Written by: Tracy Hanes
An aptitude for riding is in her genes.
Although she recently traded barn duties for books, 18-year-old Tosca Holmes-Smith has no intention of giving up the equestrian life.
In September, Tosca commenced science studies at the University of Victoria after a milestone summer. It marked her fourth consecutive year competing as an eventer at the North America Youth Championships (NAYC, formerly NAJYRC), each time on a different horse. She claimed an individual gold and team bronze in the 2017 CCIJ 1* with Fiat, an accomplishment that helped her garner the 2017 Equestrian Canada Junior Equestrian of the Year Award. This year, she stepped up to the CICOY2* in Kalispell, Montana, as the sole Canadian eventing representative, finishing ninth on Tom Riddle. “Young Riders is a really cool experience and gives you a taste of what it’s like to compete for your country,” says Tosca.
An aptitude for riding is in her genes – her father, Nick Holmes-Smith, is a two-time Olympian (Seoul ‘88 and Barcelona ‘92) and her mother Ali is also an avid competitor. The Holmes-Smiths operate Chase Creek Eventing, home of the Mustang Powder Horse Trials. Tosca’s older sister, Carmen, is also a NAJYRC individual gold medallist (2016) with Spartacus and was Equestrian Canada’s 2016 Junior Equestrian of the Year. The two sisters are close, helping and cheering each other on at competitions. The family also includes younger sister, Colette, who enjoys the occasional hack but whose passion is more in the arts.
Tosca sat on her first horse at age two and by age four had her own pony, Couscous. She did Pony Club and walk-trot classes, and made her eventing debut with Couscous at age eight. Now 21, the pony is still part of the Holmes-Smith family and helping to teach kids to ride.
“I’ve always been immersed in horses, it’s definitely a passion,” Tosca says. “Our farm is in the interior of British Columbia, an hour from Kamloops, in the middle of nowhere. We have 23 horses and run a small breeding program. My main job is to ride the young horses and bring them along.” She says as their farm is a horse trials venue, she’s fortunate to be able to train the youngsters on a cross-country course with elements such as water complexes and ditches.
Her father has been her main mentor. “I love riding with Dad and he’s my jumping coach. I also went to California and spent two months as a working student for Tamie Smith and she was really helpful with my dressage and jumping.” Sara Sellmer and Joni Lynn Peters have also coached her in dressage.
Tosca’s first experience at Young Riders in 2015 was aboard her mom Ali’s 19-year-old former two-star horse, Paddington, a 14.3 hand Welsh/Quarter Horse cross. They finished in the top 20. “We have a thing for small horses,” she admits.
In 2016, her Young Riders’ mount was Grace O’Malley, a 15.2 hand, 2005 chestnut Irish Sport Horse mare that Tosca had brought up the levels. Although not flashy, the mare has tremendous heart and the pair won two preliminary events in 2016 prior to Young Riders.
“Grace and I grew up and learned together and we really know each other,” says Tosca. “She has an interesting story. One of our friends had a Thoroughbred mare she was keeping at a friend’s farm. Their big Irish Draught stallion jumped out of the field and bred the mare, and Grace was the result. She is a small horse, but super cool and so honest.” Grace is now a broodmare at Chase Creek.
Tosca’s 2017 Young Riders’ gold medal winning ride was Fiat, a 2004, 15.3 hand Thoroughbred that has competed up to CCI** level. Fiat is out of the dam of Spaghetti Mouse, a Thoroughbred that set a record for earnings by a BC-bred racehorse, retiring in 2012 with earnings of $929,850. Fiat was a disappointment as a racehorse and friends of the Holmes-Smiths picked the scrawny grey gelding up at auction for a few hundred dollars. After being used as a hack horse, his owner’s daughter retrained him as an eventer and took him up to training level before the Holmes-Smiths bought him as a 12-year-old in 2016. In less than a year, Tosca was competing with him at intermediate level. They finished 2017 with an eighth-place finish in the Galway Downs CIC2*. “He’s a super cool horse and no one ever expected him to go as far as he did,” says Tosca. “He turned out to be phenomenal.”
This year, with her older sister off to university, Tosca took over the ride on Carmen’s horse, Tom Riddle, a 12-year-old, 15.2 hand New Zealand-bred Thoroughbred gelding and made the trip with him to the 2018 Young Riders’ CICOY2*.
“He was Carmen’s from when he was five and she brought him from pre-training to one-star,” says Tosca. “He’s got his weird, quirky personality but he’s super fun and so easy to ride cross-country.”
Although Tosca is now concentrating on her university studies, she has no plans to hang up her spurs. “I’ll spend my summers riding and competing,” she says. “We have a lot of young horses and I want to bring them up the levels. I’ll be more mature, and I plan to continue to be competitive.”