Conversations With Equestrians: The Simpsons

By Erin Gilmore

The Simpsons
When it comes to well-known show jumping couples, it doesn’t get much bigger and brighter than husband and wife team Will and Nicole Simpson. In the last several decades, the two international-caliber show jumpers have contested almost every major championship and competition around the world, and have brought some truly memorable horses through the ranks.

Like we see with many highly motivated, successful and famous families, there was a point in Will and Nicki’s history when the combination of career and personal pressures caused some strife. However, at a time when it seemed they might be growing apart, life, love and the pursuit of gold medals drew them back together. In 2008, both Will and Nicki were chosen to go on European tours and ended up traveling together. Realizing how much they truly missed each other’s company, their family together time and supporting each other’s equestrian talents, and ultimately how well they worked together, they reconciled, reunited and haven’t looked back since.

With an incredible combination of talent, Will and Nicki have a clear vision for Simpson Show Jumping. Committed to owners who enjoy the process of pursuing the ‘gold’, they support each other’s goals to continue representing the United States at Nations Cups, WEG and Olympic levels. Tremendous international experiences highlight their teaching methods, so young riders and amateurs with similar high-level aspirations excel in their program.

Whether they’re at their winter base in Wellington, Florida, back home in southern California or traveling to Spruce Meadows or Europe, these power parents focus on keeping their children, thirteen-year-old Sophie and nine-year-old Ty, grounded and on track. Even superstar international riders have to go home at night and make dinner, and lucky for the rest of the family, Nicki enjoys cooking, and Will is famous for his barbeque.

We caught up with them during the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, where they spend half the year working out of Windsome Farms, a gorgeous private 80-acre facility, competing and enjoying the benefits of that close-knit equestrian community.

EquestriSol: How do you get the kids out the door and yourselves to the barn in the morning?
Nicole Simpson:
 Well, mornings are usually a little hectic, especially on show days if Will or I have the first class. Whichever one of us shows early will get dropped off at the barn, and then the other will run back and take Ty to school. This winter was Sophie’s first time doing online school. She usually starts the day with us – she likes to watch the horses show and ride in the morning and go to school in the afternoon.

EqSol: What’s your routine once you’re at the barn?
 Will and I look at the schedule, and for the most part we try to be there for each other at the rings. We balance it out so that we can put solid time into each horse. We go back and forth between the show and the barn, Sophie usually rides three or four and helps us hack another one.

EqSol: Do you think that Sophie shares your level of passion for the sport?
 Definitely. She’s very serious about it – she works really hard at riding and learning all that goes with it. Since the beginning she’s been exposed to every aspect. We think that’s important, for her to be aware of and part of the whole picture.

EqSol: How do you help Sophie balance horses and school?
 I ask her the same questions my mom would ask me – ‘Sophie, don’t you want to be able to have any career you choose?’ And she’s the same as I was; it’s all about the horses. But she’s finding a good balance, knowing that doing well in school and getting a good education is a priority.

She works hard for us, and knows what her commitments are and what we expect. Along with school and her riding, Sophie is also very involved with JustWorld International, and in California she volunteers with a therapeutic riding program.

Will Simpson: Like mother, like daughter – Sophie is so much like Nicki! Sophie is growing up, and watching her is like watching a mini-Nicki.

EqSol: And what about Ty? Is he interested in riding?
 Ty doesn’t ride – yet. We’ve kind convinced him into starting later. We think it’s important for him to do all sorts of sports, and if he wants to start riding once he’s played on other teams, he can. He is a great fan of our sport. The second he gets home he has a people-course all set up in the backyard. He knows all the horses in the barn, knows the lingo and all the riders. He likes to go to the grand prix and walk the course. He’s very analytical; maybe there’s course designing in his future…

WS: He loves to participate in all sorts of sports – soccer, football, etc. He’s like I was, I did all sorts of stuff as a kid. Guess you could say like father, like son. We’ll see…

NS: We’re very fortunate to have pretty easy, well-rounded kids!

