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Bourke siblings Clay and Sally Simmonds are making their mark in the glamour sport of showjumping.
STORY THERESE HALL | PHOTO KYLIE FISHER | OUTBACK MAGAZINE
Sitting astride their horses near their family’s caravan park in Bourke, NSW, Clay and Sally Simmonds are a long way from the glamorous world of showjumping. In their hometown there are no lavish arenas or jumping competitions for them to hone their equestrian skills. Their daily training schedule starts with a trot along the Darling River and any opportunities for competitive showjumping usually entail driving for up to 10 hours.
But the Simmonds siblings are not letting their remote location hold them back from making their mark on the sport. Before COVID-19 interrupted their trajectory, Sally, 19, had been crowned Australian Junior Champion showjumper (in November 2019) and Clay, 20, had earned a position as fifth World Cup league contender (in the 2018–19 season).
With the resumption of events this year, both are preparing to compete in the Australian World Champion series, to be held across five states between June and December. They are also hoping to recommence their previous plans to temporarily relocate to Europe with their horses to experience some international-level competition. “Most riders spend three months over in Europe training before they compete internationally,” Sally says.
The Simmonds’ showjumping prowess has its origins in their parents’ horse-sport heritage. Their mother Tracey was an acclaimed barrel racer, and their dad Peter was a bronc rider with a successful international career. When they settled back home in Bourke to start a family in the late 1990s, Peter and Tracey envisaged a future of rodeo sports for their three children. “But the rodeos were too far away to cart juniors around,” Tracey says. “We took them to regional ag shows instead, which was a very good start for learning horse skills.”
As children, Sally and her older sister Kayla, 22, were the horseriders (Kayla no longer rides competitively), while Clay was interested in motocross. It was only as a teenager that Clay made the switch to showjumping. When the whole family turned to showjumping, Peter and Tracey started researching bloodlines for suitable horses.
After watching the 2012 Olympics on television, Tracey approached Sydney breeder Alice Cameron for progeny of high-performance stallion Chacco Blue. Although horses of this calibre were often outside the Simmonds’ budget, it didn’t take long for Alice to recognise the family’s special skills in rehabilitating horses. “Just by talking to Tracey I knew I could send them a quirky horse – a horse with an eccentric personality – and they could make something of it,” she says. “They are great horse people.”
The first of Alice’s ‘quirky’ horses to head to Bourke was Soldier (its competition name is Oaks Chifley), which was predominantly ridden by Sally. “He was the nicest little horse,” Sally says. “In 2019 I won Aussie titles on him; he won 15 starts in a row that year.”
According to Alice, Clay and Sally are a rarity in their ability to “make their own horse”. “Very few young people have the skill, patience and know-how to develop, train and compete successfully on a young horse through all the levels of competition,” Alice says. Clay adds: “We can’t always afford a top-end horse, so we get the ones that have had a few issues. We call ourselves the rehab kids.”
Clay and Sally attribute much of their success to their parents’ influence. “Mum and Dad are unreal horse people, so we got the basics right from the beginning,” Sally says. But they also consider their country setting a contributing factor. “A horse is a horse even if it’s jumping at World Cup level,” Sally says. “A lot of showjumping horses in or near cities are so busy going from stable to arena, they lose the joy of just being a horse. Out here it’s so different. We take them riding along the river and we put them in a paddock with other horses. They learn to chill out.”
Both Clay and Sally have trained several horses each to national competition standard. But they know when a horse has reached its limit and they won’t push it any further. “Showjumping is very hard on them,” Sally says. “Some people push their horse a bit too much. But we reckon you’re better off keeping them happy at a level that suits them.”
Alice describes Clay and Sally’s showjumping success as a family affair. “They all put in and help look after the horses.” When Clay and Sally are on the competition circuit, Peter drives their custom-designed truck while Tracey stays behind to run the family business, Kidman Camp. “I sponsor them by running the park to pay for it all,” Tracey laughs.
Looking back over their showjumping success so far, Sally says: “Dad used say to us, ‘You’re going to have some very nice horses in a few years’ time’. Now we’ve got them to that level and they’re winning, it’s a really cool feeling.”