Spencer Smith smiled at the idea of he and trainer Eric Lamaze having intense strategy discussions or that Lamaze inspires greatness with heart-to-heart speeches a la “Friday Night Lights.” He describes Lamaze’s mode of inspiration as being more in line with Nike’s “Just Do It” motto.
“We’re not really sit-down-and-talk kind of people,” Smith chuckled softly.
“Eric is definitely great at giving riders confidence, and that’s something that I need, since I’m not always the most confident person,” Smith continued. “But he doesn’t say, ‘You can do this.’ He’s not one of those people. He just puts you in big classes and you learn to do it. You feel that if he’s entering you in that class and thinks you can do it, then he thinks you’re ready. That is what gives you a lot of confidence. He’d never ask, ‘Are you nervous?’ because he just doesn’t believe in that kind of thing. He just does it. And it inspires you to do it, too.
“Just having him say, ‘Well done,’ makes you feel like you can do anything,” Smith added. “You just have to follow what he tells you to do because he really knows what he’s talking about. If you listen and do it, he’ll take anyone to a high level.”
Smith, 22, put that “just do it” motto to work on May 17–19 at the Longines Global Champions Tour of Madrid, where he made his Global Champions League (GCL) debut riding for the New York Empire and jumped two clean rounds on Theodore Manciais in famous five-star rider company to help his team take second place. He also placed first and third individually in the two rounds comprising the GCL team competition.
“It was awesome for sure,” Smith said. “I was really hoping that my first show for the team would go well, so I kind of put a lot of pressure on myself. I’m glad it all worked out so well.”
New York Empire team owner Georgina Bloomberg has known Smith since he was riding ponies with his parents, Ken and Emily Smith of Ashland Farms in Wellington, FL, and Lexington, KY. Smith had a successful junior career, including a win in the 2014 USEF Medal Final, before choosing to follow his dreams of competing internationally.
Bloomberg needed an Under 25 rider on her GCL team, and Smith was an obvious choice for her.
“He’s worked his way up, and it’s nice to see it pay off for him,” she said. “It was wonderful to be able to offer him a place on our team and give him an opportunity to show what he can do. He’s a delight to have on the team—always professional and polite—and now he’s putting in clean rounds too!”
Smith could have joined his parents’ operation when he finished his junior career, but he had dreams of the international circuit. As his parents’ training business focuses on U.S. shows with its clientele, they connected him with Lamaze in the summer of 2016.
“He invited me to a big five-star in Spain and said, ‘Ride this horse.’ I got on a horse I’d never ridden before and jumped in the five-star classes. From there, we didn’t stop,” Smith said.
That horse was Rivale du Barquet, and Smith got to keep the ride on him for two years.
“He was my first horse that jumped all the really big five-stars. He had quite a bit of success and taught me a lot. Then Theodore came along at the right time and really taught me how to be a competitor at the top level. He’s the horse that changed my life,” said the American.
Smith has been riding Theodore since September 2017 and they’ve not only made a big impression on the GCL circuit, but also jumped in Smith’s first senior Nations Cup at the 2018 Rome CSIO5*.
“I was on the team with Beezie Madden, McLain Ward, and Laura Kraut. It was surreal!” Smith said. “I got a feel for team competition on that level, and it makes you want to just keep doing it because it’s so exciting.”
Smith is the type of young rider who gets done with a long day of showing, goes back to the hotel, and fires up some videos of past Olympic Games to learn more. His “be a sponge” approach has paid off in Lamaze’s stable, where he’s exposed to the Canadian Olympic champion’s methods daily.
Now, with his involvement with New York Empire, Smith is also learning from his teammates Bloomberg, Scott Brash, Denis Lynch, Daniel Bluman, and Hans-Dieter Dreher, all veterans of five-star competition. Brash was his teammate in Madrid, and Smith relished the opportunity to pick his brain.
“What Scott did with winning the [Rolex Grand Slam in 2015] just shows the mental toughness and his winning mindset,” he said. “To be around him at the shows is quite cool.”
Smith, who travels between Lamaze’s stable in Belgium and their winter training base in Wellington, FL, is planning to spend this summer competing at Spruce Meadows in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, in between trips to Europe to ride for the New York Empire.
Just doing it, indeed.