EqSol: How many hours a day do you spend with the horses?
 At least one of us is done by the time Ty’s out of school. An alarm goes off every day to make sure we pick him up at 2:15, then we finish up lessons at the barn and we go home as a family. Our kids are with us 90% of the time. It’s really nice, and I have to say that along with the obvious equestrian pluses of the Wellington circuit, it is great for a family because you can stay in one place for six months. It’s very comfortable. We are grateful for this circuit in many ways, beyond just the horses.

EqSol: If you could each talk about one horse that improves daily, who would it be?
 We both have nine-year-olds that we’re really excited about.

WS: Obe is the one I’m bringing along… Anne Frankel owns him and knew she had something special. He’s a really smart horse by Cirka Z, one of Nicki’s good horses from years back. Because of our background with Cirka Z, we already know a lot about Obe and where he is headed. We feel that he definitely has a really good shot at the trials next year. And Nicki is developing a fabulous nine-year-old for Monarch International, Candle Light Van de Warande, by Parco. He’s coming along nicely, and has ribboned consistently in the 1.45m and 1.50m classes this season.

EqSol: Will, you are known for being able to get inside a horse’s mind and develop those “difficult” ones in a way that others can’t. Tell us more about that.
 Well, for example, Obe wasn’t very easy at first. I kind of felt like a little kid on a Thelwell pony. He would rear and buck, and when he stopped doing that he would just stand still. But now we’ve gotten to a place where we had six rounds fault-free. My daughter always laughs at me and asks me how I can say I can do the Olympic Trials if I haven’t done the 1.50m yet, but if you knew the horse and how his mind works, you’d know it’s the right plan.

What I work on every day is bringing the horses along in a way that is comfortable for them, teaching them how to compete and enjoy it, not fear it or resent it. If they enjoy their job, they perform well. Many pieces from their overall care to their training program play a role in their ‘happiness’. My career goal is to hopefully be considered a true horseman, not just a rider.

EqSol: You are both successful and focused on your individual and collective goals. How do you pass that on to your children?
 With a lot of communication and by keeping it real. Fortunately, our kids don’t ever feel entitled nor appear influenced by the world we work in. We are all very comfortable with who we are and how we fit in, so that translates. We stick together, work hard and keep looking forward.

EquestriSol News: August 16, 2010

Our Nation in Europe
On the International side of equestrian sport, the 2010 Meydan FEI Nations Cups Series is complete. With the riders chosen for the long list split into three Nations Cups tours, the United States had some stellar performances, including the all-girls team winning in Rotterdam and two second place finishes, one early on in La Baule and one at the last show in Dublin.

After all the points were tallied, the US slipped ahead of Great Britain finishing second overall with 44 points. A very commendable finish that those fifteen riders collectively achieved.
WEG 2010

Less Than 40 Days Until the WEG
The Selection Committee has officially chosen a short list from the long list to represent the United States at the World Equestrian Games. And one name won’t be on it…

First we would like to congratulate the top four: McLain Ward/Sapphire, Laura Kraut/Cedric, Lauren Hough/Quick Study and Mario Desluariers/Urico as well as the ‘traveling substitute’ Candice King/Skara Glen’s Davos. Sitting in the fifth and sixth spots on the list are Richard Spooner/Cristallo and Rich Fellers/Flexible. Since there is over a month until the WEG begins, even if the order of the above names change slightly, they all had a fantastic showing in Europe and would certainly be solid representatives.

Note that one top name that has achieved consistent success since WEF is missing. She did very well throughout the WEG Trials at WEF and in Europe. She made the horse she rode an international name. We interviewed her recently; please read about her experience in Nicole Simpson On Tour. So why is her name not in the top six? The horse she rode so fabulously had to be withdrawn – he never returned from Europe.

