Jennifer Sims didn’t grow up show jumping, but she’s certainly made up for lost time. Since launching her Styled Equestrian Instagram account three years ago, the former Levi’s jeans model and DJ has amassed more than 45,000 followers chronicling her riding outfits of the day (#rootd), jumping lessons, and proud ‘barn mom’ moments for the equestrian world at large.

More recently, Sims’ growing fan base has led to opportunities with brands like Goode Rider, Romf, and Ariat, as well as an ambassador role with US Equestrian’s Join the Joy campaign. She also appears as actress Katherine Heigl’s jumping stunt double in riding scenes for the newly released thriller, Unforgettable. 

So just how do you turn a social media pet project into a riding style Insta-empire? We caught up with the enterprising ammie to learn more.

Name: Jennifer Sims

Age: 42

Hometown: Seattle, Washington (formerly Los Angeles, California)

NF Style: Tell us about your horses and show schedule throughout the year. 

Rocket is my 12-year-old Dutch warmblood, and we currently compete in the 1.0m division. My goal is to eventually move up to 1.10m or 1.20m classes. My daughter, Hannah, competes her pony, “Lizzy”, a gray Connemara, in the 0.80m jumpers.

When we lived in L.A., we competed at HITS Thermal [now the HITS Coachella Desert Circuit], the L.A. Masters and Las Vegas. Now that we’re in Seattle, I’m excited to check out Thunderbird and this month, we went to the Evergreen Classic, which was our first show in the Pacific Northwest.

Have you always ridden? 

I rode a little as a kid but not too much. I didn’t really get into [the sport] until I was 21 or so. I’ve always wanted to ride since I was a little girl, but it wasn’t in the cards for me until I was able to buy my own horse. When I could, that’s what I did.

You’ve recently started training with Cara Anthony at Potcreek Meadow Farm. What have you learned from her program so far? 

Cara has really been working on my lower leg position. I tend to ride with my leg too far forward, almost in a defensive seat. I always rode off-the-track Thoroughbreds and Rocket is a bit of a hot horse, too, so I got [used to] that sort of ride. Cara has such a foundation with the hunters and from riding with George Morris, so we’re really going back to the foundational seat, bringing my leg back and listening to the horse. We’re also focusing on the horsemanship side of things, doing my own grooming and all that. It’s a big change for [Hannah and me], but I like it, and we’re learning a lot as well.

Cara has also been helping me with Rocket. He holds his breath when he jumps and sometimes he sort of squeals when he lands; he gets a little bit anxious. So I watched Cara jump him the other day and she almost over-exaggerates her release and grabs mane on him, even as a grand prix rider. She does that so he can relax and he doesn’t worry about getting caught in the mouth in the landing. So that’s something that’s really been a light bulb moment for me.

What’s been the best and most challenging parts of your partnership with Rocket? 

Sometimes his spookiness at the horse shows can be a little rough, and I get DQed for refusals and things like that. But I’m working on it. My favorite part about [Rocket] is how much he challenges and teaches me, but still, at the same time, he wants to please me. It’s really fun when it comes together—I feel like I’m giving him a gift, as well, by not getting in his way all the time [laughs]. He’s full of life and he’s a spunky guy, which makes things a little more exciting.

What does a typical “barn day” look like for you?

I’ll get to the barn about an hour before my lesson and I groom Rocket and get my helmet on. I’ll tack up and then I’ll help Hannah get her pony ready, and then we’ll go out to our lesson.

Were you surprised by the strong response that The Styled Equestrian has received on Instagram? How did that develop? 

I started my Instagram page for fun about three years ago. I was a model for a long time and I enjoy fashion and equestrian style. So I just thought I would post some daily pictures of my riding outfits and maybe work with some small local brands to promote them, and it just kind of went from there. I didn’t expect it to get as big or as popular as it did. But when it started to really pick up momentum, I got into it and started reaching out to the bigger brands to develop partnerships with them. It’s been really fun.

How has this sport affected you on a personal level? 

Riding has made me a lot more comfortable being an athlete. I was never athletic growing up, I was always into music and whatnot, so I never did any sports. So the strength and character you get from doing a sport, especially one like show jumping, gives you a lot of confidence. I think that’s been really beneficial.

-Photography & reporting by Erin Gilmore. Featured collage photo credits: Erin Gilmore; Instagram/@StyledEquestrian.