By Erin Gilmore
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?
NS: 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?
NS: 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?
NS: 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?
NS: 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?
NS: 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?
NS: 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.
WS: 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?
NS: 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.