Where is Tristan? A Commentary…
Although surprising, this sad situation brings to light a distinct truth about the sport at this level – the riders often don’t own the horses they ride. One would think that an owner with international aspirations is committed to the process from beginning to end. Could it be possible that a unique circumstance supercedes the original goals? If the process is going well and the horse and rider are competing successfully with a strong chance of making a national team, one would hope, even expect, that the owner would remain committed. Certainly the rider would, as this is a rider’s dream – representing their country on a gifted horse that they’ve developed into an international talent.

If the horse is at the top of his game, in Europe, and along comes a potential buyer or offer, what does an owner do? While one perspective would be to stick to the commitment made to the rider, the USEF and his or her fellow USEF long list owners, there are certainly many other considerations. Will Tristan show up at the WEG with a rider from another country and potentially under another name? Time will tell, and if he does compete, even with another rider and for another country, we should all take a moment to appreciate the world class riding and commitment that went into his development into an international competitor.

Of course during our interview we asked Nicki about Tristan’s plan after her successful tour. At the time she mentioned that she thought it odd that the horse had not yet returned, but we didn’t discuss details. Once she knew she had to withdraw the horse from the WEG selection, she called. We added her comments to the article.

Aachen Accolades

By Jennifer Wood

American Show Jumpers Experience Positive CHIO Aachen
The U.S. sent five show jumpers to Aachen, Germany, to compete at the CHIO, one of the most prestigious competitions in the world. As part of the “second tour,” these riders were there due to their strong finishes in the USEF World Equestrian Games Show Jumping Trials, held this winter at the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival. After winning the Meydan FEI Nations Cup at the CSIO Rotterdam a month earlier, the team became known as “George’s girls” – Laura Kraut, Lauren Hough, Nicole Simpson, and Candice King. Joining these top four females was two-time Olympic gold medalist Beezie Madden.

Madden Makes Her Mark
Madden could not be picked for the Nations Cup team since her tour-qualified horse, Danny Boy, is sick with a virus. However, she started the week off strong for the American team.

In their first class in Aachen, Madden and Coral Reef Via Volo, a 12-year-old BWP mare by Clinton x Heartbreaker, owned by Coral Reef Ranch, were clear and finished tenth in the NetAachen-Preis on Tuesday. Then on Wednesday in the Warsteiner Preis, Preis of Europa the pair was sitting in the final spot of a nine horse jump-off. Madden had the small luxury of knowing the time that she had to beat. With that knowledge, Madden and Coral Reef Via Volo were able to best the time of 50.07 seconds set by Sweden’s Rolf-Göran Bengtsson and Ninja La Silla by two seconds. Their time of 48.27 seconds and a fantastic clear round gave them the win in a class of 49 competitors.

California owner Gwendolyn Meyer purchased Via Volo in February this year, and the talented mare has certainly been impressive. They won two major classes at Spruce Meadows in Calgary in the past month before traveling to Europe.

“This is the biggest event that she’s been to,” Madden acknowledged. “She felt great. She seemed very comfortable in this ring, so I was pretty confident with her today. She’s gradually climbing her way up.”

Rain or Shine, Hough Holds Her Own
Yet another American scored a win when Lauren Hough of Wellington, FL (but grew up riding with her mother Linda Hough in California), and Prezioso S, owned by Highlife Farms, topped the field in the Preis der Städte Region Aachen over 53 other competitors. In the “winning round” format, the clear rides returned for a second round. Through inclement weather, Hough and the talented 14-year-old stallion by Pilox were the fastest double clear in 44 seconds flat.

“He actually likes the mud and rain, so I wasn’t disappointed to have to go in the changing conditions,” Hough revealed. “I felt quite confident that the ground is really good and I could take a chance.”

Hough had help from Madden, who went before her and placed seventh on Abigail Wexner’s Mademoiselle. “Beezie and George were really helpful; Beezie had gone before me and told me where I could do less strides than her. It was a really open, galloping jump-off, which suits him. He has a really big step. He’s so handy (too).”

