Before Simon Schroeder enters the hunter derby ring, he’s always grateful to have his wife, Karli Schroeder, née Postel, nearby to remind him to ride like a hunter. A German-born and trained jumper rider, he sometimes needs a nudge to slow down and “try to look pretty.” That advice carried them to a win recently, when Simon made his ride on Totally look pretty enough to take first in the $25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby during Desert Circuit 2 (California).
“My wife was in the background to say, ‘Let’s slow it down,’ otherwise, I would have made the jump-off,” Simon joked.
The pair, who operate Schroeder Sporthorses in Moorpark, California, have been delighted with “Toad” and the progress he’s made since they began working with the once-nervous 10-year-old Westphalian (Cornet Obolensky—Laila, Lordanos) and his owner, Teddi Mellencamp Arroyave, last year.
“You know, [Arroyave] was super excited about him, but there were some bumps in the road, and she needed some help,” Karli said. “She’s connected largely with Archie Cox, and I worked with Archie for many years. She went around the horse show trying to figure out who might be the strongest rider to help her in the situation, and pretty much everyone pointed to Simon.”
When Simon took on the ride, he felt he could get inside Toad’s head and decided what the gelding needed to thrive was simple: he wanted to play. Simon—who jokes that he has a similar personality to Toad—was well-suited to the challenge.
“Everyone is a little bit scared when I come into the ring with him at home, because I let him run, and I let him buck,” Simon said, chuckling. “Our specialty is that when I’m home, I make a cavaletti with a little water under it. He likes to go over it, and we play around with it. I got his trust back with that game. He believes in what we do together.”
Tapping into Toad’s playful energy has been an important aspect of deepening their partnership and preparing the gelding for the show ring. Previously, the gelding’s nervous behavior had puzzled his riders, but to Simon, it was clear what the gelding wanted from his partner.
“I can’t read a book [as] well as a horse,” Simon said of his horse sense. “A horse is an open book to me.”
Karli attributes Simon’s success with Toad to that natural feel. He stays attuned to what the horse needs both that day, and in the bigger picture. Sometimes, that means riding the hunter like a jumper in the warm-up, with lots of contact. Other days, that means taking time off at the farm.
“He’s very in sync with the horse in the way that the horse is thinking,” Karli said. “He thinks outside of the box; not every horse falls into a system.
“We are lucky to have a lot of unique horses in our program,” she added. “What we’ve learned is we kind of look at each horse and they tell us what they need, and we shape the program around that.”
While their January win was a thrill for Toad’s team, the trainers also point to the 2023 Capital Challenge (Maryland) in October as a milestone in the gelding’s development. When Arroyave, a TV personality widely known from her time on “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” first brought Toad to them, Simon would have to warm up the gelding then give him to Arroyave to mount at the in-gate immediately before her round.
By the time Arroyave and Toad traveled to Maryland, she no longer needed Simon’s hand holding, and she excelled while the Schroeders were at another show. Arroyave and Toad earned ribbons in good company in the 3’3″ amateur-owner hunters and were fifth in the WCHR 3’3″ Amateur-Owner Hunter Challenge.
“Teddi was unique in a lot of ways, because she saw the potential in this horse, and she saw all the beautiful pieces,” Karli said. “A lot of people probably would have given up in the process of trying to put it all together, because it hasn’t necessarily been the most straightforward process. But she stayed the course. On good days and bad days, she’s found nice things to say about the horse and reasons to keep going. So I think in that way, she’s a special amateur, in that she doesn’t give up.”
Having a team who hasn’t given up on Toad has allowed the once-nervous gelding to step into his potential. At Desert International Horse Park in January, the horse under Simon felt completely different from the misunderstood gelding he met a year earlier.
“Every jump, he jumped toward me, and every jump was an amazing feeling,” Simon said. “When you see a picture of this horse, every time, it’s like a 10.”
Building A Family-Centric Business
Karli and Simon first met at the in-gate of a hunter ring. Karli was riding her “millionth horse of the day,” and as she passed Simon exiting the ring, she asked a striding question about the course he’d just finished.
“He looked at me and goes, ‘I don’t know,’ ” Karli said. “I’m like, ‘You just came out of the ring!’ So I remember my initial thought was, what a jerk!”
Later, Karli learned that the rider who had refused to help her with the course actually wasn’t giving her a hard time—he just didn’t count strides.
“So it turns out he wasn’t being a jerk, he was actually being genuine, which is to a ‘T’ Simon Schroeder,” she said.
When the couple began dating, their relationship strengthened around both their approach to horses and their vision for a family. They had each been raised in horse families, although thousands of miles apart, and they knew they wanted to recreate that upbringing for their future children.
In his hometown outside of Frankfurt, Germany, Simon’s riding career started before he could walk. Each morning before school, Simon’s mother and his two older siblings would lead six horses from their barn to a pasture over a mile away.
“My mother couldn’t carry me anymore, because I got too heavy and I couldn’t walk, so she sat me on the horse,” he said.
He may have started riding out of convenience, but he eventually fell in love with horses. He and his siblings helped on his parents small breeding farm, which had about 15 horses at its largest. His sister schooled the horses in dressage; his brother became a farrier, and Simon rode the jumpers.
When he moved to the U.S. in young adulthood, Simon trained with Mexican Olympian Jaime Guerra, who helped finesse his riding in the hunters. He found the new discipline changed the way he rode in the jumper ring, too.
“Since I moved to America, hunter riding gave so much to my jumper riding, because it looks very simple, very easy—but to produce a good horse and ride a good horse in the hunter ring, it takes a lot of feel and a lot of working on the right moment,” he said.
Karli was also born to an equestrian family, who began Foxfield Riding School in Westlake Village, California, in the 1960s, and continue to run the academy to this day.
“I started there; that’s where I fell in love with horses,” Karli said. “I always knew I wanted to be around horses, so I ended up getting a scholarship, and I was able to ride through college at Goucher College [Maryland].”
After graduation, Karli wasn’t sure she wanted to step into horses professionally, but when she accepted a request to help a friend with some of her horses, her career snowballed. She spent years riding for Cox. Later, when she and Simon began riding and working together, her vision for a family business clicked into place.
“After meeting Simon and kind of getting to know him, I knew I wanted to combine my love for the horses, and the sport, with building a family,” Karli said, with their 2 1/2-year-old daughter Lena babbling in the background.
As co-parents and business owners, Karli and Simon found that the differences in their personalities actually made them compatible. Simon describes Karli as the planner, while he is the doer.
“Every time she says what I should do, I do [it],” he said. “She’s the head of the whole operation.”
The couple were married five years ago and founded Schroeder Sporthorses a year later, intentionally designing a program that could balance a successful horse program with a fulfilling family life.
“When we had the idea, it was that we wanted to build a family and build a life and have a lot more control,” Karli said. “It all started around the idea of wanting to do it differently—like build successful horses, but maybe not be at a horse show every single week.”
Karli is now pregnant with their second, a boy due in May, and the couple is excited to grow their family alongside their horse business. The life the young couple imagined as they got to know each other at horse shows has now become their every day reality.
They’re excited that Lena seems to appreciate the horse life as much as they’d hoped. She enjoys their farm, where she has ducks, mini ponies and, “Simon may or may not have just gotten her a mini cow,” Karli said.
“She loved the horses,” Simon said. “She rides with me every Sunday, and halfway down the trail ride, she’s already sleeping on the horse.”
“It’s how I grew up; it’s how he grew up—it’s a great way to raise a kid,” Karli added. “We want to go to the show and be highly competitive, but we also love to come home.”