Tuesday, Apr. 16, 2024

Nicole Shahinian-Simpson Is Looking To Give SRF Dragonfly Mileage On 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. To read Nicole's first installment, click here.

After the Olympic selection trials in March, SRF Dragonfly didn’t show much before the $200,000 Budweiser American Invitational (Fla.) on April 5.  But then a big thunderstorm hit right before we were supposed to jump, so I scratched from the class.
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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. To read Nicole’s first installment, click here.

After the Olympic selection trials in March, SRF Dragonfly didn’t show much before the $200,000 Budweiser American Invitational (Fla.) on April 5.  But then a big thunderstorm hit right before we were supposed to jump, so I scratched from the class.

I had to think about a couple of things. It would have been the first time Dragonfly had shown on grass for quite some time. The conditions weren’t ideal for that, with the wet ground. I didn’t want her to have a bad class or a bad experience leading up to the summer and the tour. I thought we’d be better off sitting in our stall than getting hurt or leaving a bad taste in her mind. It’s OK to sit out. The owners were wonderful and supportive of that decision. I think it was the right thing to do.

Then, we went to the Charlotte Jumper Classic (N.C.) on April 11-13. I was unfortunately very sick at Charlotte, so I was kind of in a haze. It was her first time showing indoors in a long time. The first class, I have to say, I was a little rusty showing indoors too. I didn’t really know her indoors and her stride in a small ring. But we got better, and by the $500,000 Grand Prix of Charlotte, she was fantastic. She had the second-to-last jump down and finished 23rd with a rail and a time fault, but she jumped the rest fantastically and easily. I was very impressed with her there.
   
Then, we shipped to Germany and spent a few weeks at Ansgar and Ellen Holtger’s farm, until we shipped to La Baule, France. There, we met up with Anne Kursinski, Charlie Jayne, Kate Levy and Will Simpson—our team for the Samsung Super League at La Baule, May 7-11.

An Unexpected Wrinkle

The show at La Baule was all on grass, and Dragonfly hasn’t really shown on the grass in a year and a half or two years. And I’d never shown her on grass.

On Thursday, there was a qualifier for the grand prix, and it was the first class in the ring. She had three down. It kind of made me think a little bit after that class because—other than early this year in Florida for the trials—that horse has really only competed in California, and there are only a few different venues there. The trials were great, but that’s a false sense of reality, because you’re in the same ring for three months.
   

“You think you’re going to pick right up where you left off at the trials, and it wasn’t that easy.”

She’s not a spooky mare in any way, at the jumps, but the atmosphere at La Baule got to her a bit—there’s a lot to look at. She was maybe a little distracted. She didn’t go badly in any sense but just showed a bit of a lack of experience and mileage. Every class, she got better and better, and she finished great. She was seventh in the small grand prix on Sunday. There were 50 in the last class and around 20 in the jump-off, and she was double-clear and really jumped the jump-off well.
   
Because she wasn’t quite herself, I didn’t show her in the Nations Cup. [U.S. Chef D’Equipe George Morris] was right on page with my thoughts and agreed that we should use it as a building show. He was happy to see her get better and better. He really respects that we all have our programs and know our horses. He’s there for anything that we need, but he lets us do our thing. We walk the courses and all confer together and with George.
   
[The U.S. team of Kursinski, Levy, Jayne and Simpson finished tied for second in the Samsung Super League Nations Cup. (See p. 27)] I was rooting for the team. It’s a different kind of nerves than when you’re riding.

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“When you step out of a situation, you learn quickly what reality is, and Europe is reality.”

George and I talked a lot about the fact that we didn’t think about it until we were in the situation, but she’s really only been a handful of places. She’s a smart mare, so she picked up on things quickly and learned from it quickly. In fairness to her, it’s a whole other step on the ladder. Not showing in the Nations Cup or the big grand prix was the right thing to do. It was a good experience for her.
   
I think that as she goes to different places every week, that will become part of her routine. She just needs to get used to showing up at a new place and going into a new ring week after week.

Becoming Old Hat

I think this is our biggest learning curve, right now. In Florida, I got comfortable there and started to think that I knew her well. But really, it’s just the beginning. I think that if we had been going to different venues each week, I’d have a different learning curve. That’s what I’m feeling right now, and it seems so small, and yet it’s so big.

It’s just acknowledging Dragonfly’s lack of experience at different places and trying to accommodate her as best I can without being caught off guard.

I was caught off guard the first class because I didn’t think about it. You think you’re going to pick right up where you left off at the trials, and it wasn’t that easy.

From La Baule, the horses went to a beautiful farm just outside Milan, Italy, where they’re laying over before the Rome CSI (Italy) on May 22-25. I think that all the travel on this tour, with the shows and the layover farms we’re going to, will help Dragonfly get seasoned. She’s constantly switching places. I think very quickly, she’ll start thinking, ‘OK, this is what we do.’ I expect her to have it become old hat soon.
   
I had to fly back to the States to show some other horses, so my groom, Denise Horner, stayed with Dragonfly. She rides and has been in the business forever and ever. She’s great with the horses and is a great support system. She’s keeping Dragonfly going. What’s nice about that horse is that she’s a really easy keeper. She’s easy to ride on the flat and uncomplicated. There’s nothing specific that I have to school with her. She’s easy in between shows, which makes it nice.

Nicole Shahinian-Simpson, as told to Molly Sorge

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