Wednesday, May. 29, 2024

Nicole Shahinian-Simpson Didn’t Expect To Be Traveling The Road To The Olympics

In this series, the Chronicle follows six riders as they seek to fulfill their Olympic dreams in Hong Kong in 2008.

SRF Dragonfly’s owner, Katie Polk, an amateur rider, is originally from California and moved to New York City to work. She started riding with me in November, and Dragonfly came to the East Coast.
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In this series, the Chronicle follows six riders as they seek to fulfill their Olympic dreams in Hong Kong in 2008.

SRF Dragonfly’s owner, Katie Polk, an amateur rider, is originally from California and moved to New York City to work. She started riding with me in November, and Dragonfly came to the East Coast.

I knew the horse from California. She had been very successful out there. I said to the Polks that winning grand prix classes in California is a little different than jumping on Sunday at [the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Fla.]. I didn’t want them to have expectations that weren’t fair to the horse. I took the ride and said to the owners that we’d keep going and see where she ended up.

I really had no pre-conceived expectations of anything. I knew Dragonfly had jumped good 1.50-meter classes and she’d produced out in California, winning World Cup-qualifying classes [with Leslie Steele]. To some degree, she’d proven herself. But when you come to Florida and there are 80 in the Sunday class, it’s a different test. She had never been asked anything of that caliber. So, I figured we’d take each step as it
came and she’d tell us where she wanted to be.

I started the circuit at a Littlewood show in a $10,000 welcome stake and she won that. We just built off
of that. I didn’t have any expectation of anything. She just kept cruising along. (Over five rounds of the
USEF Olympic Selection Trials, SRF Dragonfly had just three rails and finished second in the final standings.)

Every step of the way, I was so pleasantly surprised and happy with her. Every challenge and every course she did, she said to me, ‘OK, this is fine.’ Before the trials, she was a horse that hadn’t been put to the kind of test that the trials put you through—jumping tough courses day after day. But she never once gave me a feeling that she questioned anything.

She stood at the in-gate time after time and was always as confident as the last time. For a horse that’s never jumped that many big classes in a row, it was impressive. Normally, you like to jump a big class and then drop down and jump something easy.

Every time, she jumped it easily and answered all the technical questions. I was just thrilled, and the owners were so thrilled. It was a nice bonus to not have any expectations of a horse and have her be better than you imagined.

Getting To Know Dragonfly

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She’s very workmanlike and straightforward. She goes out there and does the job. There’s nothing quirky about her—she’s a fantastic water jumper, she’s adjustable, she’s quick across the ground. The key is that she really enjoys what she’s doing.

She’s easy to take care of and be around. Once she gets up to the ring, she’s a bit excited and she gets a little fired up, but that’s a good thing. At the barn, she likes her treats and carrots, and she’s always attentive. She watches what goes on.

Dragonfly lives at a farm in Wellington off the showgrounds. She gets fed in the morning and then goes in a walker for about 40 minutes. Then, she gets turned out in a paddock. I’ll ride her at some point, and she goes on the treadmill every other day. She’s an easy keeper, and she stays fit easily.

When I first started riding her, I showed her in a Happy Mouth gag, but then I switched to a full cheek snaffle-mouth gag. She’s not really strong, but that bit suits her. She shows in that, and at home I ride her in a ball or bubble bit.

About Nicole Shahinian-Simpson

Hometown: Wellington, Fla.

Age: 33

Horse: SRF Dragonfly, an 11-year-old,
               Belgian Warmblood mare
               (Landwind—Monika) owned by
               Silver Raven Farm
   
Children: Sophie, 10, and Ty, 6

Dragonfly came out of the trials, and a few days later we went over her physically. She was like a rock, which was wonderful to see. Not only are the horses going through the trials mentally, but they’re also getting stressed physically. But she came out of them just as well as she went into them, so that was nice that she handled it well physically.

Since the trials, she has been in work—we do a lot of flatwork. I jumped her a little bit just to stretch her back. And [Dragonfly showed in the Penta Water Welcome Stake on March 28 in Wellington, where she placed seventh], just to get in the ring and get some preparation for the [$200,000 Budweiser American Invitational on April 5].

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I think her attitude and her mind will make her go well in Europe. Mentally, she enjoys her job. She’s happy to walk in the ring and produce for you. She has good stamina and is fit, so I think she’ll be just fine.

Looking Ahead To Europe

I’m just happy to be in this situation right now, and I’ll try to build off it. I’m happy it came around at a great time for me.

Prior to this time around, the last two Olympic years I’ve been pretty close. El Campeon’s Circa Z [whom Shahinian-Simpson rode on the 2002 World Equestrian Games team] was right up there in 2000, and then he got hurt on the last day of the trials. That was a real bummer.  In 2004, on El Campeon’s So Long, I again was in contention. But he pulled a shoe on the first round of the last day and hurt his foot. That was frustrating, to have that happen again.

Since then, I’ve been in a rebuilding stage. I’ve been taking every day as it comes. That’s what I’ve come to—that things happen for a reason and you take every day as it comes. It’s great that Dragonfly came into my career at this point.
   

“I didn’t want them to
have expectations that weren’t
fair to the horse.”

About the selection trial process, I don’t know what the answer is. It’s something we’ve battled for so long. Obviously, in this day and age, there has to be some objectivity. I just figure we can make suggestions, but at the end of the day, not everyone’s going to be happy about it. I just figure this is the criteria, and this is what we’ve got to do.

As far as a lot of jumping, I think it was good that they had the trials within a horse show rather than as stand-alone classes. If anything, the horses in Europe jump a lot more than we jump. And to some degree, we have to be up for that and our horses have to be prepared for that.  Instead of saving them and waiting for Sunday, then when you get to a championship situation, we have to know that our horses can jump multiple rounds in a week and peak in them.

I’m not worried about the conditions in Hong Kong—I don’t get too hung up on all that because I
figure that by the time it all comes it will be sorted out.  We’re all in the same boat, and I trust that they’ll
do whatever is necessary to make it safe.
   
Dragonfly is going to show at the Charlotte Jumper Classic [N.C., on April 11-13] and leave for Europe around April 17. We’re going to be based out of Ansgar and Ellen Holtger’s farm [Gut Ainhaus in Germany]. From there, we’ll travel down to La Baule [France] and  meet up with the rest of the team.
I’m not sure what I’ll do after St. Gallen [Switzerland]; I’d like to stay in Europe and do some shows there.
   
I’m happy to be on that tour in the sense that there are three shows; it’ll be a good situation.  We just have to go and do the best we can and see what happens.

Nicole Shahinian-Simpson, as told to Molly Sorge

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