Tamra Smith must have consulted a crystal ball when she began her training business six years ago and named it Next Level Eventing. Based at Liberty Oaks in Riverside County’s Murrieta, Smith has seen her business grow and her personal riding accomplishments and those of her students rise to new levels every year. With about 30 active riders and an excellent assistant in Advanced level competitor Jordan Linstedt, Smith says her next area of growth is expanding her team of supporters to help achieve ambitious international goals.
This past spring, Smith crossed an important item off her aspiring international rider’s checklist. She got to her first Rolex Four Star in Kentucky, riding her Advanced level partner of the last three years, Chaos Theory. Unfortunately an awkward landing at the cross-country course’s notorious Head Of The Lake water obstacle ruptured two blood vessels and she had to pull up later on the route. Not completing the course was a disappointing outcome under any circumstances, but Smith’s was made more so by the fact that she had already decided Rolex would be the last Advanced event for the 18-year-old Chaos Theory.
Smith had surgery in Kentucky then flew home to California to recover before resuming her quest. She had just enough time to ask, “Well, now what am I going to do?” when Bubbles@Bricky came to her stable as a sales horse. “It was a very pleasant surprise to me to find this horse so rideable in dressage and so brave in cross-country,” says Smith. The pair clicked quickly and Bubbles’ owner, Amy Tyron’s former groom Dani Sussman, agreed to let Smith continue with the horse others had described as everything from quirky to difficult.
Top placings at progressively higher levels in California, Arizona and Montana set the stage for more victories, including their big win of the CIC** at Richland Park, MI, and a win in Bubbles’ first Advanced effort at the recent Twin Rivers competition in Paso Robles. “I think he has plenty of potential,” Smith asserts. “He’s very capable of getting the job done.” The goal from here is the Galway Downs CIC *** next spring, then Jersey Fresh CCI *** back East, then to target Rolex in 2011, and hopefully the Pan Am Games in the same year. If all goes well, Bubbles will be well qualified for a go at the 2012 Olympic Games
Joining The Team
In addition to her own riding and bringing along her students, who are mostly Preliminary and Intermediate competitors, Smith has had to become a business woman and self promoter these past few years. Without endless personal wealth, wearing these additional hats is part of the life of an internationally ambitious eventer. “I have a lot of people that really believe in me and want to see me succeed,” Smith acknowledges. “It’s just a matter of finding the right support and the right person or people to be part of the team.”
Smith welcomes help in any form, from a simple donation to the Olympic quest to being the sole owner of an Olympic prospect. Syndication is a good medium step, and Smith is working on setting those up for Bubbles and several up and coming horses. Toward that end, she has become a member of Southern California Equestrian Sports, a non-profit entity formed to support international riders’ efforts and through which the syndicates will own her horses.
“First you would buy into the ownership of a horse, buying a certain percentage of that horse,” she explains of a system that is common in Thoroughbred racing and somewhat so in show jumping. Syndicate members pay proportionate shares of the horse’s maintenance and competition fees, not including what Smith describes as her “soft costs” of training and time spent competing. It’s a tax write-off for participants and a ton of fun to be part of an internationally competitive horse/rider pair.
Getting outside help is a necessary part of the process. Even though the USEF offers grants to many preparing to represent their country, it is rare that those funds cover all of the considerable expenses involved. “For example, Bubbles and I could qualify to compete in England this year, but that’s a $30,000 or $40,000 trip,” Smith says. “The USEF only has so much grant money to filter to the riders going.”
The push for supporters comes at a good time. Smith is active in West Coast efforts to raise the profile of horse owners in the sport. It’s part of her membership in a new group called the Professional Riders Organization. “The main idea is to make owners a special part of the process,” Smith explains. The association held one of its first events during this year’s Rolex. “The owners came in and mingled with the riders. They got to know everybody and we got a chance to say thank you for making it all possible.” Smith says similar gatherings will be planned for upcoming events at Galway Downs, Rebecca Farms and Twin Rivers in the coming season.
Gotta Love It
Smith cautions that prospective sponsors “really have to love the sport.” Even at the very top, the rewards in eventing are more pride than prize money. And the demands and complexities of the sport make sponsorship a role well suited for those who understand its nuances and challenges. “It’s really important to have people that understand that you are dealing with a living, breathing animal that has its own thoughts and can express them,” Smith concludes.
Meantime, the success of Smith’s students continues to parallel her own, just at different levels, and to keep her training barn thriving. Her 13-year-old daughter Kaylawna is following in mom’s footsteps, except that “she is way better than I was at that age.” Competing at Training Level until she is old enough to move up, Kaylawna rides the veteran Happy Go Lucky, on lease from friend and fellow rider Fiona Dotson. Husband Dave and their 5-year-old son Tyler prefer motorcycles, but are very supportive of Smith’s career. It was Dave Smith, a Riverside police officer, who suggested that Tamra make a career with horses. She jokes that he may regret the idea now, but in truth says he could not be more supportive. “I couldn’t do this without him.”
For more information on training and sponsorship opportunities with Tamra Smith’s Next Level Eventing, visit www.nextleveleventing.com or call 951-514-1320.