Evergate Stables horses don’t have a therapist. But if they did, he’d probably look and act a lot like Assistant Trainer Simone Besutti.

Instead of a therapist’s chair, though, you’re more likely to find Simone in the saddle, or watching his horses and riders from along the rail. And while you may not hear a lot of talk therapy going on—or so much as a word being spoken, in many cases—there’s plenty of back and forth happening beneath the surface.

“I am observing all the time, watching our riders training on their own, and seeing how the horses are responding. Watching in the warm-up area is often even more informative than the ring, or what the result is in the ring,” says Simone of his role supporting and exercise riding for top international riders Jennifer Gates (USA), Nayel Nassar (EGY), and Harrie Smolders (NED) and their respective partners.

As an intermediary between horse and rider, Simone is responsible for keeping his horses physically fit and in top form. But his job description extends much further than that: working alongside Evergate’s team of vets and farriers, consulting on each horse’s weekly work schedule, and walking courses and providing lessons and instruction to Gates while Smolders is away in Europe.    

“What I love about my job is that I need to be a bit everywhere, and I’m able to see all aspects of the sport. It’s not just about doing the flatwork to get the horses ready, or being at the showgrounds to train,” Simone says. “I cannot ride the same horse thinking of Jenn, or thinking of Harrie, because those two riders take different approaches. Every time I sit on a horse, I am thinking about which one of the riders will be sitting on the horse in the ring after me. It’s a delicate process.”

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Despite riding six to eight horses a day, up to six days a week during circuit, Simone says his job is typically more mental than physical.

“I do 80 percent of the training and fitness work, but the final 20 percent is thinking about the riders as individuals, and what they need. The horse has to be fit, it has to be happy, it has to be ready to do its job for each of them. It’s a delicate balance.”

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Growing up in the Veneto region of Northern Italy, Simone Besutti’s parents weren’t involved in the equestrian industry in any way. But that didn’t stop him from being bitten by the horse bug at an early age.

“Somehow, one day [as a child], I had the opportunity to sit on a horse, and I never wanted to do anything else,” says Simone, who left his home and his family at age 16 to take his first job, working for the coach of the Junior/Young Riders team in Italy, Gianluca Bormioli.

For four years, Simone learned the ropes riding young horses while also training to compete on national Junior and Young Riders teams himself. After fulfilling his obligatory year of Italian military service in 1997, Simone struck out on his own. He took the opportunity to become certified as a federal trainer in 2003 in his home country and surpassed all standards receiving the highest certifications available from the Italian Federation. Simone spent the next decade-plus riding for various farms and training students around the North of Italy, an experience he says helped to further prepare him for his current role as a horse and rider intermediary at Evergate.  

In 2011, a chance encounter in Belgium with La Silla’s Alfonso Romo provided Simone with an offer and the opportunity to travel and collaborate with the famed breeding farm in Monterrey, Mexico for a year.

“I rode young horses there for a little while, but it wasn’t long before they sent me back to Europe with Alberto Michán, who was then riding for Mexico, to prepare for the 2012 London Olympic Games,” Simone says.

That year in London, Michán earned an impressive set of fifth places individually and as part of the Mexican team—the country’s best result in an Olympic Games to date. But it would be Simone’s next adventure, working for Axel Verlooy as assistant rider for Harrie Smolders in Grobbendonk, Belgium, that would set into motion some of the most important events of his career to date.

“Jos Verlooy was very successful during our four years together. I was in charge of Harrie’s as well as Jos’ horses, and it was interesting watching Jos developing as a rider and earning great results through Harrie’s program,” he says.

Above all, though, the Italian showjumper says his time at Verlooy’s stable provided Simone with important insights, not just into the care, management, and training of top equine athletes, but also how to maintain them—physically as well as mentally—for the long-term.

After all, these were the heyday of Smolders’ indomitable partners Emerald van’t Ruytershof and Don VHP Z, who both retired after long and successful careers in the sport.

“My opinion of success is not only winning grands prix, or becoming number one in the world, or having the best horse in the world, it’s about trying to keep the horses happy, fit, and sound for many, many seasons. That’s my top consideration,” Simone says.

“Harrie’s horses Emerald and Don VHP Z were winning when they were in their teens; they competed for many seasons and finished their careers still in good condition. For me, that’s success.”

