A day doesn’t get much better than attending a riding clinic with an Olympic Gold Medalist on a gorgeous spring day in the hills above Malibu. Unless, that is, you know that the proceeds for the event are going to benefit a worthy cause.
On April 14, Will Simpson, 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist, spent the day in the ring, donating his time and expertise to his charity of choice, the Compton Jr. Posse, while offering valuable tips to 11 riders from the Los Angeles area, including several athletes from the Compton Jr. Posse. The group, ranging from elementary school students to adults, worked on equitation and jumping, from .90m to 1m20. Simpson’s focus and clarity ensured that each rider left the ring with a personal, game-changing take-away. And a smile.
The beneficiary of the day, the Compton Jr. Posse, was founded in 1988 by Mayisha Akbar with the goal of providing inner-city kids with year-round, after-school alternatives to the lure of gangs and drugs. By having children work with horses, the group helps them develop discipline and self-esteem and learn to set and achieve goals academic and career goals. The Posse’s motto: Keeping Kids on Horses and Off the Streets.
It’s that slogan that hooked Simpson almost 10 years ago. “It’s fantastic,” he says of the group’s mission. “I grew up on the South Side of Chicago and was given chances, myself. If I can give back and help in that direction, I’ll do it.” Since becoming involved, Simpson’s hasn’t stopped giving. He’s offered countless lessons to the kids in Compton, put his barbecuing skills up for auction at fundraisers (always a big hit), led clinics to benefit the organization and encouraged friends to become involved. He currently sits on the Compton Jr. Posse board.
“The horses inspire the kids,” Simpson explains. “They get to know what it feels like to be responsible for another being and they get the sense of being needed.” Plus, he adds, the sense of accomplishment they gain when they progress from getting on a horse for the first time to jumping rails carries over to other parts of their lives. “They learn they can do something they once thought was impossible.”
Victoria Faerber, the Compton Jr. Posse’s trainer and a volunteer for over a decade, organized the event at Malibu Valley Farms where—in addition to the stable in Compton—she trains her riders. With her own jumps down for repair, Faerber turned to Chad Mahaffey, owner of the neighboring Chad Mahaffey Stables, who generously offered his ring for the day. It takes a village. Indeed, Faerber noted, “Winter Hoffman, who’s been very involved with the Posse, donated two of her really amazing, experienced horses—Ollie and Transmission—for two of the kids to ride.”
That generosity was appreciated. Nathan Williams-Bonner, a Compton Jr. Posse star, came a little closer to achieving his goal of competing at the Grand Prix level by participating in the clinic, thanks to Simpson’s instruction and Hoffman’s horses. “Both of the horses I rode jumped fantastically. Over a few jumps I felt I needed some saddle grip because they jumped so well.” He’s still getting to know Ollie, but both he and Hoffman are hoping for a future for them together. While he concentrated on his riding in the ring, Williams-Bonner also took note of how well other riders did. “When the clinician can make sure everyone learns something, you have a happy turnout.” Such camaraderie and good will is part of the Posse ethos.
“It’s an amazing thing,” Simpson says. “It’s refreshing and inspiring. These kids don’t care if their boots are too big, or if the saddle isn’t just right. They just get on and go. They’re so appreciative of being able to get on a horse and ride.” Being with the organization so long, he’s seen how their dedication to riding helps them succeed outside of the ring. He notes one student who, with courage acquired from the program, took on a job in a restaurant. Years later, “he arrives at the barn dressed as a chef, before changing into his riding clothes. You feel happy for the guy. And you think you’ve made a contribution.”
A producer from CNN was at the clinic with her cameraman, filming a piece about Shola Oyfefeso, a high-school senior who’s been riding with the Compton Jr. Posse for six years. She’s trained with Simpson before, but as she’s currently transitioning from hunters to jumpers, she found this clinic particularly useful. “Will helped me a lot with eye control,” she says, “getting a feel for and figuring out a horse I’d never ridden before and seat position.” Before she leaves home to pursue studies for a career as a veterinarian or a dentist, she’ll dedicate her time to more competition and to “helping the kids at CJP with their riding.”
It is this sense of community that permeated the day and made it feel so special. It was the easy conversation between new acquaintances and Simpson’s relaxed manner with the riders. It was the communal lunch order, with folks pitching in approximately what they owed for their sandwich or salad. It was in the moments when one kid helped or teased or chased after another. It was the way a young participant from the Posse looked up to an older one. There was community on display and it was growing—right there, in the moment.
It was hard not to be moved by it all. The day was gorgeous, even for Malibu. Wildflowers dotted the hills, a cool sea breeze wafted by. Everyone felt it but perhaps no one appreciated it more than the kids from the Posse. They didn’t say so, but as they ran off-trail behind the stalls, laughing with one another, it was clear that Compton Jr. Posse’s mission is working. And it’s clear that it’s an important cause worthy of support.
For more on the Compton Jr. Posse visit www.comptonjrposse.org
Story and photos by: Winter Hoffman and Christy Hobart
With a background in filmmaking, fashion and contemporary art, Winter brings a unique perspective to the equestrian world. A lifelong horsewoman, she helped her daughter, Zazou Hoffman (currently a trainer at Meadow Grove Farms), navigate her way to a successful junior career, including a 2009 ASPCA Maclay Equitation Championship at the National Horse Show.
Christy Hobart is a journalist based in Santa Monica whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, InStyle, Saveur, House & Garden and many other publications. Following her daughter, Maisie Shapiro, around from horse show to horse show, she’s added the equestrian beat to her lineup.