Eventing asks the utmost of horse and rider: precision in dressage, guts, athletic ability and stamina on cross-country and more of all that in stadium jumping. That might explain why the sport tends to turn out great young people. Hard working horsekeepers, get-it-done competitors and riders who are mature beyond their years, on and off a horse, seem the norm in this discipline.
Tory Smith stands out in this impressive lot. Heading back to run the Fair Hill CCI Three Star in Maryland as we went to press, the 21-year-old is making her mark on the West Coast eventing world and beyond. With her partner of the last five years, Bantry Bay V, aka “Corky,” Tory has progressed from frustrated perfectionist to a hard-won awareness that having fun is an essential part of any worthwhile process. She owes the lesson to Corky, a 10-year-old Irish Sporthorse. Today, he’s known for his catlike athleticism on cross-country and a show jumping style that Tory describes as “like riding on electricity,” but it was not
Celebrating Corky’s 8th birthday.
Imported as a 5-year-old, Corky tested Tory’s mettle during their early years together. “We started out with success,” says Tory of their first year together, but then “some issues” arose. Explosions in the dressage court and problematic behaviors on cross-country were difficult for a teenager who, at the time, “was all about competing and achieving my goals.”
“We might have taken the easier route and traded him in,” reflects Tory’s trainer Debbie Rosen. “She went through a long period of frustration and doubts and a little loss of confidence. She really had to work though a lot of issues to get where she is today.”
Where she is today is winner of the World Cup qualifier class at the Rebecca Farms CIC Three Star in August, winner of the 2008 Adequan Gold Cup Series, clinched with her victory in the Advanced Division at Twin Rivers in September, and, assuming all goes well at Fair Hill, a rider with two successful CCI Three Stars under
Show jumping at Rebecca Farm.
Photo: Naismith Images
In a precursor to what’s been a great 2008, Tory won USA Eventing’s Intermediate Rider of the Year last year, while Corky finished fourth in the Intermediate Horse standings. Last year’s accomplishments helped her earn a spot on the USEF’s Developing Rider list, the sport’s radar screen for which young riders should get help preparing to represent the U.S. in the future.
Tory has done it all while pursuing a psychology degree at UCLA, mentoring Pony Club riders and commuting between school in Los Angeles and the barn in Ventura County’s Somis. She and Corky train at the El Sueno Equestrian Center, where Rosen’s Wild Ride Eventers is located.
2007 CIC Two Star at Twin Rivers.
Photo: Tass Jones Photography
Juggling school, some semblance of a collegiate social life and high level eventing “hasn’t been easy,” she admits. Her boyfriend, sorority sisters and other friends at school accept her devotion to the sport, even though they aren’t horse people themselves and many don’t understand her willingness to regularly make the hour-and-a-half commute from UCLA to the stable. At first, she overdid it with activities, but she’s since learned to “prioritize and downsize my list of things with a focus on the things that make me happy.”
She is grateful to her parents Walter and Vicki Smith and her grandmother, Hilda Needle, for their remarkable support. She’s also grateful for modern technology, which allows her to catch up with friends by phone (with a Bluetooth device, of course!) or listen to great books, (autobiographies and Harry Potter) during the drive to the barn. “I just try to pretend that I’m not in a car,” she explains.
Hard Learned Lessons
Tory counts her tough year with Corky, 2005, as a blessing. “It forced me to re-evaluate everything from the bottom up,” she says. They dropped back a few levels and both horse and rider underwent attitude adjustments. “I have a tendency to be too competitive, too wrapped up in my goals. Every now and then, I step back and make sure that I am enjoying what I’m doing.”
Respected Glory and Tory at
Flintridge in 2001.
In retrospect, Tory thinks immaturity was the source of Corky’s issues. Now 10, he is bold, honest and confident. “He knows his job and happily goes about it. Out on cross-country, if we miss our line or if he jumps in too boldly over something, he will go the extra lengths to help fix it. In the past, I would not have been so lucky.”
What emerged from that difficult period is a deep and daily appreciation for her life with horses. In her senior year at college and ready to graduate in June, Tory took the fall quarter off from school to prepare for Fair Hill. Early morning runs on El Sueno’s galloping track have been highlights of this time, as has her ongoing instructing with two local Pony Clubs: the Santa Rosa Pony Club, of which she is still a member, and the Agoura Woodland Hills Pony Club. “It’s one of my favorite things,” she says. “It’s a lot of fun mentoring these kids and it’s great to be able to give something back.” Tory enjoys teaching all of her pony clubbers and especially enjoys watching and teaching 9-year-old Hannah Schofield, who rides Tory’s first eventing partner, Respected Glory.
