Ringside Chat: After Tokyo, Tamie Smith Is Ready For Action In Aachen

Sep 16, 2021 - 3:00 PM

Tamie Smith hasn’t seen much of her home in California this year. She left in mid-February to campaign a string horses on the East Coast eventing circuit in the run-up to the Tokyo Olympic Games. After a brief trip home, she was selected as a Tokyo alternate for the U.S. Eventing Team with her top horse Mai Baum, a 15-year-old German Sport Horse owned by Alex Ahern, Ellen Ahern and Eric Markell. That selection sent her back east for a mandatory outing, then on to Aachen, Germany, for training and quarantine before heading to Tokyo as the team’s traveling alternate. Since then, she’s been back and forth to California and Europe with more horses, including Danito, a 12-year-old Hanoverian gelding owned by Ruth Bley, with whom she finished fourth in the Jersey Fresh CCI4*-L earlier this year, and Solaguayre California, a 10-year-old Argentinian Sport Horse mare (Casparo—Solaguayre Calandria, Casall Ask) owned by David and Julianne Guariglia, with whom she won this year’s Jersey Fresh CCI3*-L .

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Tamie Smith and Mai Baum en route to a ninth place finish at the Land Rover Kentucky CCI5*-L in April. Kimberly Loushin Photo

Smith is back in Aachen again, where she and Mai Baum will be representing Team USA with teammates Will Coleman and Off the Record, Ariel Grald and Leamore Master Plan and Sydney Elliott and QC Diamantaire at the World Equestrian Festival CHIO Aachen this weekend. The horse inspection takes place today, followed by dressage and show jumping on Friday and cross-country on Saturday.

She recently was awarded two U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation Karen E. Stives Endowment Fund Grants to compete Mai Baum at CHIO Aachen and Danito next month at the FEI Eventing Nations Cup (the Netherlands). The grants are awarded to athlete-horse combinations competing at four- or five-star level who demonstrate elite-level potential.

We caught up with Smith about her time in Tokyo, how she’s preparing for CHIO Aachen, and what’s next for this rising superstar.

What have you been doing since Tokyo?

A lot! After I left Tokyo, Mai Baum stayed in Germany at my dressage trainer Johann Hinneman’s farm. I came back to California and got reacquainted with the horses at home and went straight back to competition with them.

I had made a plan to bring a couple of horses back to Germany with me to immerse myself in everything the area has to offer. So, I got all the horses at home going, and then brought Solaguaryre California and Danito back to Germany with me a few weeks later. I competed both of them and Mai Baum at Arville [CCIO4*-S (Belgium) held Aug. 19-22].

How have you been preparing for Aachen?

I’m lucky to have a long-standing relationship with Jo Hinneman. I came over to his farm because it’s so centrally located to Aachen, Arville, Boekelo (the Netherlands) and Luhmühlen (Germany)—it’s just a great area. There are over 500 horse shows, including dressage, show jumping and eventing, within two hours of the farm. I’ve been spending a lot of time working on my dressage and getting the most out of the area.

I’m also only 15 minutes from Bertram and Harry Allen, Irish show jumpers, so I’ve been going over there to practice my jumping. That’s been a great experience, too.

What did you learn in Tokyo that you’re bringing to Aachen?

Watching the Great Britain eventing team at Tokyo was eye-opening; they’re in a league of their own right now. I realized that it’s a matter of being left in the dust or catching up with them, so I’m planning to catch up!

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Tamie Smith and Mai Baum presenting at the jog as the traveling reserves for the U.S. Eventing Team at the Tokyo Olympic Games. Shannon Brinkman Photo

What was it like to be the Olympic reserve?

Of course it’s always an honor to be part of Team USA, and I was proud of my role as part of the support system and to be ready to step in if they needed me, which luckily they didn’t.

From a mental aspect, though, it’s torture: You work your entire life, and Mai Baum being 15—and, I think, one of the best horses in the world—it was hard. I know that was his last chance at being able to compete at the Olympic Games and I still feel like he would have done quite well. But it is what it is. Everybody is in that position at one point or another in their career, and all you can do is feel what that feels like and try to figure out how to never be in that position again. That’s basically what I’m trying to do.

What are you most looking forward to with Aachen?

We were just in Aachen for quarantine on the way to Tokyo and it looks extremely different now than it did then. It was just a plain training facility and now it’s stunning. A lot of people told me that the Olympics are great but Aachen is better. I thought they were just saying that, but I can see what they mean.

It’s really special to see the best of the best in the world here. Today, we watched some of the jumpers, and it was impressive, even just watching them flat their horses.

I’m so excited to be here. I feel like I’ve been waiting all year to get here. Mai Baum has been champing at the bit to get out there. He seemed a little depressed at Arville, like he thought it would be another horse show where he wouldn’t get to do anything. Every time I’ve ridden him over the last six years, he’s never spooked or acted up in the ring, but at Arville he bolted into the canter depart and I was laughing and barely made the turn to my flying change. I could tell he was so happy to be there, and now he’s acting eager to get going again. He’s happy to be competing.

I know he’s going to be great in the dressage ring. It’s on grass and it’s stunning. I’ll just be taking each phase as it comes. He’s in fighting form right now and feels the strongest and best he’s ever felt. We’ve got some good momentum going and have an amazing partnership, so I’m stoked to be here and representing the USA.

What’s next on your agenda?

After Aachen, I’ll fly straight back to California to ride my three-star and two four-star horses in Twin Rivers [Fall International, Sept. 24-26] the next weekend. And then I come right back here to get Danito and the others ready for Boekelo and the FEI Eventing Nations Cup [Oct. 7-10].

This schedule has only been possible because of my team. I’ve got [head groom] Alyssa Dobrotin and Taylor Greene over here with me in Germany, and [daughter] Kaylawna Smith-Cook and Grace Walker Alonzi and the other people at the farm. I have a student back home helping me ride my babies, and Nick Cwick riding my more experienced horses. Everyone says it takes a village, but this feels like more than a village.

My owners have been so supportive, too. It’s not easy to sit back and watch your rider go to the Olympic Games with one horse instead of staying home and riding the rest, but I’ve got a great group of people who support me. That’s how it’s all possible. It takes so many people to back you and support you, and selflessly, because ultimately it’s all about getting those horses to these big competitions and providing the best performance possible. It’s been really awesome, I’m so grateful to all of them.

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