By Skye Simpson
Right now, there are many young riders scattered across the country dreaming of victory gallops or training horses full time. I was just like them, and have worked my way up from a working student to a dressage trainer. By sharing my story, I hope to motivate young riders to never give up on their dreams.
My dressage journey began in San Antonio, Texas. When I was 7 years old, I told my parents, “I want to be a dressage trainer and go to the Olympics!” A year later, I was competing every month but when I turned 14, dressage became a different ball game. Competing at Third Level and Prix St. George, I could barely manage a 60%. I was failing, and knew I needed to make a change.
Even so young, I knew that in order to be successful I had to eat, sleep, and breathe the sport if I wanted to make it. So at 15, I convinced my parents to let me move out on my own to become a working student. First, I moved to California to be a working student at a dressage barn there, then back to Texas, and later Florida.
Becoming a working student so young was extremely difficult. Even though I was only 15, I was expected to be an adult. I made 10,000+ mistakes, and failed numerous times. I cried frequently, and was always exhausted because I often worked from 7am – 9pm with one day off a week.
But there were so many benefits to all my hard work. I had the opportunity to ride between 5-10 dressage horses on a daily basis. I got to compete on numerous sale horses, ride sale horses for buyers, make videos, teach lessons to clients, and train client horses. Through all of this, my riding improved tremendously.
Sometimes you see 14-year-olds earning their USDF Gold Medal or juniors competing in the Grand Prix. It’s not easy. Even with all the wonderful training I received in my working student situations, I still struggled in the competition ring. The hardest failure was not making the FEI Junior Team for 2 years in a row. I dealt with lameness, buying the wrong horse, hospitalizations—the list goes on. But I never gave up.
Finally, after more work than I can describe, I made the FEI Junior Team and competed in the Adequan®/FEI North American Youth Championships (NAYC) on the 7-year old horse I trained myself, Dazzle. He ranked 9th individually, and we represented Region 9 to earn the team bronze. Dazzle tried so hard for me that training his piaffe, passage, and one tempis almost felt easy. He was the magical kind of horse that gave me the confidence to take the leap and start applying to trainer positions. With our recent success and all the years I dedicated to being a working student, I felt I was ready.
Even though the first barn I applied at turned me down, I didn’t give up. Eventually, I found a head dressage trainer position in California. I applied, and the owner, Merijane, flew me in for a week trial. Merijane had just retired from judging and bred Dutch horses. Her barn had seven Dutch Warmbloods that needed to be trained.
At 18 years old, she knew I was young, but was willing to let my riding and training speak for itself. Merijane must have been impressed, because she hired me and allowed me to start my own dressage training business at her property. Within months, I brought in new clients and love watching the barn grow as talented horses come to join our team.
So today, I’m 18 and owe my career to the years I spent as a working student. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been worth it. To all the young riders out there—be yourself. Be unique. Chase after your dreams, and never give up.