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Jedd Smith: Equestrian course design is in his blood

His father, the late Rick Smith, was a highly respected equestrian course designer.

His mother, Cathy Inch, walks comfortably in circles with the very best equestrian coaches in the land.

Is it any wonder that Jedd Smith should find himself rapidly rising in status in the ring?

In fact, it is very much in the horse ring, at shows right across the country, where the 29 year-old Sudbury native himself most finds himself at home.

Following directly in his father’s footsteps, the very well-spoken horseman is well positioned to make his mark in a most intriguing industry, one in which his particular foundation was built from most humble beginnings.

“I loved growing up on a farm - there was always a lot to do,” said Smith. “When I was 12 or 13, I would do some of the local shows, Trillium shows and such. I was just kind of helping out, voluntarily - or maybe voluntold, to be precise.”

“Around the age of 14, at a time when my father was heavily involved with course designing, he had me work with him as part of the ring crew, which involves more of the labour side of building the jumps, carrying material around. I really enjoyed it. It was a great job for a 14 year old, a very social atmosphere with physical labour, which I enjoyed.”

Though hardly an accomplished rider himself - “I don’t think I ever competed in anything above short stirrup, which is about 21 inches” - Smith very quickly picked up on the tricks of the trade. “As a course designer, one of the most important things is designing for the level of competition,” he explained.

“The courses will change totally, overnight, from day to day. Each day, you come up with a new course. You might have five or six divisions and you make minor adjustments to accommodate for those divisions.”

“In a jumper ring, for example, if you start with a 0.8m or 0.9m jumper competition, you may have fences one through nine with either one or no combinations,” detailed Smith. “As you advance upwards to 1.10m, 1.20m, you add some more fences, you add combinations, and you change the track.”

“It’s a matter of finding that balance between creating good sport and keeping people happy and safe.”

As the summers would pass and Smith worked shows from Caledon to Ottawa, from Collingwood back to northern Ontario, he would expand the network of folks who would provide the necessary mentorship.

“The best thing for me was letting course designers that I worked with know that I did have an interest in course designing,” said Smith. “In addition to working as part of the jump crew, you start to learn how the measurements work, how the strides work, the different distances for different lines and combinations.”

“These are things that take time - a long time.”

Time and travel, actually.

Des Moines, Iowa. Culpepper, Virginia. Socrates, New York. Ocala, Florida.

Smith understood the road map that was necessary to follow. “Though I worked on the ring crew, I was sort of transitioning into being a course designer,” he said. “While I was working on the ring crew, I was kind of working as an assistant course designer at the same time.”

Like so many professions, there is something to being able to soak it all in, absorbing, in a sense, all of the knowledge around you.

“I think that it’s very important as a course designer to sit back and watch how the competition goes: was it too easy, was it too difficult, was it not as creative as you would like it to be, did anybody get hurt. Safety has to be taken into consideration. It’s not a very glorious job and the riders are not always forgiving.”

“If you make a mistake, they’re pretty unhappy with you - and doing a good job is how you get your next gig.”

While word of mouth is wonderful, there is a formal accreditation process to be followed. “As I progressed, I started working in the States and travelling quite a bit,” said Smith. “That was sort of right before I got my recorded status, which is your first level of course designing.”

That designation would allow the up and coming local to design at bronze or silver level shows, working with either jumper or hunter divisions. “I did both (hunter and jumper) at the same time, just because you make yourself a little bit more useful for shows like the Trillium circuit,” he noted.

At this point, still only 18 years old or so, the equestrian go-getter had already begun to get a feel for what could constitute a “Jedd Smith course”.

“I think every course designer has their own unique style,” said Smith. “That’s just something that is developed over time. You start to find your identity, find what you love and what works for you. I think you have to be very creative and have an artsy side to you.”

“You’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, just to put it together in a slightly different way every time.”

Three years later, Smith would attain his senior level, able to design now at the A shows. With the likes of legendary course designer Leopoldo Palacios introducing the pride of Foothills Farm to Canadian legends Peter Grant and Joey Rycroft, opportunities would quickly arise.

“I think my first big break was when I went to Spruce Meadows (Alberta),” recalled Smith. “Their rings are quite large, with massive fields.” A series of domino moves had opened a spot for Smith, some four years ago, on the biggest stage of his life.

“I got thrown into the mix as a course designer there,” he said. “I didn’t feel that I was ready, but realistically, with the support of other course designers, maybe I could pull it off. I had an amazing week. That was the point that I realized that I can really do this.”

“Once you step up to that level, everything becomes relevant,” he added. “Learning your ring, understanding your ring and then tying in that creativity that allows you to come up with very beautiful, flowing and natural courses and tracks is key.”

There is a calm inner-confidence to the young man, yet set amidst a personality type that makes one want to work by his side.

“As much as doing a good job and designing appropriately for the level of competition that you are at is important, it’s just as important to get along with people,” said Smith. “Fortunately for me, I had my mother and father as my initial connection. In terms of initially getting a job, I have them to thank for that.”

“But anything above and beyond that was one me.”

One certainly gets the feeling that there is still plenty to come that is above and beyond what Jedd Smith has already accomplished - and that is impressive.

Dairy Queen - Sudbury - Kingsway / Val Caron