Tamie Smith, the traveling reserve for the U.S. Eventing Olympic Tokyo team, is a five-star competitor and an active participant in the USEA Young Event Horse (YEH) program. Smith’s Olympic horse, Mai Baum (Loredano x Ramira), a 15-year-old German Sport Horse gelding owned by Alexandra Ahearn, Ellen Ahearn, and Eric Markell, was a graduate of the YEH program in 2011. In 2016, Smith and Judith McSwain’s American bred Holsteiner mare, Fleeceworks Royal (Riverman x Marisol), were the recipients of the Holekamp/Turner Le Lion d’Angers Grant. In 2018, Smith was the winner of the USEA YEH Championships riding the MB Group LLC’s Oldenburg gelding, MB Maistein (Rocky Lee x High Ovation).
Currently, Smith has a string of upper-level event horses, most of which have graduated from the YEH program, including Mai Baum, Fleeceworks Royal, Ruth Bley’s Hanoverian gelding Danito (Dancier x Wie Musik), Linda Paine’s Thoroughbred gelding, Cheers (Blauer Vogel x Qtrapastree), and Valerie Ferraro’s Thoroughbred gelding, No App for That (Chelokee x No Approval).
Smith, a true professional in the sport, provides helpful tips on preparing young event horses for the future.
USEA: What are some tips on best preparing a young horse for big events like The Dutta Corp. USEA YEH Championships?
Smith: “I always try and make sure I remember each horse is its own individual. That means there is never a cookie-cutter way to prepare your young horse for a championship or even a regular event. For instance, you might have a horse that struggles with confidence over ditches or jumping through a combination over show jumping. If that is the case, then making sure you practice what they need to gain confidence in is key.”
“Exposure without pressure is helpful. Sometimes I take my young horses to events and do not compete them to help them learn they won't always have pressure on them and that competitions aren't a big deal.”
“Basically, being a good horseman is what helps you mostly to be successful with your horses. Listening to your horse and developing a plan that gives them confidence, in the end, is what helps them become the most successful.”
USEA: How does your preparation differ between a 4-year-old and a 5-year-old young event horse?
Smith: “I would say I am pretty conservative with my 4-year-olds. I don't compete them much, and usually, if I do a YEH qualifier, I don't always compete in the event the same weekend. I usually try to stay at the Beginner Novice and Novice [level] and work my way to schooling Training level before the final Championships.”
“My 5-year-olds, I prepare them to compete in several Training level [events] to prepare them for the Championships. Sometimes, if I have a horse that needs confidence, I will drop back down to Novice before heading to the Championships. I tend to never [compete] above Novice with my 4-year-olds and never over Training level with my 5-year-olds.”
USEA: During the event, what practices do you do for the young horse to get used to the big atmosphere?
Smith: “Lots of hand walking and hanging out is paramount for a horse learning that atmosphere isn't scary. Maybe a lunge or pre-ride in the morning to get the jitters out is helpful. I feel your lead-up is most helpful with how they behave at a championship. If you've done your homework the months leading up to the championships, that should have helped you prepare them adequately.”
USEA: What do you think the most common mistake is when producing a young event horse?
Smith: “Not always listening to what your horse is saying to you. They do communicate with us if we listen to what they are ready for and not ready for. Sometimes we get too caught up in how we think horses should progress and get in a hurry. I always feel like the slow way is always the fast way, so listen to what they are telling you. Not every 5-year-old is ready to go Training level. So often, I see people thinking that if they are a certain age, they should be going a certain level. I believe it takes a unique horse to move up the levels quickly without any modifications.”
USEA: If you could give one piece of advice to young horse trainers, what would it be?
Smith: “Listen to your horses and remember they are learning. They make mistakes, and if you just repeat the exercise until they are confident, they most likely will become super horses. They will tell you what they are ready for if you truly pay attention to their actions.”
About the USEA Young Event Horse Program
The Young Event Horse (YEH) Program was first established in 2004 as an eventing talent search. Much like similar programs in Europe, the YEH program was designed to identify young horses aged four and five that possess the talent and disposition to, with proper training, excel at the uppermost levels of the sport. The ultimate goal of the program is to distinguish horses with the potential to compete at the four- and five-star levels, but many fine horses that excel at the lower levels are also showcased by the program.
The YEH program provides an opportunity for breeders and owners to exhibit the potential of their young horses while encouraging the breeding and development of top event horses for the future. The program rewards horses who are educated and prepared in a correct and progressive manner. At qualifying events, youngsters complete a dressage test and a jumping/galloping/general impression phase. At Championships, young horses are also evaluated on their conformation in addition to the dressage test and jumping/galloping/general impression phase. Click here to learn more about the Young Event Horse Program.
The USEA would like to thank Bates Saddles, SmartPak, Standlee Hay Company, Parker Equine Insurance, Etalon Diagnostics, and Saratoga Horseworks for sponsoring the Young Event Horse Program. Additionally, the USEA would like to thank The Dutta Corp., Title Sponsor of the Young Event Horse Championships.
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