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In 2018, Jennifer Gates embarked on a training partnership with Smolders, and one year later, the Dutch rider asked Simone, his longtime assistant, if he’d be interested in moving to the States full-time to work for Evergate’s operations. Simone jumped at the chance. But if you’d naturally assume that the longtime friends and associates spend a lot of time chatting away on international calls and WhatsApp, keeping up with every detail of Evergate’s business, you’d be wrong. 

“It’s funny, because for as long as Harrie and I have worked together, we don’t talk as much as people think a typical trainer and assistant would speak,” laughs Simone, who says even when the two are on the same side of the ocean, they watch each other ride constantly but discuss what they see sparingly.

“We’ve had eight years together, and back in Belgium, we achieved all those great results together, so we know each other well. We know to let the other work,” he continues. “We rarely discuss—we always let the horses ‘talk’ for us.”

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And if there’s one Evergate stallion who’s never shy about sharing his thoughts or opinions, it’s Gates’s top horse, Capital Colnardo. Known as “Cody” in the barn, the former Smolders ride has been Simone’s “friend” in and out of the saddle for many years.

“Everything I do with [Capital Colnardo] is based on fitness, and keeping him fresh and happy, because on the jumping side, he’s 17 and knows the job perfectly,” explains Simone, adding that a “big ego and personality” are part of what make the stallion so special.

“He has done so much, you need to let him pretend that he’s the boss, and then everything becomes easy. With his kind of personality, you cannot argue too much, otherwise you’ll have a big problem on your hands,” Simone says. “I always ask Capital Colnardo, ‘Please, can you do this for me?’ I never want to force him to do something. In general, that’s not my system to force a horse to do something anyway. I always say please.”

When it comes to preparing Cody for Gates in the show ring, Simone says the American rider’s naturally soft style suits the stallion, as does her feel for what he needs to be successful on course.

“Jenn has an amazing eye for the distance and a good sense of the canter and getting to the base of the jump. That makes it easy, getting the horses ready for her,” Simone explains.

With that in mind (as well as Cody’s preference for wide open spaces where he can make the most of his size and stride), Simone says he spends as much time as possible riding the stallion on big grass fields, as opposed to enclosed rings or indoor arenas.

“I like places where he can naturally carry more pace and, by staying interested and engaged, he naturally becomes more forward and in front of the leg. After that, everything else comes easily to him.”

©Ashley Neuhof Photography

Though the bulk of Simone’s time is spent riding horses for Gates—who squeezes in what time she can in the show ring when on breaks from medical school in New York—he brings his analytical, horse-first approach to every mount he sits on at Evergate. For Nassar’s naturally driven Igor Van De Wittemoere, for instance, Simone believes an intensive, sometimes twice-daily ride schedule (along with plenty of counter-canter work) helps the gelding channel his energy and stay on task.

“Horses are athletes, and I believe they have to become fit and strong in order to handle the sport,” he says. “Igor is a fighter and wants to win all the time, so the idea is to give him the strength and confidence at home, so he can give his all in the ring.”

But for every yin, there’s a yang, and Simone firmly supports the idea that show horses deserve a healthy work-life balance. Though they may work double-time during circuit, the Evergate program is equally fastidious about planning each horse’s competition season with a significant rest period built in.

“In my ideal system, each horse gets two months off, more or less, every season. Then, you take another month to bring them back and get them into the best shape. So, let’s say each horse has three ‘easy’ months every year, and then for the remaining nine months of the season, they’re in regular work,” Simone explains.

When you’re talking about top show horses, and especially stallions, down time doesn’t necessarily include pulling shoes and chucking the horses into a field, where injuries can be common. For Simone, it’s more about carving out time, not only for daily turn out, but a tack walk, or a light, fun hack in the field.

“I try to ride them outside as much as possible, in big open spaces, and to keep the pressure off. Let them relax a little bit,” he says, adding that time away from the ring and the daily training grind, in his experience, can make a huge difference in a horse’s willingness and overall state of mind.

“It’s just like us, when we need a few days of vacation after a busy horse show season,” continues Simone who, like any good ‘therapist,’ understands that mental health is health—whether your subjects happen to have two legs or four.

“It’s the same with the horses.”