California Riding Magazine • January, 2009

Golden Opportunity
NorCal riders are fortunate recipients
of a free clinic with Olympian Will Simpson.

by Amy Young

What’s better than riding in a clinic with our own 2008 team show jumping Olympic gold medalist Will Simpson? How about getting to ride for free?

Forty-eight lucky riders from Northern California got just such an opportunity. From Dec. 4-7, the Northern California Hunter Jumper Association (NorCal) sponsored a free clinic with Will at Leone Equestrians, Inc. in Sacramento.

Will won a lot even before the Olympics. His show jumping career includes numerous Grand Prix victories at both the national and international levels. For many years, he rode privately for the Gonda family’s El Campeon Farms. He recently set up shop for himself in Hidden Valley, the horsey haven on the border of Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

NorCal members were chosen through a lottery system to participate in two days of the clinic in one of four groups. Fence heights ranged from 3’ to 3’6” with junior, amateur and professional riders representing both hunter and jumper styles. NorCal members that did not ride in the clinic were offered the opportunity to audit at no cost. Friday night, participants were invited to a question and answer session with Will.

The first day for each group focused on bending their horses using an “overturn and release” system. In conjunction, learning to use eye control helped the riders create good distances to their fences. “It works every time, with every horse, every level of rider,” Will explained. “We all have to do something, subconsciously or consciously, to get a distance. Jumper riders. Hunter riders.”
These concepts were first practiced at the walk over a pole on the ground. They were further explored with short turns to a gymnastic line and reinforced with three fences on a serpentine. “I learned that if you can see the distance at the walk, you can carry it over to the trot, canter and jumping,” said Mackenzie Simmonds, a rider in the 3’ section.

Clinic participants are focused on Will
as he demonstrates the approach to an exercise.

Will stressed using release of rein pressure as a reward and as a tool to calm a horse. “My reward to my horse is the release. I can reward my horse as I go around the course.” He emphasized “the four things that you need in show jumping:” a way to go forward, back, right and left. That idea was incorporated into helping riders assess their horse’s rideability. Concepts such as centering the arc of a horse’s jump over the middle of the fence and finding a balance between “helping as much as you have to and allowing as much as you can” were discussed.

The second day of the clinic put the first day’s concepts to work while navigating a jumping course. The route of 14 efforts featured a one-stride combination, related distances and a long approach to an oxer. Using the first fence to school the horse was emphasized and the techniques for creating distances were revisited. “Practicing the gymnastic off of a short turn was helpful for riding the course,” said Stacie Aarsvold, a rider in the 3’6” group. “It was a good way to learn the technique.”

The idea of creating a distance to the fence made an impression on the riders. “It’s nice to know that you can create the distance,” said Emma Dake, a rider in the 3’ section. “It’s not always due to luck.” Simmonds added. “We learned that one of the main parts of that is getting straight to the jump.”

Susan Lea, also a participant in the 3’ group, was especially impressed with Will’s teaching style. “He has a very patient approach in dealing with problems,” she noted. “The way that he worked through problems, such as refusals, was very instructive.”

Aarsvold agreed. “I liked the way that he explained things. He would say it in multiple ways if it seemed like not everyone understood.”

Will takes a break from teaching for a photo with (left to right)
Tory Montgomery, Meredith Herman and Vanessa Brown.

The beautiful covered arena at Leone Equestrians provided the perfect venue for this special event. Many NorCal members braved the fog and the cold to take advantage of this unique opportunity. The continued success of the NorCal-sponsored clinics is thanks to the support of the association’s members and a lot of hard work and dedication on the part of many individuals.

NorCal is a non-profit organization that promotes hunter, jumper and equitation divisions at Northern California horse shows. The association represents the interests of Northern California riders, promotes educational activities and sponsors special events. NorCal offers equitation medal classes at horse shows throughout the year and sponsors a year-end awards program. More information is available at

Author Amy Young is an amateur hunter rider, member of the NorCal board of directors and a Sacramento Area Hunter Jumper Association (SAHJA) judge. She is a genetics laboratory manager at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.