Apr 30, 2023

Smith Seals a Historic Win at Land Rover Kentucky

By Lindsay Berreth - USEA Staff
Tamie Smith and Mai Baum. USEA/Lindsay Berreth photos

Lexington, Ky.—April 30—Tamie Smith headed into the Rolex Stadium this afternoon with a lot of weight on her shoulders. She’d missed out on the Land Rover Kentucky win in 2021 when Mai Baum dropped a frangible pin on cross-country, and last fall, two uncharacteristic rails in show jumping at the FEI World Eventing Championship (Italy) dropped her out of medal contention.

Coming into show jumping today in the lead in the CCI5*-L, Smith had less than a rail in hand over second-place Tom McEwen and JL Dublin, and when that pair jumped clear, the pressure was really on.

“I felt a lot of weight for many, many reasons—for ‘Lexus,’ for the West Coast, for the United States, for all of us who’ve struggled in this sport and all my family and supporters and sponsors and owners to do all I could and hope I had a little luck on my side this weekend,” she said.

When she crossed the finish timers clear and inside the time over Steve Stephens’ course, Smith pumped the air, and the crowd erupted as they witnessed the first U.S. Kentucky winner in 15 years.

“I’m pretty numb, it’s almost like an out-of-body experience,” said Smith. “This sport, as everybody knows, you take a beating. The resilient ones just keep coming back for more, and you hope that one day it pays off, and today it did. I’m honored, and I’m elated, and I’m so excited, and I’m a bit speechless.”

Smith put in one of 10 double-clear rounds, with McEwen finishing in second, and Liz Halliday-Sharp and Miks Master C finishing third. Smith was also named the Land Rover USEF CCI5*-L Eventing National Champion, and Halliday-Sharp earned the reserve championship.

Tamie Smith and Mai Baum.

Lexus, a 17-year-old German Sport Horse gelding (Loredano 2 x Ramira) who's owned by Alex Ahearn, Ellen Ahearn, and Eric Markell, has been with Smith for eight years, and they’ve been around the world together. Like any top pair, there have been triumphs, injuries, and could-have-beens, but over the past year, they’ve been on a hot streak, finishing ninth at Badminton last spring and helping the U.S. team to a silver medal in Pratoni at the World Championship.

“I’m so happy an American won, because I’m so tired of the Europeans coming over and taking our national championship!” Smith said, with a laugh. “Everybody is elated for me, but we’ve all had our own struggles in the sport, and we’ve all had our own ups and downs with anything at the elite level. I envision the picture of an iceberg, and the tip is poking out, but the bottom underneath is massive, and the struggle is a lot. You have a lot of heartbreak in this sport, but I think you do in anything that’s great. I think everybody just felt the same emotion that I’m feeling right now—just elated.”

Smith admitted she was feeling nervous heading into show jumping because of her round at the World Championship.

“When you’re on a horse that show jumps as well as he does, and you have two down, sometimes the odds are just a little against you,” she said. “He hadn’t had a rail in a few years. But Scott Keach, who I show jump with, has been instrumental in the progression of myself and just keeping my cool and understanding how to stay in the moment and care enough but not care too much. He helped me learn it was my job to ride it the right way, and it was his job to jump the jumps, and I’m just glad he did, and I’m glad he felt healthy and strong and full of it, and I think he knew the crowd was there. I feel like everybody carried me over that whole show jump course.”

Smith also credited former USEF High Performance Director Erik Duvander for a huge change in her career six years ago.

“Erik Duvander came into our program going on six years ago now, and he put blood, sweat, and tears into U.S. eventing, and I think it’s a culmination of his dedication and hard work,” she said. “Since he hasn’t been the USEF High Performance coach, Liz and I have still worked with him, and I think what you’re seeing is the fruits of his labor, and ours as well. He came into our sport, and there was a lot to fill in. I said to him today, ‘You know when you first met me six years ago, I was [kind of] gruff, and did you ever think?’ And he said, ‘I always had faith.’”

Smith was also proud to represent the West Coast and spent her winter preparing there instead of coming east.

“We have such an amazing camaraderie with all the other riders there,” she said. “It’s very different—it’s more cutthroat on the East Coast, and you go to a West Coast event, and it’s very foreign-looking. There’s a lot of dirt and not as beautiful as here in Kentucky, but I’ve chosen to stay west to try to show people you can do it from the West Coast. You 100 percent have to travel east and compete head-to-head with your fellow competitors in championship years to show your competitors that you’re worthy, but I really feel like you can train from anywhere if you have the right team behind you. It’s taken me awhile to figure that out, but I’m glad I stayed true to my roots, and this win is for the West Coast as well.”

Smith’s win made her the first West Coast eventer to win in Kentucky since Derek di Grazia, now the cross-country course designer, won on Sasquatch in 1985.

Tom McEwen and JL Dublin.

McEwen and "Dubs," a 12-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Diarado x Zarinna) who's owned by Jo and James Lambert and Deidre Johnston, completed their first five-star together in style.

"He's the most phenomenal horse, he's a great jumper, the surface is jumping brilliantly," said McEwen after his ride. "With Dubbs, I'm just delighted. It's all a bit a bit of a dream, so the next step is to come back and go one better, which for sure we can definitely do."

When asked if he thought the course could have been more techincal, McEwen said, "To be honest, it just shows the quality of horses, because a lot of these horses are actually jumping good clear rounds, not just chance-y ones and just getting away with it. It could have been tighter, we're at the top of our level, but it's nice to see on the last day after a really good cross-country course a lot of horses coming out brilliantly and jumping superbly."

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Miks Master C.

Halliday-Sharp also credited Duvander for her success and was thrilled to have such a good finish on Ocala Horse Properties and Deborah Palmer’s 11-year-old Swedish Warmblood gelding (Mighty Magic x Qui Luma CBF).

Bred by Laurie Cameron in the U.S., “Mikki” came to Halliday-Sharp’s barn less than a year ago, and the pair have come together quickly. Like Mai Baum, the gelding is a USEA Young Event Horse graduate. He was campaigned to the Advanced level by Maya Black.

“It was less than a year ago that she called me out of the blue, and said, ‘Hi, my name is Laurie Cameron. Do you know my horse Miks Master C?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I know who he is,” and she said, ‘I wonder if you’d take the ride on him.’ That was the start of my partnership with him,” she recalled.

While Mikki was supposed to be for sale, Halliday-Sharp put together a group of owners to keep him in the barn.

“It’s hard to believe it was less than a year ago,” she said. “He is the most amazing horse. For him to come in here and do his first five-star and to finish as he did, so strong and fresh, I think he’s a Burghley/Badminton horse as well. I hope he will be my Olympic horse. I just think the world of him, and he’s such a kind, generous horse. He gave everything this weekend, and I couldn’t have asked for more.”

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