Hough said she is “grateful to have a horse like this in my string.” She added, “In 99% of the shows he goes to, he comes home with a top three placing in a 1.50m class. Those horses are almost impossible to find. He can jump every day to win. I can’t say enough great things about him. He always wants to please and win.”

The Girls in Another Nations Cup
The USA started out strong in the Mercedes-Benz Preis, part of the Meydan FEI Nations Cup with a clear round from Lauren Hough on Quick Study, an 11-year-old Belgian gelding by Quick Star x What A Joy. That same feat was repeated with the next rider, Aachen newcomer Candice King of Wellington, FL (who also began her riding career in California) and Skara Glen’s Davos, a 10-year-old Zangersheide gelding by Carthago Z x Pericles XX.

King said afterward, “I was thrilled. I had a great Rotterdam, so that helped me feel a lot more confident coming into Aachen. It’s been a lifetime dream to come here to Aachen, and I’m finally here at 40 years old! With a young horse, I was just really pleased. It felt like he jumped great. I was just a little unlucky; I didn’t quite get to that one vertical in the second round. I was close to having a double clear. I’m very happy.”

Nicole Simpson of Thousand Oaks, CA (originally from the East coast!), was also competing for the first time in the Nations Cup in Aachen. She and Tristan, a 10-year-old Dutch gelding by Lancelot x Ferro, had just one rail down in the tricky triple combination coming home. Anchor rider Laura Kraut, also of Wellington, FL, had an unfortunate fault at the open water to finish on four faults with Cedric, a 12-year-old Dutch gelding by Chamberlain x Carolus.

Following the first round, the American team sat in a five-way tie for first place with a total of four faults with Ireland, France, Switzerland, and Germany. Their solid trips in the second round would help them rise above two of those teams.

Hough and Quick Study, owned by Laura and Meredith Mateo, had a rail in the double combination to start out the second round for the American team. King and Skara Glen’s Davos, owned by Skara Glen Stables and Ira Gumberg, also contributed four faults.

Simpson and Ilan Ferder’s Tristan helped the team with an all-important clear round as the third American combination, while Kraut and Cedric, owned by Happy Hill Farm and Peter Wetherill, had just a rail at the triple bar.

The United States ended up with a solid third place. The “all-girls” team and their Chef d’Equipe George H. Morris were pleased with their placing as they finished with a total of 12 penalty points, just three points behind Germany with nine and not far from the winners, Ireland, with just four faults.

“I’m always proud of my girls,” Chef d’Equipe Morris commented with a smile. “We had a little thing here and a little thing there, but to be in this company was stellar. It’s fabulous to be here and I’m lucky to have been participating here for so many years.”

Placings in the Grand Prix of Aachen
In the first round of the ROLEX Grand Prix of Aachen, two American riders were clear to advance to the second round. Candice King came back in the second spot in the order on Skara Glen’s Davos, owned by Skara Glen Stables and Ira Gumberg. They finished with 12 faults for 15th place. Laura Kraut returned two trips later with Cedric, owned by Happy Hill Farm and Peter Wetherill. They accrued eight faults and finished 10th.

On to Hickstead, Dublin & Lexington…
The third and final tour started recently in Hickstead. Bob Kraut and Graf Lando, McLain Ward and Rothchild, Cara Raether and Ublesco and Rich Fellers with Flexible competed in The Meydan FEI Nations Cup of Great Britain and also finished third with 29 penalty points. Germany was second with 22 points and Great Britain won with a fabulous final score of 7 penalty points.

The final event on The Meydan Nations Cup Tour was in Dublin, the United States finished second there as well as in the overall standings, jumping ahead of Great Britain by 1.5 points and 9.5 points behind France. After a great showing in Europe, the Selection Committee recently picked the short list of riders who will represent the US at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games this October.