You heard it here first – the ‘weird wiggly worm’ of a horse who could lead the dressage at Badminton…

  • If you’re an eventing fan in Britain, you can be forgiven if you’ve never heard of Tamie Smith and Mai Baum. But in seven weeks’ time, you will have – because I reckon they could be our Badminton Horse Trials dressage leaders.

    US pair Tamie and “Lexus”, as he’s known at home, have an extraordinary record in the first phase – they’ve scored in the 20s for every international test they’ve done since 2018 and on eight of those 11 starts, have scored below 25. Their personal best is a 20.4 at Tryon CCI4*-S last spring and they went on to land a 21.8 to sit second after the first phase at the 2021 Kentucky Three-Day Event.

    It was one of my few disappointments of the Tokyo Olympics that I didn’t get to see Tamie and Lexus actually do their dressage test, because they were the alternate pair for the US squad. But just seeing the beautiful black horse in the arena familiarisation session made my heart beat a little faster. I can’t wait to share that experience with more eventing fans at Badminton this spring.

    Tamie Smith and Mai Baum in the arena familiarisation session at the Tokyo Olympics

    Tamie Smith and Mai Baum in the arena familiarisation session at the Tokyo Olympics. Credit: Peter Nixon

    Tamie says Lexus – who belongs to Tamie’s former working student Alexandra Ahearn and her parents Ellen Ahearn and Eric Markell – is actually more difficult than he looks on the flat.

    “He’s like a worm – he’s so wiggly and all over the place,” she tells H&H. “It takes quite a bit to get him all the way through. He doesn’t have the best work ethic on the flat and I’m lucky he is so flash – it helps me in that when he makes a mistake, he still gets a fairly high score.

    “And he’s such a showman. He has such an ability to take his anxiety and show nerves and put it to the right place when he goes into the ring.

    “Right before his Kentucky test is probably the most nervous and tense I’ve ever felt him. I thought, ‘He knows this is a big deal’. He wouldn’t halt or rein-back, he was running sideways out of the arena or I’d go to halt and he’d piaffe. For the first time in six years of riding him, he made me nervous because I thought he was going to lose it.

    “Then he went in the ring and nailed it. He knows when it counts, when it’s his time to shine. Obviously it helps that he’s beautiful and his movement in all three gaits is unbelievable.

    “He’s a weird horse to ride on the flat, actually he’s a weird horse to ride all around! He can be strong, he can spook at a jump one time and not the next. A lot of people think because he’s been so consistent throughout his career, he’s an easy type, but he’s quirky. All the best ones are.”

    Tamie Smith and Mai Baum’s journey: learning lessons from Kentucky

    At Kentucky, Lexus broke a frangible pin late on the cross-country course, going into the rail-ditch-arrowhead complex, and finished ninth.

    “That will eat me alive my whole life until I’m in my grave. It was a very expensive mistake on all fronts,” says Tamie, acknowledging the error probably led to her being the alternate in Tokyo instead of being on the team, as well as costing her a five-star win.

    “I relied on his carefulness. I knew I was down on the clock, probably 10 seconds down, and two minutes from home it’s not easy to make up that time. I took a bit of a risk knowing he’s careful and didn’t get him back enough.

    “I learnt a tonne from it. At first I was like, ‘This frangible pin stuff is ridiculous, it’s not fair, we need to change the rules.’ Then I reassessed and looked back and said, ‘I just need to ride better. It’s our sport, it’s for safety and we have to accept that. Just don’t ride like that and you won’t have a frangible pin next time.’ Now, I ride that sort of fence very differently.”

    Mai Baum will follow a similar path to Badminton as the one he trod to Kentucky last year – he has already competed at an advanced intermediate and now he will do the dressage and showjumping at Carolina International and then the full competition at Tryon CCI4*-S.

    He will travel over to Britain the week before Badminton, during Kentucky, accompanied by Tamie’s friend Avery Klunick, who is based in Britain with Australian Olympic medallist Kevin McNab. Tamie and her groom Stefanie Hatten will join him after Kentucky is over as she has other rides there.

    Can Tamie Smith and Mai Baum top the field in the Badminton Horse Trials dressage phase? Or can one of our British pairs pip them to the top spot at the close of dressage on Friday 6 May? And what happens after that? I can’t wait to find out.

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