Laurie Simons from Tupelo, Mississippi, and her 18-year-old Oldenburg gelding Real Diamond (Rhodiamant x Helena) proved that you don’t have to come from one of the powerhouse dressage areas of the country to qualify for the U.S. Dressage Finals. Tupelo, a town of 35,000 people located in northeast Mississippi, is known for its birthing of Elvis Presley and as a place Bobbie Gentry sang about in “Ode to Billy Joe.” It’s not exactly a hotbed of dressage activity, but don’t tell Simons that.
She and Diamond placed in the ribbons in the Championship Intermediaire 1 Adult Amateur class on Nov. 6 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky. She said the horse is very dramatic, but he’s taught her a lot about connection. “He’s been about three different horses in various stages in his career, so it’s not like I’ve ridden the same horse,” she laughed.
Simons is a small animal veterinarian in her hometown and not only does she juggle owning her own business, her husband Steve, her 6-year-old son Ethan, her love of classical piano, and an occasional round of golf, she is committed to dressage, even if she does live a state way from her trainer, Kim Gentry, who is located in Moscow, Tennessee. She and Gentry have been committed to the journey but the trainer cautioned Simons that coming to the dressage finals was different than what she had experienced in Mississippi and the Mid-South.
“Kim had warned me but I don’t think I was quite prepared,” Simons explained. “I’d been to a Regionals and I thought, ‘How different can it be?’ Until last night when I went into the Alltech [Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park] and I thought, ‘That’s how different it can be!’”
Simons grew up in the jumping and Western disciplines but changed over to dressage where she started out at Training Level 15 years ago. She’s been working with Gentry ever since. “This is the only thing that has held my interest because you can never get good enough and you can never know it all,” Simons said. “In every other discipline there’s an end point and the horse is used up. Diamond’s the perfect example. He’s 18 and there’s nothing wrong with him. I’m a veterinarian and what I appreciate so much about dressage is the horse and the proper athletic development of the horse are the goals.”
Gentry imported Diamond from Germany as a 9-year-old and Simons purchased him shortly after setting eyes on him. He was at Third Level and Simons had worked her way up to riding Third and Fourth Level by then.
Gentry makes the 176 mile trek to teach her student once a week, but if that doesn’t work out, Simons will load up her horse and take him to Tennessee. The two have an obvious connection and Gentry has been with Simons through marriage, a baby and two hand surgeries. “I own my own business, so I’ve had to balance a lot of different things while trying to do dressage competitively,” Simons said. “It’s a passion.”
Her trainer said that Simons has been a loyal client and friend. “Laurie has done a really good job of being realistic as far as what her goals are at different times in her life,” Gentry explained. “At times, she’s just given me Diamond and said, ‘Here. You ride him.’ We’ve had different phases in our student/teacher relationship as well. There have been times when she’s taken a lesson once a week and times when I’ve said. ‘OK. He needs to go home with you. He needs to be your horse. ‘ It’s my job to give her the tools to take care of the problems in between the lessons.”
Simons said it’s important to be honest about time commitments and dedication—especially when lessons and training are long distance propositions. “One of the things I think is good for amateurs is to have a realistic goal,” she said. “You have to have a goal realistic to the stage of life you’re in. Mine has changed multiple times and the cool thing is I’ve been able to have the same trainer through all that that. However I am, we can work with that.”
Gentry praised her student’s steadfast determination. “Laurie’s been really loyal,” she said. “As her life has changed, she’s been really good about communicating what her needs are. As a trainer, it’s really good to have a student who’s willing to do that and not just say, ‘Oh. My life has changed. Let me go on to the next thing.’”
For more information about the US Dressage Finals presented by Adeqaun visit www.usdressagfinals.com