Earlier this Spring, 21-year-old Spencer Smith laid down the only clear round in the $132,000 Horseware Ireland Grand Prix CSI3*. This was his first international grand prix, his first FEI ranking class, and the biggest paycheck of his life, totaling $43,560 for first place.
He’s young, he’s talented, and he’s got one of the best teachers in the world: Canadian show jumping icon, Eric Lamaze. “I really have to say that [Eric] has changed not just my riding, but my life forever,” the Wellington-based rider said after his win. “I’m indebted to him for the rest of my life for sure.”
After training with Eric for about a year and a half, we wanted to know exactly what Eric has taught Spencer that led to his big win this weekend. Tell us your secrets, Spencer!
1. When you’re not riding, you’d better be watching.
Spencer keeps his horses with Eric, and there are several other talented riders based at the same farm. “We have Eric, Yann Candele, and Kara Chad there—a bunch of really good riders around me so I try to pick their brains. Even just watching them flatting and riding makes me learn something. Even just talking about it, I’m learning.”
2. A vote of confidence is a world-altering thing.
“[Eric] has given me a lot of confidence. He puts me in big classes and he seems really confident that I can do it, so I’m like okay, yeah, I can do it! He must be right because he’s Eric Lamaze (laughs). I get a lot of confidence from him telling me that I can do it.”
3. Be smooth, be calm.
“He’s changed my position and release a lot. He’s really changed a lot in my riding that has made me a little bit less rough, which is a big part of it. He’s made me smoother and a bit calmer in the ring.”
4. Sometimes, changing the bit is the answer.
Eric is in tune with the horses in an incredibly detailed way, Spencer explains. Listening to the horse sometimes results in a big change. “We changed a bit on one of my horses – he went in a loose ring and now he goes in a double bridle. Eric switched that and it suddenly came together. It’s crazy what he can do really.”
5. Trust your trainer.
“The biggest thing he’s taught me is to really trust who’s helping you. Whatever he says, I want to do. I mess up sometimes, but I stick to his plan. If he says, ‘You’re going to this show next week or jump this class,’ I’m going to that show and try to do my best. I don’t question anything because I have no right to question anything – he knows better than I do – and because I trust him one-hundred percent, no question about it.”
6. Winning is great, but it’s really just a progress marker.
While Spencer was ecstatic over his Grand Prix win, he also recognizes that it’s the sum of daily efforts – from him, the grooms, Eric, his parents (Ken and Emily Smith of Ashland Farm), and the rest of his team. This mindset keeps winning – and losing – in perspective. “It’s the culmination of all the efforts that everyone puts in to my career coming out and giving something that’s tangible, really. When you win, it’s proof that they really helped you and it’s an awesome thing.”
7. Don’t over-school your horse at home.
If your horse knows his job, there’s no use pounding him at home. Spencer explains that Eric is very deliberate about each horse’s weekly schedule, depending on their competition load, to ensure that there is never a burnout factor. Sometimes, that means giving the horses a relaxing week off. “When they’re off for a week, I flat them a bit harder in the beginning of the week, and then take it a bit easy for the second half so they’re fresh for the upcoming jumping week.”
Ph. Starting Gate Communications, and Meghan Bacso for Nöellefloyd.com.
Interview by Lizzy Youngling.