racism in general. It would be more of a respect thing. I love the eventing community. I’ve definitely had times in my life where I have felt discriminated [against], but it’s only made me stronger. For me, it’s more about setting an example of who we are. I want to do something for my race—to show we’re no different than anyone else.”
As for building a more inclusive horse world, Smith-Cook believes equestrian sports should promote themselves in different communities.
“You kind of have to know someone or have a friend. I think promoting—social media is everything,” she said. “The more people see that there are people [like them] in the sport, the more it will grow. It is funny that there aren’t very many people [of color], but I don’t even notice. I don’t know if it’s just not an interest in that culture. I think the best thing we can do is just promote on social media and make it known that we’re here, and we’re happy.”