Ticking off your first international grand prix win is a huge rite of passage for any aspiring showjumper, but to do so with the sole clear round — and to beat an Olympic legend in the process — made it a truly momentous occasion for 21-year-old Spencer Smith.
“This is amazing and unreal to be here,” said the USA rider after his victory in the $132,000 grand prix at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida on Saturday (17 March). “To be showing in these competitions anyway is a dream come true. To win one like this is amazing.”
Riding the 11-year-old Theodore Manciais, Spencer was the only rider from a world class field of 44 to find the key to a clear round over the 1.50m track. Fourteen combinations completed on four faults and Canadian legend Ian Millar (Dixson) took the runner-up spot as the fastest of those.
“The course was difficult. I think I had an advantage going early and not knowing how the course was unfolding,” said Spencer, who has trained with Olympic gold medallist Eric Lamaze for the past 18 months.
“I really have to say that Eric has changed not just my riding, but my life forever. I’m indebted to him for the rest of my life for sure.”
‘He beat me today and I couldn’t be happier about that’
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Not only was this the young rider’s first international grand prix win, but the first time he’d ever won a world rankings class, too.
“I couldn’t be happier for anybody than I am for this young man tonight,” said 71-year-old Ian Millar, who has competed at a remarkable 10 Olympic Games.
“I know what this means to him, and I talked to his grandparents and to his father. It probably means more to them even than it means to him. I’m almost happy enough to take the rail down, but not quite!”
Don’t miss the full international round-up in this week’s Horse & Hound, out Thursday 22 March.