October 18, 2015 -- Perseverence and determination are necessary for success in most things, but it seems to me an extra measure of both is required to make it in eventing. The sport's triumphs are so fleeting and the setbacks so prevalent that things can swing from one extreme to the next in a matter of hours.
A perfect example is Tamie Smith's weekend at the Fair Hill Natural Resources Area in Maryland. The Californian, who has had two stays in the east this year with the impressive black gelding, Mai Baum, suffered a dramatic tumble yesterday from a less-experienced horse, Dempsey, in the Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International 2-star, when the 7-year-old Dutch warmblood attempted to run out to the left of a brush fence on the cross-country course.
Instead, he wound up jumping it just inside the flag, but cleared it flying sideways before Tamie was unseated. Miraculously, she was uninjured, though his hooves came perilously close to her.
"I pointed him wrong," she conceded about her approach.
But with no time for regrets, after dusting herself off, Tamie was aboard 3-star dressage phase winner Mai Baum to enjoy a perfect cross-country run --one of nine over Derek Di Grazia's artful course. That left her understandably joyful as she finished 14 seconds under the optimum time.
From being on the ground to being over the moon is quite a transition for one day, so I wondered what her thoughts were about such a study in contrasts. Watch this video for an insight into Smith's experience here.
Today, Tamie went on to leave the fences intact with Mai Baum on the Sally Ike-designed stadium jumping course, wisely taking her time to go clear. She could afford the two time penalties she received, finishing on 40.5 penalties, a comfy margin of five ahead of Phillip Dutton to claim the national championship.
Phillip pursued the same strategy on Mighty Nice, who had a rub so hard in the triple combination that the rider turned to look, breathing a sigh of relief when he didn't see any poles on the ground, calling his trip "the luckiest round of the day."
Tamie characterized her mount's conduct in the enormous arena as "all business.
"I was really proud of the ride. He jumped his guts out," commented Tamie, who has only been partnered with him since February. She took the opportunnity to work with former U.S.show jumping team veteran Susie Hutchison to improve his performance in the final phase.
The 3-star was a selection trial for next year's Olympics, but Tamie declined to discuss her thoughts on trying for a trip to Rio in 2016, noting she wasn't sure he would even be ready for April's Rolex Kentucky 4-star. A free flight from Dutta Corp. for Mai Baum was part of Tamie's prize, so she is considering doing a 3-star in Europe as a 2016 goal.
Mai Baum improved on his Fair Hill record with his 20-year-old owner Alex Ahearn, when the horse finished the 2-star out of the top 50 in 2014. As Alex noted, though, at least he finished--always an accomplishment over Fair Hill's testing terrain.
Alex, who spent a year after high school as Tamie's working student, decided to go to college and hand Mai Baum over to the trainer--even though "he's like my child."
"We are not selling him," interjected Alex's mother, Ellen Ahearn.
Tamie, Alex said, "really could pull off riding him the way I wanted to ride him, because I couldn't do it as well as she could."
It was a brilliant decision, as this is one of the most promising of the U.S. combinations on the way up.
Mai Baum, a German import originally called Lexus when he was purchased at auction, got his new name because he was born in May (Mai is May in German, explained Alex's mother) and he has an evergreen tree (baum) brand on his butt, signifying he is a Holsteiner from the Saxony region of Germany.
The 2-star championship went to Will Coleman, a member of the 2012 Olympic team, who added nothing to his 42.5-penalty dressage score on the French import Tight Lines.
The gray sailed around the cross-country course, but Will had his hands full in the show jumping, trying to keep the former steeplechaser in check, saying, "whoa, whoa" as he approached the final fence.
Tight Lines is special in many ways to Will, but one big reason is because he is owned by the same syndicate as Con Air, who died shortly after coming back to the stables following a cross-country fall at The Fork.
Will and I had a talk about thoroughbreds like Tight Lines, since they're making a comeback in competition to some extent, despite continued warmblood domination. (In the old days, with eventing's long format including speed and endurance, thoroughbreds ruled.) Listen to what Will had to say about these athletic horses by clicking on the right-pointing arrow.
Phillip was the runner-up in the 2-star as well aboard Z, a Hanoverian who can't be turned out in the paddock because he'll jump the fence. (He's turned out in a round pen instead, but Phillip hopes to get him to the point where he can relax in a pasture.)
Z's total was 45.3 penalties, ahead of Matt Flynn on Get Lucky (48.8). All finished on their dressage scores as did top-ranking foreign rider Waylon Roberts of Canada, fourth with 49.8 on Bill Owen.
A total of 26 horses were double-clear on cross-country in the 2-star, which drew 72 starters.
After that division concluded, I spoke with U.S. coach David O'Connor about the abundance of U.S. talent on display in both sections at Fair Hill. Click on the right-pointing arrow to hear what he had to say.
The always-energetic Boyd Martin was the busiest rider at Fair Hill, with four horses in the 3-star. Also on hand were his wife, Silva, and their new son, Nox, who has been "howling at night a bit. "He's a bit nocturnal and a little bit hyperactive, which gives me confidence that he's mine," Boyd grinned.
We got a chance to see Boyd in action on Blackfoot Mystery, his newest mount. The horse came with the name, the origins of which appear to be a series of books about detective work on a Blackfeet reservation in Montana. But I digress.
Boyd, fifth after dressage on the horse, moved up to third following his double-clear cross-country. We talked before stadium jumping about this interesting mount and how he came to ride him.
Listen to his comments on this video.
Unfortunately, Blackfoot Mystery had two fences down in stadium, dropping him to sixth, but Boyd made the top four anyway on Steady Eddie.
Boyd thought last year's Fair Hill cross-country course was a 3 and 1/2 star, while this year's was "a proper 3-star." Perfect weather conditions, unusual for Fair Hill, probably helped in that direction.
Derek, who deserves an Olympic designing berth, in my opinion, is a master at making things difficult without making them impossible. A case in point was 11AB on the 2-star route, the Cedar Cabin and Angled Brush. By my count, that gathered the most refusals, 12 in all. It wasn't huge and looked deceptively simple, but those who didn't start turning when their horse's hind feet left the ground at A often found themself sliding by B. It was interesting to see how the different riders handled it (or didn't).
Check out more photos from Fair Hill at facebook.com/practicalhorseman.
I'll be switching gears next weekend as I head to the Washington International Horse Show, one of my favorites. Check Practical Horseman's Facebook page starting Thursday night for photos, and look for my postcards next Sunday afternoon and night.