Tory with her parents, Vicki and
Walter, and her brother, C.J.
Tory began riding at 5 or 6 and got Respected Glory, by the well-known racehorse Reflected Glory, when she began to event at 12. With help from her first trainer, Jeff Peters, Tory and Glory rose to the Preliminary ranks, occasionally with coaching from Debbie Rosen when Jeff could not attend an event. Jeff gave Tory a strong skill base to further her riding education. As her eventing talents and ambitions grew, Jeff referred Tory to Natalie Rooney-Pitts, who was then based at Galway Downs in Temecula. That’s when Tory got acquainted with something any West Coast eventer has to be good at: long drives. During school season, Tory made monthly treks to train with Natalie. Throughout the year, she worked with her at shows and, during school breaks, spent as much time as she could with Natalie.
Natalie took Tory to England, where they found Corky and began that chapter of their career. Though Natalie was her main trainer then, Tory began doing flatwork with Debbie, who was much closer to home. She began riding with Debbie full time when Natalie moved to Northern California. Although Tory and Corky were then in the thick of their troubles, Debbie quickly helped Tory see a light at the end of the tunnel. “I remember in the second lesson I had with Debbie, we did our first true medium trot, with actual extension,” Tory recalls. “She really helped me feel that we would be able to do something with Corky.
“Debbie has been a very large part of our success,” Tory continues. “I found that a lot of trainers either didn’t want to deal with the kind of problems we were having or they didn’t know how to. But Debbie really took up the reins with it and she wasn’t afraid to help me.”
Debbie has since done such a good job that the trainer and her mount, The Alchemyst, sometimes find themselves sitting second to Tory and Corky at the end of an Advanced Level competition. Sometimes it’s the other way around. Either way, it’s a happy and effective relationship between coach and student and it’s one that embraces both giving and receiving help from others on the famously friendly eventing circuit. Chocolate Horse Farm trainer Andrea Pfeiffer, in particular, has been a special help to Tory and Corky in competitions, as has Four-Star Equine Therapy in maintaining Corky’s health, especially Dougie Hannum and Grant Showalter.
Tory and Bantry Bay V, “Corky,” at the Galway Downs CIC Three Star.
East Coast Adventures
California’s Advanced Level competitors are a tight knit group, especially those who have ventured back east together. Tory counts Tamra Smith, Jolie Sexson, Andrea Baxter, Hawley Bennett and Barbara Crabo among her circle of friends and they and others were a reassuring presence during Tory’s first trek back east for the Jersey Fresh event in May.
West Coast pals now working on the East Coast helped grease the social skids, as did Tory’s participation in a Developing Riders clinic with Olympian Amy Tryon. “That helped me get introduced to people, and the atmosphere was friendly,” Tory reports.
The riding aspect of Jersey Fresh also went well. “My goal was to get around the cross-country course safely and positively and to end there with more confidence than when we arrived. We did that.” Among 50 starters, Tory and Corky stood in the top 10 after dressage, then, per their plan, took their time on cross-country, choosing options and the long approaches to many fences and accepting the resulting time penalties. In stadium jumping, Corky “jumped out of his skin.” His performance, coupled with the fact that he shipped back east without incident and recovered beautifully after each phase, made Jersey Fresh a great experience from every perspective.
The pair’s remarkable first year at Advanced Level also included great finishes at Galway Downs, Rebecca Farms and Twin Rivers, giving them well-founded confidence as they headed to the Oct. 16-19 Fair Hill CCI. “I don’t want to get in over my head by making unrealistic goals. I’ve heard that the cross-country terrain is difficult and it’s a long course: about 10 minutes. I’d really like to get around clean with fewer time penalties (than at Jersey Fresh), and we’ve been focusing on our lateral work, so I hope to score better in dressage, too. My main goal, though, is to go out and have fun, have a confident and safe ride, ending with as much confidence as possible. If we place well as a by-product, that would be great.”
Looking forward, Tory’s main goal is to “take things with Corky as far as we can.” Achieving that will somehow be mixed in with graduating from UCLA in June, and then getting on a path toward veterinary school. Competing at Blenheim, in England, next summer and targeting the 2010 Rolex Kentucky Four Star are among the possibilities on Tory’s horizon.
Horses in general and eventing in particular have a knack for keeping their humans humble. No matter the number of accomplishments that rack up on Tory’s resume, that has certainly been the case for her. “It’s been really exciting,” she relays. “But, I’m telling you, we still have a lot to learn!”
Tory with her first eventing partner, the now 22-year-old Respected Glory,
and his 9-year-old rider, Hannah Schofield.
Hannah rides with the Santa Rosa Pony Club,
where Tory remains an active
member and coach.