I sat down with Eventer Jenn Simmons (who just recently came in 4th at this Spring’s Jersey Fresh CIC*** on J.B’s Star) in the apartment above the barn she and Mara Dean shared in Aiken, SC for the winter. In short order she had me in fits of laughter, near tears, and immediately a friend. Here are the riotous stories of growing up riding in Suburbia, a father’s promise, the horse to whom she owes everything, and nearly missing jogs at her first 3-Day event. Plus a brain that goes 150 miles an hour, her favorite authors, and running gear!
photo by Allie Conrad: allieconrad [at] gmail [dot] com
Q. Where did you grow up?
A. I grew up outside of Houston Texas, I lived in suburbia. I had two options growing up in suburbia for horses: I could keep the horses in the suburb stables or the do-it-yourself and pay $50 a month for a stall. I did do that for a little while and my father drove me to the barn at 4:30am every morning. I also swam in high school so had to be in the pool by 5:15am or something crazy and I had to do my horse before that. The other option was to keep the horses with the lady who I rode with at the time and she was about 45 minutes away. My dad was very funny. He drove me down to the dmv to get my license at 15 and told them I needed a hardship license. And I got one? The hours were from 4:30am to 9am and when you’re 15 that’s all you want! I was a good kid. By the time I was 16 I was driving the truck and trailer because I didn’t trust my parents to do it properly!
Q. When and how did horses come into your life?
A. When I was very little we spent a little bit of time in New Jersey. There was one person who had enough acreage to have a horse. She had Arabians and one Shetland pony that her kids had outgrown. I would pick grass, rake outside of the barn. I would just hang out and she was stuck with this neighborhood kid. I started riding a pony named Domino and he was awesome. I was ten and I rode him till I was eleven and we moved back to Texas. I could almost tie my feet under his belly at that point. She had a Western saddle and I couldn’t figure out how to do the cinch so I went bareback. I always blame her for getting me into horses!
photo by Leslie Mintz of the USEA
Q. When did you know you would be an eventer?
A. So we moved to Texas when I was eleven and I was really upset to leave all my friends. My father promised me that everyone has a horse in their backyard in Texas so we’ll get you a horse. We got to Texas and I was like, okay, let’s get my horse now! My dad was like, what? My mom stepped up and said you promised you’d buy your daughter a horse you better do it. I was doing the hunter-jumpers and there was an Arabian Western-Pleasure horse that the people had made payments on and had been repossessed. They just wanted the $1500 left on him. Boom, that was it: my first horse was an Arabian gelding who did western pleasure. We rented a trailer to get him to local events; it was royal blue, this little tag along trailer, for thirty dollars a day.
Even back then the Arabians wouldn’t get a lot of attention in hunter-jumpers. Even as a kid, around twelve, kids would go in and fall off and be on the wrong lead and they’d still pin above me. That’s how I got into eventing. I wanted to have a fair chance. He won all the time and was cute and submissive and would jump anything. Judges loved him. I sold him to a kid in the barn and she did the same thing.
I started riding another horse whose owners had defaulted on the board named Famous Amos, a 16.2h chestnut gelding. I just loved him. He was hot and tough and sensitive and I adored him. We paid his board bill, a whopping $3,000. I took him Training and wanted to take him Prelim but this was before joint injections and Adequan and he wouldn’t stay sound. The one nice horse my parents bought me was an Intermediate horse in Texas who had cantered around the one intermediate track in Area 5. I graduated from high school and moved to Area 3 as working student for a year before college. I ended up in the ditch at all the competitions. There were no ditches in area 5 and I didn’t realize that until I got to area 3!
I went to David Hopper and had very little money to spend. David at that point was buying and selling a lot of horses off the track and I bought a four-year-old from him. The horse’s name was Lady Catcher, also known as George. That horse did everything for me. He was funny looking and had pedialostopis but we went all the way through Advanced. Later I timber raced him and he was super competitive on the point-to-point circuit in Virginia. He couldn’t trot his way out a paper bag but tried hard and was a hell of a jumper. He was an awesome horse and I owe everything to him.
As I was graduating from college I was getting ready for my first one star, Bromont. My parents were going to go with me. We went out to dinner before we were leaving and I got terrible food poisoning. I didn’t even get out to parking lot before I knew I was something was wrong. I was turned inside out. We left anyway and we had to pull over every hour. We didn’t make it to Canada. We called David Hopper and said we need a place to stay and I ended up going to emergency room getting a bag of fluids. We got there a day late on Wednesday. People are running around and there’s turmoil and excitement and electricity. This is how I met Craig Thompson. I asked him, “Excuse me why is everyone is running around?” He said because the jog starts in 20 minutes. I said: “What jog?”. Bless his heart. Forever Craig will be a friend of mine because of this. He told me to tell them you just arrived and tell them your horse isn’t braided. I presented my horse unbraided, doubled over, sweating, and in shorts. I didn’t read that part in the manual and somehow that went right over my head. Jog? What jog? We laugh about it now. I had read the part about galloping so my horse was plenty fit but we almost didn’t make the first jog.
photo by Emily Daily of the USEA
Q. How would you describe yourself?
A. I’m definitely high energy. My brain is going 150 miles an hour. Someone can say something to me 15 years ago and I remember everything. I watch everything so I’m lucky sharing barn with Mara [Dean]. I watch everybody ride, how they warm their horses up. You pick everything up. I’m high energy that way. I do yoga and run a lot and read a lot and love to write. I like to spend time with friends. Friendships are important. I have a lot of great friends and am very lucky that way. Family is important to. I’m very close to my family.
Q. What are your favorite clothes for running and yoga?
A. I know Lulu lemon is the hot thing but it’s pricy. I’m an Under Armour girl. It’s great because I have it on under my britches and I just peel those off and go running!
Q. What do you read?
A. Mostly fiction. I love Cormack McCarthy. Cormack is like poetry. It’s like 300 pages of poetry; it just flows across the page. When you find a writer that you really like and their writing is so beautiful it’s such a treat. It’s such a gift, I wish I could write like that; it’s just mindboggling. You look at something so beautiful, it’s such a treasure. I’ve read about everything of his.
And that’s just Part I for Jenn’s interview! Check back for Part II and her tips on how to become the best eventer you can be, a few pet peeves, and forming a partnership with your horse.