BY JESS CLAWSON
Kym Smith has created a name for herself in the hunter world. She took on the title sponsorship of the Kym K. Smith/USHJA Young Hunter Pony Championships, and has won everything from the adult jumpers to ponies on the line. But there are lots of people who win consistently who don’t dip into sponsorships. What prompts someone like Kym—a lively, charismatic person—to sponsor a big show? And, why ponies?
Kym’s start in life was atypical amongst the horse show crowd. Born in Vietnam, she was adopted by a white New York family in the early 1970s. “I was one of the first Vietnamese kids adopted into the US,” she said. “I didn’t have any Asian or Vietnamese role models to look up to. That was hard.”
Her mother first put Kym on a pony when she was 2 ½ when she took her to leadline classes. Instantly in love with the sport, Kym continued to compete on ponies until she was 18. “Ponies are size appropriate for me—I’m short,” she laughed. “I never moved to a junior hunter.”
In fact, she still rides ponies. Her farm in Middleburg, Virginia focuses on starting young ponies for the hunter ring. “I do everything with them,” she told us. “I’m always the first person to get on them when it’s time.”
Kym competes in the high adult jumpers now, on a 15-hand American warmblood. She was zone champion in the low adults for two years in a row, and decided it was time to move up and push herself to succeed at a new level. “I’m in the ribbons now, and I expect to be winning within six months,” Kym said in what is clearly her characteristic determination.
She’s the first to admit that she’s competitive in the ring. “I don’t ship for second place,” she explained. “I have the drive to win, I’m not here to just have fun. Winning is fun. Some people do this sport as their down-time from a high powered job, but I’m horses 24/7. If I’m going to pay to do this sport, I want to succeed.” And she does. She spent time as number one in the country in adult hunter leagues, and has made clean sweeps of her divisions in the hunter and jumper rings at some of the biggest horse shows.
Kym thinks this drive to win came from her need to stand out in a good way. “When I was two, I was looking in the mirror with my nanny, realizing that I didn’t look like the people around me. That spurred an identity crisis that lasted until I was about 30.”
The hunter/jumper world is not a place of great racial diversity, which can prompt complicated reactions in people who aren’t white. “I never saw other Asian people at horse shows growing up. Now when I do, it’s strange,” she said. “I want to go talk to them, because we’re the only Asian people there, but I also feel weird about it. I’m not sure what to do with that.”
Because of the lack of equestrian role models that looked like her as she was growing up, Kym takes her roles in the horse world seriously. “I think I just always wanted to stand out, probably. Winners stand out.” She’s aware of drawing attention to herself just because of what she looks like at horse shows, especially when people don’t know who she is. When she moved to Virginia from New York in 2010, she showed up at Upperville to win with a pony. “People were like, who is that?” she laughed. “But I’ve never gotten any bad backlash.”
Kym’s quiet life on her farm suits her perfectly. She spends all of her time with her ponies, teaching them manners and doing all of the ground work with them in addition to the daily tasks of mucking stalls and other routine chores. “It builds the bond. People have to bond with their animals if they want to be successful, and that makes it more rewarding,” she said. “And I love them all. I’ll cancel plans because I want to hang out with my ponies and my dogs instead.”
Aside from being a good example of horsemanship, she took on the role of title sponsor of the Young Hunter Pony Championships seriously. “I realized if my name was going to be on it, it needed to be a quality event,” she explained. She put together high quality rider bags and gathered beautiful prizes. Maye Show Ponies donated floral garlands and beautiful brush boxes for the winners. Angel Gonzalez Junior donated his handmade whips for reserve. And Kym’s sister, Amanda Hood, donated belts, keychains, and browbands from Boy-O-Boy Bridleworks.
Even though Kym and her ponies compete in pony classes on the line with her or a professional, she did not enter any of her own ponies in the show that she sponsored. “I feel strongly that people should not compete in shows they’re sponsoring, especially if they’re the title sponsor,” she said. “I didn’t sponsor the show to win anything back. I sponsored it because I wanted to have a good time, and make sure everyone else had a good time.”
As with most things she does, Kym found success on that front too. “It was such a fun event. I’ve committed to sponsoring for next year, and I hope the competitors can’t wait to come back.”
Kym is poised to be a role model for many people in the horse world, including people of color and those struggling with their identities. Her hard work and commitment to the sport shows in everything she does, from taking competing seriously to raising the bar for sponsorship. We can’t wait to see what she does next.
About the Author: Jess is a professional historian and educator who lives in northwestern Virginia. They completed their undergraduate degree in English at William & Mary, and did their masters and doctoral work at the University of Florida. Jess is an event rider with a passion for thoroughbreds, and has extensive experience in community organizing around queer identities, racial marginalization, and labor.
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