You can call me lucky. It’s hard for some bloggers (especially tiny bloggers like me) to get interviews with super awesome people, but I happen to have a great connection with someone in the big leagues. Lets take a moment to go backwards in time. I started riding at a great barn named Red Rock Hounds in Reno, NV after moving there when I was 16. At my first lesson, I watched a rail thin, young girl battling a feisty Chestnut TB as he ducked his head and attempted to buck. I didn’t say much, just observed in awe as the trainers yelled “Stay on! Get his head up!”. I couldn’t believe this girl was sticking to this horse that outweighed her by a lot. After the lesson, I decided to start a conversation. Of course, because she “looked” younger, I made the mistake of talking her like a baby. It was only when I cooed “How old are you?” did I get a certain look and a prompt answer that she was 10. She sounded wise beyond her years already. You can say, the rest is history, and I am happy to call her one of my best friends. Fast forward to 2015, Audrey Norrell is now a bright star in the show jumping world, working as a barn manager and assistant rider for 2008 Olympic equestrian Will Simpson at the young age of 18 in California.Audrey, can you tell us a little about your background. Did you always want to have a career in the horse world?
• Both of my parents ride, so I was lucky enough to grow up around horses. I always knew that I wanted to have a horse related career when I got older, and I considered a lot of different equine related fields. However, a professional career in the show jumping world was always a dream of mine.
You work for Will Simpson out of California. When did you first meet Will? How did you acquire your position?
• I decided when I was 14 that I wanted to pursue a riding career in the Show Jumping industry. I wrote a lot of letters to trainers on the West Coast looking for a working student position. Unfortunately, not any of the barns were open to working students under the age of 16. At that point, I was feeling quite discouraged. It wasn’t soon after that my trainer from Reno, Lynn Lloyd, and her dear friend, John Charlebois, owner of Charlebois Farms, arranged for me to do a trail as a working student for Will during a week at the Menlo Horse Show. I was so shocked that a top rider like Will would even consider working with me! Not only was I very young, but I had no background in the show jumping world. I grew up fox hunting and assisting in starting young horses, which is very different from the hunter jumper industry. Luckily, after working for Will at Menlo he offered me a position at his barn, and I’ve been fortunate enough to work for him ever since.
• It was a little intimidating leaving home so young, but I’m so happy I did. My mother was notorious for saying, “Everyday you should do something that scares you. You aren’t really living unless you push yourself out of your comfort zone.”
How did your family feel about all of this at first?
• Certain members of my family were very skeptical about me pursuing the working student position, which is understandable considering the unique situation. Even though they may have questioned it in the beginning, my family has been extremely supportive over the past few years. Without them I would not be where I am today.
You are 18 now and coming up on graduation, how do you manage working and school?
• I actually graduated in May of this year! I did all of my school work for high school through the online programs, Laurel Springs College Preparatory School and Connections Academy. It was difficult at times, but the flexibility of online school allowed me to travel and continue to work for Will while still getting my diploma. In January of this year, I will begin online college courses. I’m very happy with where I am in my life right now. So, I have decided not to attend a traditional 4 year college for now. Instead, I plan on getting a business degree through an online program. My goal is to have a professional career in the show jumping industry, but that isn’t a normal major in most colleges. However, I think that I will benefit the most from obtaining a degree in business. I am determined to get a college degree while continuing to work towards my riding career.
You mentioned that you grew up Fox Hunting, what was it like coming from a fox-hunting barn to a major show jumping operation?
• It was quite the transition going from a fox-hunting barn to a top show jumping program. They are two completely different worlds. I will say that growing up in the hunt field has had a strong influence on my riding, and it will continue to for the rest of my career.
• Generally I ride 6-10 horses a day, administer the feed and medications, do a bit of office work, and oversee everything else happening around the barn. Days at home are usually less busy than a day at the show. Show days tend to start earlier and end later, and they are a bit more high pace then our work days at home. Honestly, it’s really hard for me to call any day spent around horses work!
It’s Grand Prix day for Will and The Dude. What is that day usually like?
• We like to keep The Dude as fresh as possible for Grand Prix days. He is a little cold blooded so we have to keep his energy up. Generally to prep him for a big class, Will or I will give him a nice flat in the morning when it’s cool. Then we have a few different therapeutic measures he gets, such as the Theraplate and a magnetic blanket. Then we let him relax in his stall until show time. We try to make sure he is feeling as rejuvenated as possible before he heads into the ring.
What is a typical schooling session for Will’s horses? What is your favorite schooling exercise?
• We don’t school very much at home. When we are at home we generally try to keep the horses very fit on the flat and give them down time from jumping (and some pretty awesome looking trail rides, might I add). When we do school at home, Will is a big fan of gymnastics. We also try to incorporate a lot of different exercises and a lot of hill work. If there is a race track near by, we will load some horses up and let them go for a good gallop. We believe in a lot of forward flat work. That is 99% of getting a show jumper fit! As for me, I don’t necessarily have a favorite schooling exercise. Anytime I get to school a horse I’m thrilled!
What are your responsibilities as a barn manager and assistant rider?
• The responsibilities vary. I just try to make sure that the horses are in the best shape and condition they can be when they are competing and traveling. I also handle the logistical side of the barn. My job is to make sure that everything is organized and runs smoothly so Will can show up and focus on the show ring.
Tell us a little about your personal horse.
• My mare is a 10 yr old Holsteiner mare. I’ve had her for almost a year now. I started riding her last year for Sandstone stables. She’s a little feisty and definitely has her own opinions, but she’s talented and I feel very fortunate to have her. We currently compete in the Modified Jr/Am Jumpers and the open 1.20m.
• I think the hardest thing for me to overcome has been my nerves. I still get nervous before I go into the ring, but I’ve gotten better about managing them.
A lot of people, including myself, have a hard time dealing with their nerves. How do you help manage them?
• Will has been really helpful in learning how to deal with my nerves. One of his favorite sayings is, “Just do the best you can, and it will be good enough”. This saying really helps me keep everything in perspective. When I’m getting ready to go into the ring, I just tell myself that there is no other place I would rather be right now. All I have to do is go in and give it my all, and that will be good enough. I think it is a good thing to get a little nervous, because it means that you desire to do well. It’s just about channeling that desire into the ability to perform your best. I read an article about Beezie Madden recently, and she stated that “Anybody who says that they never get nervous isn’t telling the truth.” So, even the best riders in our sport have to deal with nerves!
What are your long-term goals?
• Representing the USA at a world championship or at the Olympic Games is my ultimate dream. I’m going to do everything I can to try to become a successful Grand Prix rider.
What are your short-term goals?
• Right now I am taking it day by day, trying to improve my riding every single time I sit in the saddle. I’m focusing on becoming a professional and hopefully working my way up to some bigger classes.
You are an inspiration to me and many others, what advice would you give to a young equestrian that dreams of becoming a professional?
• Thank you, I don’t know if I have earned that compliment, but I am very flattered. The only advice I can give is to try to learn everything you can from every person willing to teach you. Take risks even when they scare you, and don’t ever give up on something that you are passionate about.