Vive la France!
Holly Jacks-Smither and her off-track thoroughbred More Inspiration had the experience of a lifetime in October when the pair travelled to Pau, France for the Les 5 Etoiles de Pau competition, one of just six CCI-L5 three-day eventing competitions in the world.
As just one of two full or purebred thoroughbreds of 40 plus competitors in the dressage, jumping and cross country competition, More Inspiration finished an impressive 12th after recording personal best scores in dressage and cross country. The pair are qualified for the Tokyo Olympics in the summer of 2020, but Jacks-Smither is also eyeing major competitions in England and Germany in the spring.
“I’m thrilled with my horse and thrilled with my weekend in general,” said Jacks-Smither, who was helped to get to Pau through a fundraiser put on by her riding community and friends, “I’m so glad I made it here – not just to be at the show, but because of the people I’ve met along the way, these amazing connections that will stay with me forever.”
At one time an aspiring jockey growing up in British Columbia, Jacks-Smither discovered three-day eventing as a teenager and also became hooked on breaking and galloping thoroughbreds once her family moved to Ontario. She worked at Woodbine racetrack while furthering a career in show jumping and eventing while working for Frankie Chesler. She soon started taking on her own students.
Now an accomplished international rider who has been to two Nations Cups, qualified for Olympics and Pan Am Games, Jacks-Smither is also a successful riding coach with her own business in Erin, ON that she operates with thoroughbred trainer Bruce Smither.
Fourteen-year-old More Inspiration (Inspired Prospect–Gentle Buck, by Buckley Boy) was a four-time winner at Woodbine and Fort Erie from 2007 to 2009 and upon retirement was sent to Jacks-Smither for re-training in an effort to move the horse on to a new career.
“When I first got Morris, I thought about just show jumping him because he’s such a brilliant show jumper,” said Jacks-Smither. “He wasn’t a great mover so some people thought I was crazy to start him in eventing, which also includes dressage.”
She took the horse to a few shows during their lessons together and when the horse never attracted any buyers, she bought him.
The path to developing ‘Morris’ into a complete, three-day eventer was not a smooth one as the gelding excelled in jumping, but was slow to improve in dressage and cross country. It was when she began taking lessons from international dressage rider Tom Dvorak and started Morris with the basics of walk, trot and canter that the horse began to thrive.
In 2013, the pair began to compete in one-star competitions (CCI-1*) in the U.S. and Canada while Morris matured and got stronger and smoother.
“He’s never been an easy ride, actually,” said Jacks-Smither, laughing. “He often likes to buck and wheel but he’s a good feeling horse just having fun.”
Morris gets his game face on when it comes time to competitions, however, and in the last two years the pair have graduated to the highest level, five-star competitions, in three-day eventing.
Jacks-Smither had eyed trips to Pau in recent years but her dad became ill and Morris had an injury. In 2019, a student set up a fundraiser and thanks to friends and family from B.C. to Ontario and Florida, where the Smithers also have a small training farm, half of her trip was paid.
Assisted by Liz Hawley, who works for Hall of Fame Thoroughbred trainer Roger Attfield at Woodbine, Jacks-Smither and Morris were well prepared for one of their toughest competitions.
“Dressage is not his forte, but he put up his personal best and we were 19th of 26, I was thrilled with it,” said Jacks-Smither. “In the cross country, I was pretty nervous. A bunch of people in front of us didn’t finish the course, it was a very tough course. But I had total confidence in Morris and he managed to move us up to 12th. He held his position after the jumping round even with an uncharacteristic two rails down. I was so thrilled with him.”
Morris vacationed in Miami and Jacks-Smither thenjoined him to prepare for 2020. “He has qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, but Canada does not have an eventing team that qualified for the Olympics. I could compete as an individual. But I am also looking at a couple of much tougher events: Badminton in England or the Luhmuhlen Horse Trials in Germany.” The pair recently enjoyed a spring pipe-opener in West Palm Beach at the Wellington Eventing Showcase where they placed 19th of 38 in this popular event.
No matter which direction Jacks-Smither and Morris take, the pair have made the equestrian community in Canada proud and bolstered the amazing talents of retired racehorses.
“I’ve always loved the thoroughbreds,” she said. “I think if you can get one that can move a little and jump, they have so much heart. I think there’s nothing like a good thoroughbred. They have so much desire to do it.”