Sunday, May. 19, 2024

Nicole Shahinian-Simpson Learned A Lot On Her 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. Click here to read Nicole's first installment in our April 11 issue, or here to view her second from May 30.


In this series, the Chronicle follows six riders as they seek to fulfill their Olympic dreams in Hong Kong in 2008. Click here to read Nicole’s first installment in our April 11 issue, or here to view her second from May 30.

I have mixed feelings about [not being named to the U.S. Olympic team. Shahinian-Simpson and SRF Dragonfly were listed as the third-ranked reserves]. It’s disappointing for sure. I was disappointed for the mare because she is a real trier, and she’s really risen to the occasion of international sport.

After La Baule [France], Dragonfly basically progressed as I expected her to. She matured a lot after the first week. She’s that type of horse. She developed and has been going fantastically.

Showing in Europe was a little bit of a new venture only because she hadn’t been to a lot of places or venues. But she’s not the type of horse that takes a lot of time to adjust. Now, it’s old hat to her. She’ll ship to a show, get off the truck and be fresh and ready to go. After La Baule, she was right in the groove.

She went to Rome [Italy, May 22-25], and I couldn’t have asked her to be any better. She jumped a 1.45-meter class on Thursday, where we just cantered around.

Friday was the Nations Cup. I had one down in the first round, right at the end of the course. It was just unlucky—she barely touched it. I was happy with her because she jumped very well. In the second round, she jumped clear, so that was fun. It was big and technical and the time was tight. She handled everything fantastically [and the U.S. team finished in second].


In the [$194,090 Grand Prix of Rome] on Sunday, I went really late, so I had to wait around. It was tough—I walked it and thought, “Wow, this is big.” She was fantastic—clear in the first round. The combination was difficult, and a lot of horses had faults there. But she jumped through there perfectly, and I thought, “That was so easy!” She jumped with a lot of confidence.

I was the fastest clear first round, so I got to come back last for the second round. I didn’t get to see Denis Lynch, who went right before me, and he was the only double clear. I went in, and I felt like I needed to pick up the pace a bit. After we jumped the first jump great, we came around the turn and I just caught a little bit of a long, flat distance to a skinny vertical. Unfortunately, we had that down and another one, but she was great. I was thrilled with her. [They finished 14th in the class.]

Keep Fighting

At St. Gallen [Switzerland, May 29-June 6], I did a nice little class on Thursday and then Friday was the Nations Cup. She jumped clear in the first round, which was wonderful.

She jumped the first round with such ease that I think I probably took it all for granted. We came back in the second round and had the first jump down. It was the smallest jump on course, and it was just a silly thing. And then we had a fault at the water.

I had just gotten done saying to [owner Katie Polk] she’s such a good water jumper—I never have to worry about that. She literally barely put her heel on the tape, and I thought, “I’ll never say that to anyone again!” She jumped the triple combination—which was really scopey—great and jumped all the hard parts well. She didn’t do anything wrong. I think the two faults I had in the second round were me being a little bit lax. I have to remember that—to keep up the fight!

In the [$180,834 St. Gallen Grand Prix], I had to go first. She jumped great, but we had two down. One oxer came down in the middle of the course for no particular reason. She just barely touched it behind on her way down. And then the end of the course, you jumped the water and then made a left turn to a vertical-oxer double.


The double walked normally in one stride, and she’s always been great in combinations, so I wasn’t worried about it.

But it rode slightly downhill, so a lot of horses—Dragonfly being one—jumped the vertical and set themselves and didn’t take a nice forward stride. So, she did that and we had the oxer down. Had I seen a few horses go and realized how it was riding, I would have ridden it differently. She could have jumped all the complicated parts with her eyes closed, and I was thrilled with her.

On Reflection

In the second round [of the Nations Cup at St. Gallen], the eight-fault score didn’t reflect how she went. I was thrilled with her performance. But for the Olympic team selection, the faults mattered.
I was disappointed because I think the type of horse she is gets overlooked in a selection process like this, because she’s not as visually impressive. She’s a funny horse because when you watch her go, she jumps just what she needs to jump. If it’s a 1.40-meter jump, she jumps 1.40 meters. If it’s a 1.60-meter jump, she jumps 1.60 meters. She’s a very efficient horse. She’s not the type of horse that has a big, scopey, jump with a lot of air. When you’re sitting in the stands watching, you might pass up a horse like her just due to the visual. I think in the end that’s what might be different between her and some of the others.

After all of the courses I’ve jumped on her, I’ve never felt her struggle. I have no reason to question her scope. She jumps the hard, technical, scopey parts of courses really well. And she’s easy to get to know, and it’s not that difficult to ride her. Yes, I would have liked to have finished up at St. Gallen with a better score, but it was one of those things where the score didn’t really reflect how she went. I think if she had to be in an Olympic situation, she would have handled it just fine.
But the owners are thrilled with her, and that’s our selection process.
I do think that the selection process that we went through this year probably has made the most sense. I don’t know that it’s the final answer. It was nice to jump in Florida in classes that we basically would have been showing in anyway. Coming to Europe and getting into the swing of things in this environment is important. That was a good plan.
After St. Gallen, there really wasn’t any reason to rush home and show there and we were already here, so we showed at Falsterbo [Sweden] and are on the [Samsung Super League team with Lauren Hough, Charlie Jayne, Hillary Dobbs and Michael Morrissey for] Hickstead [England, July 24-27] and Dublin [Ireland, Aug. 6-10]. We’ll see what happens, but there’s also the possibility of being on a team for Spruce Meadows [Alta.] and/or [the final of the Samsung Super League in Barcelona, Spain on Sept. 18-21]. I’ll stay available for that. We’ll just fill in some nice shows here in between.
My two children, Ty and Sophie, are here with me. Sophie rides, so she helps me ride both the mares I have here. She rides Dragonfly sometimes. Ty keeps himself busy with soccer and they both people-jump; they have jumps set up everywhere. They both really enjoy watching. They’re great cheerleaders. 

Nicole Shahinian-Simpson, as told to Molly Sorge




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