PRINCETON – From the outside looking in, Kate Smith is just like any other teenager. She is a sophomore at Princeton High School where her favorite subject is math and she plays on the tennis team. However, Smith has a passion for showing horses that fueled her to win her 5th Worlds Championship Blue Ribbon in August this year.
Fifteen-year-old Smith and her current horse, Rango Tango won her fifth Blue Ribbon at the Worlds Championship in the ages fourteen through seventeen show Pleasure Class at the Worlds Championship in Lousiville, Ky.
The foundation for the teen’s success in horse shows began about thirteen years ago.
“I started riding when I was three years old after going to a friend’s birthday party,” Smith said. “It was at another barn and they had a birthday party there and that was the first time I ever got on a horse, I have always loved animals ever since I was born.”
Smith started showing horses at four-years-old with a trainer leading the horse. Two things she remembers about this time was not being able to see over the horses head and being excited to win.
“My first horse’s name was Casper and I showed him in the academy, the beginning levels of riding. That was my first showing without a lead line (a trainer leading the horse) and then I actually went to competing,” Smith said. “After that, I got a horse named Emilia, and that was the first horse I showed in competitions, on my own, with all the formal clothes and stuff.”
At five-years-old, Smith started training at Mercer Springs Farms. One of her trainers, Tori Heck has recently moved, but Smith credits her with much of her success.
“She has left now but she has trained all of the horses I have taken to Louisville,” Smith said. “I would not be the rider I am today, I would not be as accomplished if she had not trained my horses. She trained Chloe, all the way to Rango.”
Smith also credits Alexandra Lilly, another horse trainer at Mercer Springs Farms with her success. Lilly took Smith on as a student at just five-years-old and she credits her with much of her success. In addition, Smith credits Smith Lilly, the head trainer at Mercer Springs Farms, Sandy Lilly, founder of the farm and Hannah Fuller, Rango’s full-time caretaker with her success.
At eleven-years-old, Smith showed her horse, Chloe at the Worlds Championship and won in the thirteen-years-old and younger, country pleasure competition. After Chloe, Smith got a horse named Reno. She showed him in the thirteen and under the category for Show Pleasure, which is a step up from Country Pleasure. She won with him there in 2016 and 2017, in addition to the Worlds Champion Champions title where Smith said, “You win the roses and all that stuff.”
“I feel like horseback riding has made me who I am because it makes me work hard for everything because it has shown me that working hard pays off. I have gone to the barn almost every day in the summer for as long as I can remember,” Smith said. “The most emotional part is when you have to sell a horse, especially Reno. We called him the perfect horse, he really was. But I had to go up to the next step since I was aging out, that was my last year in 13 and under. That was really hard to let him go, but then I got Rango who is my horse now. Rango Tango is his show name.”
Smith said that in addition to competing multiple times, she watches every single show of Worlds Championship, focusing on riders from her barn. But she really is just enamored by the sport and craft. The world of horse-showing competitions is one of many categories, titles, and competitions. Smith said that she has found a good way to explain it to people is to compare it to a dog show.
“A good way to explain it is like a dog show, except with the horses they are judging the horse on how they do, the form of the horse, how they look and how they do the specific things they are required to do,” Smith said. “Each division requires different things you have to do. They judge on things like how high they trot, how high they hold their heads, how they do the three gates: walk, trot and canter.”
To qualify for the World Championship, the rider and horse have to show in six different classes throughout the year, then there is a qualifying round at the World Championship at the beginning of the week. “I showed on Tuesday and then I just watched people from our barn show. I watch every single show, I love it,” Smith said. “This year I got third place in Champion of Champions.”
“It is beyond amazing for sure,” Jacinda Smith, Kate’s mother said. “To see her excel, and she works at it so hard and she is so focused and dedicated and she is very humble about it. She never brags about it to anybody it is just her love, she does it because she loves it so to see her be rewarded like that because I know how much time and energy she puts into it and how hard she works.”
The highlight of her young career is this year’s win. While it was the third-place prize, it was the only other time she has won in her new age group. Smith said it is much harder to win in the older age groups because there are more advanced riders and better horses. In fact, her current horse, Rango, came to her as a work in progress.
“It is different for all horses, they all require different things. With Rango, I have to be very calm because if you are not calm, they can feel it and it makes him not calm,” Smith said. “I just have to reassure him a lot, I tell him what to do a lot because he doesn’t know. You can tell them with words, but you have to use the bridle and legs too, but in general, they do respond to your voice and how you sound, if you sound nervous or feel nervous then they will sense that.”
The season for Smith is March through November. During the summer, she has about three lessons per week but during the school year, she has one lesson per week. She has a winter break where she does not show and her horse gets time off to play in the fields of Mercer Farms. She continues to train, riding lesson horses and some horses that need some “finishing.” She said Rango is developed at this point and deserves his time relaxing and playing with other horses in the fields.
“I train a lot more on the lesson horses than I do on mine so that I am ready for mine,” Smith said. “My trainer, Alexandra Lilly focuses on that. I work with her every week and she will instruct me on what to do form-wise and how to do better things for the horse in general. She always says that you should always spend time in the saddle so it is always beneficial to ride even if she is not training me.”
The teenager’s drive and passion are evident while she speaks about how she does not think she has actually ever had a perfect ride.
“There have been some that have been close, but there is always something you could have done better which is why I am so excited about next year with Rango because that was the first show that we had really come together and we can do even better than that,” Smith said. “He has the biggest personality of any horses I have ever had.”
Smith plans to attend medical school and become a doctor later on in life. She said she knew she always wanted to do something in math or science and considered being a veterinarian, but could never hurt an animal. She always wants horses to be a part of her life and hopes to become a trainer. She wants to attend The University of Kentucky because she could compete in their saddle seat team. However, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest are in the running as well, after all, she is only fifteen-years-old. She has time to decide.
— Contact Emily Rice at firstname.lastname@example.org