WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
for a woman who seized the opportunity to use her talents and created her own future:
Melanie Smith Taylor
Olympic Gold medalist, equestrian Grand Prix triple crown winner, Show Jumping Hall of Fame member and sports commentator are just a few of Melanie Smith Taylor’s claims to fame.
While she wasn’t born on a horse, Melanie Smith might as well have been. Raised on the Hugh Frank Smith Horse & Pony Farm in Shelby County, Melanie was given her first pony by her grandfather at age three and got her first horse at 12.
With her mother, Rachael Smith, as her inspiration, Melanie started dreaming big when she was young. Rachael taught riding classes and early on it was Melanie’s job to ride the lead pony for other students to follow. She never used a saddle before age 12 because bareback gave her a closer connection with her horse.
When Melanie’s family moved to Germantown in the 1950s, she became part of a horse community. Kids rode horses to school on the last day to pick up their report cards. The local candy store had a hitching post outside.
As she got older, Melanie began competing and winning, first at the Pony Club and then at the Germantown Charity Horse Show.
In the early 1970s Melanie took the initiative to move “back East,” the epicenter of equestrian sports. She began managing a horse farm in Connecticut and soon was managing several. The jobs gave her access to good horses and to all-important sponsors.
Soon Melanie was competing at the highest level of show jumping — the Grand Prix category. In 1978, Melanie was named the American Grand Prix Association’s Lady Rider of the Year as well as the overall Rider of the Year. Melanie Smith had proven that women could perform on even terms with men, so the separate Lady Rider category was abolished.
Next, Melanie became one of only two riders ever to win the “Triple Crown of Show Jumping,” winning the American Invitational, the International Jumping Derby and the American Gold Cup, all on the same horse, Calypso. She was a member of the U. S. Equestrian team that won the gold medal at the 1979 Pan American Games in Puerto Rico.
Melanie’s mother always urged her daughter to have the highest goals while enjoying the ride. One goal was to compete in the Olympics. She qualified for the American team in the 1980 games, however, the US boycotted that year. At the Alternate Olympics in Rotterdam, Melanie won an individual bronze medal. The U.S. Olympic committee named her Sportswoman of the Year.
In 1982 she won the Federation Equestrian International World Cup Show Jumping Championship in Sweden. Then in 1984 her long-held dream came true. She was a member of the U.S. team which won the gold for show jumping at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. She still remembers the pride of being on the podium and hearing our national anthem.
In 1987 Melanie retired from show jumping and returned to Tennessee. In 1989 she married Lee Taylor, an avid polo player and fellow horse lover, and moved to his family’s Wildwood Farm, breeding horses and running clinics. Lee brought her beloved horse Calypso to Wildwood where he lived peacefully until his death.
Though retired from competition, Melanie’s knowledge and her skill have kept her in demand. She has been a commentator on equestrian events including the Olympics for NBC, ESPN and other media ever since. She says the adrenaline rush of broadcasting live to a world-wide audience is a lot like making the winning jump.
She has also served the horse world as a certified show judge, course designer and trainer of young riders.
And Melanie continues to take initiative to enhance the lives of others. Before his death in 2005, Lee and Melanie gave a lot of thought to what should happen to Wildwood Farm. She worked to add Wildwood to the National Register of Historic Places in 2017 and recently bequeathed the 350-acre property to the University of Tennessee, Martin, to be used for research, education, and service. Plans include vet-tech and agriculture programs and partnerships with local high schools. The farm will remain an oasis, intact in a part of the county that is rapidly becoming suburban.
How did one woman create such a life? Melanie says through focus and hard work, one step, or in this case, one jump, at a time.