So glad to have you back for part II of eventer Jenn Simmons’ interview. Here she gets into her partnership with horses (be prepared, it’s a tear jerker), a few pet peeves, and the path to being the best eventer you can be. Now those are some tips I’ll take! Do you recognize the cutie kicking off part II? You may have seen him at shows. It’s Cracker, Jennifer’s constant companion and famed eventing dog. Now that’s the way to live.
Q. What part of riding is most important to you?
A. You have to do it because you love it because the dry spells can be long, mine was. But there’s nothing in the world that compares to bringing a horse along. I’m fortunate to have JB [J.B's Star] and Morgan. That horse has wealth of experience. We’re competing at the Advanced level but I’m still working on my partnership with him. But I can tell you when I go out of the box on JB I know what’s going to happen. We talk the same language. The best aspect is having the partnership with your horses. For me it’s everything. Knowing how much water they drink, what kind of grain they like, seeing them in the field before they get upset, knowing what sets them off, knowing how to put studs in without upsetting them. Knowing your horses inside-out. I get a lot of flack for it because I think people think my horses are spoiled as far as walking on top of me, or whatever. You pick the things you need to have the conversation about but I let a lot of things slide. Morgan is really funny. The first time I tried to pull his mane he flattened me against a wall. I’m a super micromanager and have a million pet peeves. I’m probably a very difficult person to work for. I’ll admit it! But I won’t ask someone to do something that I haven’t already done or isn’t something I would do. I’ve done it all myself.
Q. What are some of the pet peeves?
A. Putting a bridle on a horse that’s too small. Let it out before you put it on! That makes me crazy. Dirty ears also make me crazy; they’ve got to be curried, I don’t like looking at dirty, crusty ears. Woof Boots that are too tight and the straps have to be symmetrical, not at angles. Blankets that are too big, that would be another pet peeve.
Q. Tell us more about forming a partnership with your horse.
A. I do think that very few of us ride like Phillip Dutton. He can get on a horse and instantly speak the language and have great outing. For the rest of us it’s very difficult to hop on an Advanced horse and go!
I have a lot of horses that come through my barn door and one thing I say is: horses never lie. The first ride I know exactly what the problem is and if you’re listening they’ll tell you what’s going on. It’s fulfilling when I can make a partnership work for them. You develop that partnership. With Morgan we bought a three star horse and you think it will be very straightforward but for that horse he thinks I’m talking Japanese all the time. His previous jockey was very, very good. I’m good but not that good. He’s seeing a lot of distances he’s never seen before! I took steps backwards so I could strengthen our partnership. We went out to Southern Pines and did the Advanced and looking back to when I was at Southern Pines Intermediate our relationship is in a totally different place. Now I’m riding my own ride not someone else’s. That feels pretty special. I feel like I’ve done right by him and filled in all the gaps and crossed our t’s and dotted our i’s.
There are some horses that just touch your life. Horses that you will carry with you forever. There are the greats, such as Brumby, JB, Morgan, that will always be dear to me as they give me everything they’ve got, on a silver platter, with a smile on their face. But there are others whose lives are not as fortunate. They’ve taken a more difficult path.
I had a horse, named Three Point Landing, aka ’3PO’. When he came to me, he was an eight year old, still racing, but banned from Charles Town for his bad behavior. He had been thru Red Revelle’s program for “naughty” horses, and I was the end of the line for him. There were no more options. He was banned from flat tracks and wasn’t really good enough for steeplechasing. And so I ended up with him. How? Because I went tailgating at the MB races, and I saw him before the race started. I looked him up, and lo and behold, the trainer was a good friend. I inquired about the horse and they were happy to get rid of him. Our partnership started there. He was hot, sensitive, slightly dangerous, and I frickin’ loved him. He was a beautiful stamp of a horse, had a trot and canter to die for, and was inherently brave, scopey, etc. You couldn’t hold the reins, you couldn’t lay your leg on him, but I frickin’ loved him. He was MY horse. I let no one else ride him. We got along like peas ‘n carrots. We got him going Training level before he had an unfortunate accident and we had to humanely destroy him. It broke my heart, but I had tremendous peace of mind that I was there at the end, and I could now be sure nothing else bad would ever happen to him, as his life at the track had been very tough for him. I kept him safe to the very end, and I would like to think I made his life better. I was someone who understood him, loved him, treasured him. With all his idiosyncrasies. I wouldn’t have traded him for the world. I couldn’t wait to ride him everyday. Despite the ear pinning, trying to attack me in the stall, the galloping away from the mounting block every day. He was putty in my hands. I loved him, and he knew it. I will remember that horse always. He wasn’t a world-beater, but he was a winner to me. I loved him. I made his life better, and he undoubtedly made mine. That’s why I ride. That’s why I do what I do. They aren’t all going to the Olympics, but when I can make their lives better, how lucky am I?!
Q. What do I need to focus on to be the best eventer I can be?
A. Make sure the person you’re working with is someone you trust. Someone who will make good decisions for you and have good report. Trust your gut. You want somebody in your corner who knows when to hold your hand if you just want to jump cross-rails today. It happens all the time it’s a negotiation every lesson. Not everybody is trying to get to the Olympics. Maybe the goal is to jump 2 feet. For the people that are trying to go Prelim or have certain goals in mind you to have somebody you trust that’s gonna back up good decisions on your behalf. When you get in the tack and you strap on your helmet your brain goes out the door. It’s like you can’t ride. Having someone you trust who can help you make good decisions based on what you’re doing that day so your education stays in the growing process. You never want to take away confidence, you want to instill confidence. It’s easy to lose your confidence riding, it can happen like that with one bad decision.
Q. Anything you want to add?
A. I would say it’s been privilege to be a part of PRO [Professional Riders Organization]. It’s a great organization and it’s comprised of amazing people that really want to spearhead some positive changes within the sport. I’m gonna have to agree with Allison [Springer] as far as when things are written down it becomes the truth. When all that hoo-rah happened at [Rolex]Kentucky with Laine [Ashker] it was amazing to me how many people were ready to jump up and down and shake their finger and call eventing a bad sport. No matter what level we can all appreciate the fun of having a relationship with a horse whether you’re riding Beginner Novice or at Rolex. Don’t be the first one to put the pillow over your head. Stand up for what you believe in. PRO lets me stand up for what I love. Instead of shaking our finger, well how are we going to change it?
Thanks for reading, friends! Share your thoughts and responses to hearing from top eventer Jennifer Simmons with comments below. Always such fun! And, as always, don’t hesitate to send me rider interview requests or topics about which you’d like to hear about. Talk soon!