5-Year-Old Rider Jessica Smith-Clarke Discovers Dressage

One little rider is inspiring those around her in a big way.

Credit: Courtesy, Jasmine Smith Jessica Smith-Clarke and the 8-year-old Shetland pony, Tiggywinkle.

In early 2014, my daughter, Jessica Smith-Clarke, brought home her first pony, Tiggywinkle. “Tiggy,” the 8-year-old Shetland pony, immediately stole our hearts. Jessica had always shown a soft spot for horses and ponies, so I decided that she was ready for the experience. The pair have a bond like no other. As two friends, they share unconditional love for one another. Tiggy brings out a confidence in Jessica, one that appears in the strongest way when she is around her. Jessica is no ordinary 5-year-old. She is very hard-working and has stepped up to the plate, taking responsibility for mucking stalls, grooming, feeding and riding. I often joke that she has excellent references even though she’s only 5. 

When 2015 arrived, it became very clear that Jessica’s passion for horses was not going away. She began taking lessons with trainer Louise Hutchinson, who runs a small, private dressage yard in Devon, England. Jessica was assigned to ride Poppy, a 21-year-old Dartmoor Hill pony who once belonged to Louise’s niece. Louise offered Jessica the chance to do more with Poppy, who no longer had a young rider of her own. Poppy is a one-in-a-million pony and has started a new adventure with Jessica. Together they are loving every minute of it. 

In addition to her own riding, Jessica enjoys sitting and watching riders train for hours. She takes it all in, asks questions, observes and then tries to do it herself with Poppy. Currently, her favorite things to practice are the sitting trot and leg yield, or “sideways trot” as she calls it. 

Last May, Jessica and Poppy competed at their first dressage schooling competition. It also happened to be Jessica’s fifth birthday. The pair rode an Introductory Level lead-line test, and to Jessica’s complete happiness she and Poppy placed fifth in a rather large class. Throughout the year Jessica and Poppy continued to compete, eventually progressing to the point where no lead line was necessary. When she completed her first solo test, Jessica was beaming. To top it all off, she and Poppy placed fifth with a score of 64 percent, qualifying them for Cricklands Winter League and the Stretcholt Winter League Finals.

Jessica has a lovely group of fans and supporters. They love that she is so young yet so committed to her dreams. People make a special effort to watch her. When they see her they can’t believe she, at just 5 years old, is about to do a dressage test on her own. She is very lucky to have such fantastic opportunities and even luckier to have wonderful ponies. Jessica’s trainer believes that if her determination and dedication to her ponies and riding continue, she will be a force to be reckoned with in the future. 

Jessica now has three ponies: Tiggywinkle, Poppy and her youngster, a 5-year-old Welsh pony named Sec A Sarum Little Lady. “Lady” has a lovely way of going and with a little more training, she is going to make a perfect mount for Jessica. When I asked her what her goals were for her and the ponies, Jessica gave me a list of things that she is looking forward to. She is learning her proper diagonals and is excited to try her very best for the ponies. When she is older, she wants to be a dressage champion. Jessica and Poppy have also gained the sponsorship of Quantock Equestrian in Somerset, England, and qualified for the 2016 Sunshine Tour at Hickstead at Introductory Level last September. 

We look forward to making more wonderful memories with all three ponies as the year continues—memories that Jessica will treasure forever. She has certainly proven that age doesn’t matter when it comes to pursuing your dreams. Hard work and dedication will pay off. As Jessica’s mother and biggest fan, I would like to say a huge thank you to Linda Featherstone at Conquest Equestrian Centre and Debbie Miller at Stretcholt Equestrian Centre for their support and encouragement of Jessica’s riding as well as to all of the others who have offered encouragement. A special mention must also go to Miss Tiggywinkle for being a major part of the first chapter in Jessica’s story. I am so unbelievably proud of this little girl, and I can’t wait to see what her future with dressage holds.