By Tafra Donberger
Portraits by Kristin Lee
After meeting eventer Chloe Smyth, it’s easy to see that she lives, breathes and dreams horses. Chloe has funneled her deep passion for the animals into a climb up the levels in the eventing world, but it’s her varied background, in combination with an exceptional work ethic and unfailingly kind personality, that’s made her into the athlete and trainer she is now.
At only 28 years old, Chloe has spent most of her life horseback — the first time she was on a horse, she told her mother, Donna, “I’m never getting off a horse again!” — and has made the most of every opportunity that’s come her way. Starting in Pony Club at 8 years old Chloe worked endlessly to learn it all, even studying Davis veterinary books and calling the local veterinarian to discuss equine lameness and illness.
In high school, she joined the rodeo team and competed in gymkhana events, including barrel racing and IEL hunter-jumper, rode on the dressage team and won the Victor Hugo Vidal Sponsorship. Then at 15 Chloe moved to Ireland to train under Olympian Trevor Smith and his brother Steven Smith, and that’s when eventing took hold of Chloe’s heart.
When she came back to the States, she brought a green Irish Sport Horse named C.S.I. with her. “He was very green and I was told he’d be a serious challenge to show,” Chloe said. That sentiment drove her to take C.S.I. to the Advanced 3* (in the pre-2019 levels).
Hunting and Hounds
Chloe moved to KingsWay Farm at the beginning of 2011, while also working as an assistant trainer at a hunter-jumper barn 50 miles away. That’s when KingsWay’s owner, Terry Paine, came up with a perfect solution. He was looking for a professional first whip and kennelman. A whip is a rider who trains the hounds and controls them during a hunt, while taking directions from the master huntsman. Like many equestrians, Chloe was already inclined toward dogs, having grown up with them. Stepping in to train the hounds, mostly English Foxhounds, wasn’t a stretch for her.
Chloe had an impressive aptitude for identifying each individual hound by name, right from the beginning. The Santa Fe Hunt is the only hunt club in Southern California recognized by the Masters of Foxhounds Association of North America, but in the West, the fox is replaced with coyotes.
“We hunt coyotes off the cattle ranches,” Chloe explained. “The hounds job is to teach them to be cautious and to deter them from bothering the mother cows.”
The position gave Chloe the opportunity to live at KingsWay, which allowed her to drop the tedious commute time, continue riding the young horses, and fund her eventing. But perhaps most importantly, her place at KingsWay put her together with Stag Party, her current event horse.
Chloe began riding Stag in 2014, and the two clicked from the beginning. Where C.S.I was bold and strong, teaching Chloe how to get through a course no matter what, Stag is careful, and the two of them began building a partnership that shines to everyone who sees it.
“He follows her around the barn, and he really trusts her,” Linda Paine said of the KingsWay-bred gelding. “She really likes the horse, and she appreciates what he does for her.” Chloe has brought him up through the levels, and recently won the Advanced horse trial at Woodside Horse Park.
“We’re so tickled with her job on Stag Party,” Terry said. “She’s done a great job. I don’t think there’s any limit on the scope of their ability.”
Chloe’s mom, Donna, is Chloe’s biggest fan and also her groom, a job that began when Chloe was scraping together the beginnings of a business. Donna has watched Stag Party and Chloe’s relationship develop from the start. “Stag Party has been a gentle, soft horse,” Donna said. “This year I’ve seen something between the two of them grow. She can say a little bit with the reins, and he trusts her completely.”
Chloe hopes to have Stag qualified for the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event by 2022, and wants to get him more experience at the FEI level throughout the upcoming year. Chloe worked on her dressage with Niki Hall-Clarke and currently is taking dressage lessons with Donna Weinberg. Chloe also works on her show jumping and cross-country with Tamie Smith.
There are between 30-35 horses under Chloe’s tutelage at any one time, including the youngsters at KingsWay. She’s bringing along another event horse named Nite Life, who won the Future Event Horse 4-year-old West Coast Championship in 2019 and just completed his first training level as a 5-year-old. “He’s smart, almost in a terroristic way,” she laughed. “He’ll figure out how to open anything, or disconnect anything from the wall. He’s a busybody who has to travel with his Jolly ball!”
Chloe’s business has boomed, so she gave up the kennel duties for the Santa Fe Hunt — though she still drops in on the hunts as professional first whip, a fancy way to say she gets paid to be the whip. She now has two assistants, Alexius Carbajal and Sadie Tabesh, to help her get it all done. She coaches multiple riders, and that’s where her personality and intuition really shine.
Everyone can see that Chloe pours her heart and soul into the horses, noticing the smallest nicks and scrapes and often ferreting out the root of any problem a horse could have. She works closely with her vet, Dr. Huth, and physiotherapists to ensure that her horses are sound and able to perform at their best.
“She speaks hound, and she speaks horse,” Donna laughed. “She knows what they’re saying or what they’re doing, and how to get the right approach with them.”
Chloe’s multiple talents have been a boon for Terry and Linda, who know she can handle not just a tight spot on a cross-country course or in rough hunt country but also hold her own in any challenge, even if it’s not related directly to a horse.
“She’s the kind of person who can overhaul her own motorcycle and go running up a mountain,” Terry said. “She’s not afraid to tackle things. She’s a great gal to take a trip with; she can drive the rig and back it through a knothole.”
Linda shared a story on just how handy Chloe can be with a truck and trailer. On their way home from Twin Rivers, they found themselves with a blown-out tire on the side of the highway. “She fixed it in 14 minutes,” Linda recalled. “She’s handy with things like that — I’d still have been waiting for AAA!”
Chloe likes to fish, owns a dirt bike and she has four of her own dogs, all rescues: Sierra, Slade, Stanley Yelnats and Peaches, her own “motley crew.” But it’s fair to say she’s married to her business. Like everyone in the industry, the COVID pandemic gave her time to focus on her youngsters, working on basics; she has several students setting their goals for 2021 that she’s excited to help them with, and of course, there’s the motivation to find success at the FEI level with Stag Party.
“He has a bit of anxiety, and so do I,” she said. “I know how to reassure and calm him. When we go to work, he’ll try his heart out for me. His heart is huge.”
Stag isn’t the only one with a huge heart. “We’ve got people with Chloe just because they like her operation and how she treats them,” Terry said. Chloe exudes kindness toward everyone, from the grocery store clerk having a bad day to the client who might just need to have an easy lesson on a bad day.
“People and horses, we all have emotions and feelings,” Chloe said. “Being kind and empathetic toward everyone is the biggest thing I try to practice.”
For more information, visit kingswayfarmeventing.com
Photos by Kristin Lee Photography, www.kristinleephotography.com