Countdown to Paris 2018: the first woman to win the World Cup Jumping Final

Melanie Smith and Calypso in 1982
Credit : Pinterest

Wednesday 21 February - 15h39 | Ian Clayton

Countdown to Paris 2018: the first woman to win the World Cup Jumping Final

Growing up in Tennessee, Melanie Smith would ride almost anything that moved. She rode cows and pigs and most of all ponies, including her first pony, White Wind. 

 - Countdown to Paris 2018: the first woman to win the World Cup Jumping Final

Melanie Smith Taylor
Credit : melaniesmithtaylor.com

"I had a group of about six friends, and all summer we would go off with our ponies,” Smith — now Melanie Smith Taylor — told Sports Illustrated in 1982, a few months after becoming the first female rider to win the FEI World Cup Jumping Final, in Gothenburg, Sweden. “We'd have slumber parties and take the ponies. We went swimming with them, riding them into the water until it came up to their bellies, then sliding off and letting them swim while we hung on to their manes. We took off our shirts and hung them over the fences so the ponies could jump in the moonlight. In the winter, the ponies pulled sleds if there was one snowflake, and on the last day of school we just rode our ponies up to get our diplomas.”

That formative riding experience, observed Demmie Stathoplos in the magazine article, gave Smith Taylor an ‘invaluable, instinctive feel for horses that could not have been instilled through hundreds of hours of instruction.’ "When I began competing and the pressure came," Smith Taylor explained, "I had so much confidence, such a rapport with horses, that it was just not a part of riding to feel nervous or tense. Riding was more natural to me than walking. I fall off my high heels more often than I fall off a horse.”

Smith Taylor's confidence was in full flight at the 1982 World Cup Final, back in southwestern Sweden after its debut there in 1979. On her 9-year-old bay gelding Calypso, the 33-year-old American captured the title in front of 12,000 spectators at Gothenburg's Scandinavium arena, finishing with 0 penalties. Second place went to Germany’s Paul Schockemöhle and Akrobat with 1 penalty point, and Great Britain’s John Whitaker and Gladstone tied for third with perennial favourite Hugo Simon of Austria, on Ryan’s Son (10 points each). 

In fact, Smith Taylor had almost won the Show Jumping Final with Calypso two years before in Baltimore, after the pair missed out on competing at the boycotted 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow (they did win a bronze medal at the alternate Olympics in Rotterdam). But this time, with a reformed competition format of three legs (a speed class with faults converted into time, then a single round with two jump-offs, and two rounds with no jump-off), the Tennessean would come out on top of the field of 32 riders from 11 countries, including Nick Skelton with Everest Carat. 

"The importance of thinking like a horse"

The importance of thinking like a horse - Countdown to Paris 2018: the first woman to win the World Cup Jumping Final

Credit : melaniesmithtaylor.com

For Smith Taylor and Calypso, the World Cup Final victory ended up being just one of many international achievements, including a Team gold medal at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. And all of that success was a product of early ambitions by Melanie and her mother Rachael, who, years before, in 1968, had approached U.S. Jumping coach George Morris at a clinic.

When Morris asked her what she wanted for her daughter, Rachael said, “I want the Olympic team.” Eventually he would take on Melanie as a student, and later called on her to become chef d’equipe of the U.S. Equestrian Federation Developing Rider Tour.  

Today, Melanie Smith Taylor is a clinician, author, broadcaster and judge. And speaking about her approach
to horses while paying tribute to her late husband Lee, she has stated: “I learned about the importance of working with horses from the time they are born and using proper groundwork at every stage of their development. I began to better appreciate the importance of thinking like a horse and understanding how
a horse feels on the inside rather than just how he looks on the outside.”

When her World Cup-winning partner Calypso passed away in 2002, Smith Taylor said: "I always felt we could win any class over any course on any day if luck were with us. He gave you that kind of confidence. The faster you went, the higher he jumped. He was so careful and quick and always kept his head."

For more information on the Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Final and FEI World Cup Dressage Final, see here. 

The importance of thinking like a horse - Countdown to Paris 2018: the first woman to win the World Cup Jumping Final


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