Sunday, May. 26, 2024

Groom Spotlight: Hard Work And Humor Set Stephanie Simpson Apart

Growing up on a dairy farm in Vermont, Stephanie Simpson had hardly thought about a horse before she was 18.

Now, seven years later, she’s living a dream she never knew she had as a groom for eventers Dom and Jimmie Schramm.

“They knew I was really green, but growing up on a farm, I knew the hard work and that wasn’t a problem,” said Simpson. “It was something I was really interested in. Things that I didn’t know, I was willing to research and put the time into learning.”

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Growing up on a dairy farm in Vermont, Stephanie Simpson had hardly thought about a horse before she was 18.

Now, seven years later, she’s living a dream she never knew she had as a groom for eventers Dom and Jimmie Schramm.

“They knew I was really green, but growing up on a farm, I knew the hard work and that wasn’t a problem,” said Simpson. “It was something I was really interested in. Things that I didn’t know, I was willing to research and put the time into learning.”

Simpson got involved with horses when one of her cousins started a boarding barn the next town over from her hometown of Sutton, Vt. She started helping out and eventually met an eventing trainer, Michelle Lemieux. She tagged along to a few events, got some lessons from her mother for Christmas and was soon bitten by the bug.

“I didn’t know anything about eventing until I went to Millbrook Horse Trials [N.Y.],” she recalled. “It was there that I saw what the sport was actually about, then I found eventingnation.com and all that stuff, so I would read about it and getting to go see events put it all together.”

While earning her bachelors degree in animal science with a focus on equine studies, Simpson bought her first horse, an off-the-track Thoroughbred named Deuce.

She was too busy with school to compete or ride regularly, but once she graduated, she decided to dive into the eventing world and see where it led her.

After a working student position in Pennsylvania didn’t work out, Simpson came across the Schramms’ ad online for a groom in 2013. While she didn’t have a lot of real world grooming experience, she relied on humor to get their attention.

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“She had sent us an email and jokingly said she would be a good fit to be able to understand my accent because she had worked at Outback Steakhouse, which I thought was kind of humorous,” said Dom, who’s Australian. More importantly though, the Scramms took a chance on Simpson because of her background at her family dairy farm, which they knew required a lot of hard work.

“That was more important to us than anything,” said Dom. “She’s been really great. I think it’s important for these relationships to work and that people are compatible and that they have the same priorities. The fact that she is prepared to work very hard for what she wants and also keep it lighthearted—there’s nothing worse than being in a barn where people are walking around on eggshells all the time. I don’t think it’s good for the horses or the people. She’s been able to fit in our idea of wanting to go out there and do the best job we can with the horses, but we’re also trying to have fun and make it an enjoyable place to be.”

Simpson, 25, brought Deuce with her to the Schramms, but sold him last year and took on a new project OTTB, Herr Mozart, from her vet Mary Griffin. Simpson had no prior eventing experience and has brought the gelding up the levels under the Schramm’s guidance, and the pair had a successful training level debut this season.

On a regular day, Simpson gets to the barn at 7:15 a.m. and brings in and feeds the 15-20 horses under her care. She describes herself as “OCD,” and wants the horses looking their best before the Schramms get there, so she often grooms them all so they’re ready to be tacked up as soon as needed.

“I think that’s a good quality about her,” said Dom of Simpson’s detailed work. “She wants to do it properly. We all know that attention to detail with caring for horses is of the utmost importance. I would also say that she’s been very helpful because she can deal with the clients very well. I think people that meet her feel very confident in her ability to take care of the horses, and sometimes they’ll call her before they call me if it’s about the horse’s care. It’s nice for her to be able to take that responsibility.”

Simpson will help the couple throughout the day as needed, riding or tacking up and doing chores, then she’ll ride her own horse and feed dinner at 3 p.m. Then it’s off to babysit for some extra cash, making a 13- or 14-hour day. The Schramms will have one or two working students throughout the year, so Simpson often has help, but sometimes it’s just the three of them.

“It’s an interesting dynamic working for a married couple,” she said. “It’s really fun. Dom and Jimmie are very different as far as their personalities and riding goes. Domm is more like fly by the seat of his pants, and Jimmie’s kind of more calculated, which is good for me, because I need both sides of that. I’m kind of a control freak.”

Simpson also stars in some of the Schramms’ popular Evention TV videos, although she admits she was a little apprehensive at first.

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“I think the Evention thing is so different than anything anybody else is doing,” she said. “It’s fun to be filming one day, then going to a horse show the next day. Everything is always changing day to day.”

Although her career is short in the grand scheme of things, Simpson reached a big goal already this spring when she groomed Bellamy for Jimmie at the Rolex Kentucky CCI****.

“Being a rookie and not having the experience that most other people that are there have—you see William Fox-Pitt’s groom walking around, or Phillip [Dutton’s] groom Emma [Ford]—I’m just this kid from Vermont. It’s kind of an ‘I-have-no-business-being-there-but-I-am!’ kind of deal!” she said. “I put pressure on myself because I’m a perfectionist and have a slight sense of OCD about the turnout of the horses at the shows. I think being somewhere where you’re around the world’s best adds pressure. You want your horse to look good and you want everything to be presented well.”


Stephanie Simpson (right) got to experience a big four-star when she groomed for Jimmie Schramm (left) and Bellamy at the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** this spring along with Jimmie’s husband, Dom (center). 

Simpson admitted she’s able to live her dreams with the help of a supportive family and isn’t sure how long she’ll continue as a groom, but for now, she’s got a big bucket list.

“I personally would like to do something in Europe, like go to Burghley or Badminton as a groom,” she said. “As far as where I see myself in five years, I have no idea! I do like to ride as well. I think whatever I do end up doing, I think it would be horse involved, but I don’t know what that will be.”

“We hear so many stories about these sort of upstart kids with tons of money and tons of opportunity. I think it’s really cool that here’s a girl who basically bought her own horse only five years ago. She decided to get into riding completely on her own and just basically get to the point where she is now and the experience level where she is now, simply just by working hard,” said Dom.

“She works three jobs a lot of the time, she babysits every day, she’s [often] cleaning stalls for other people before she starts work for us. She’s such a worker, and I think it’s kind of nice to see that there are still young people out there who are really prepared to put in the hard hours to get what they want,” he continued. “It’s inspiring to me to be around her and see how hard she works without complaint and without getting burned out.”

This is the second article in Groom Spotlight, a new series of groom profiles to be featured on www.coth.com. Make sure to follow www.coth.com and like the Chronicle’s Facebook page to see them posted. If you know a fantastic groom you’d like to see appear in this series, email molly@chronofhorse.com.

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