By Alycia Skye
If I was to tell you the whole story of Rocky and I, we would find ourselves probably six pages deep. I started riding at the age of seven, but I was still a very novice rider when I found Rocky. Long story short, my parents purchased Rocky, a Rocky Mountain x Mountain Pleasure x Saddlebred cross when I was twelve and newly diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. Being the feisty pony that he was (and still is), training him gave me the perfect distraction I needed. Rocky is a ‘jack of all trades’ and has done it all from western to English, to jumping to cow work, to simply trail riding. We would go from jumping three foot fences to cutting cows during team penning. This little pony has gotten me through some of the toughest times of my life, not to mention the barn became my safe space; a place I could go to escape whatever was going on in my life.
Fast forward a few years, and I was eighteen and heading off to college to earn a degree in equine science and management. Since I would be a few hours away, my mom took over caring for and exercising Rocky. During my third semester of college, in my breaking and training class, I had taken a scary fall that shifted my entire perspective on everything (PSA to always wear a helmet). The fear it had caused me I just couldn’t shake, and I started to struggle to keep up in my riding classes. I really wanted to drop out and give up right then and there, but stubborn me kept going. Honestly, that’s a whole other story in itself. It wasn’t easy, but I had made it through one last semester to earn my Associates and left college unsure if and how I would ever have a career centered around horses. I was completely changed as a rider.
I knew that if I ever wanted to continue to ride horses, I had to start to build back my confidence, and that is where dressage comes in. I wanted to develop a better seat and have more of a connection with the horse, something that I would consider to be part of the basic foundations of dressage. So at a local dressage barn, I found a trainer I connected with and met a horse named Tuna who together, jump-started my dressage career (a moment of appreciation for lesson horses). Over the next couple of years, I would lesson on Tuna, and it felt like it was completely restarting me as a rider. I even competed at my first dressage show on Tuna. He was such a kind and forgiving horse; just what I needed to not only learn dressage but to begin to have trust in my abilities again. At this time, I was still jumping with Rocky, but he was in his late teens and his age was starting to show. I had to make the tough decision to stop jumping with Rocky, something he absolutely loved doing, to preserve his joints.
The problem I started facing was a pony bored with his semi-retired life. One day while talking to my trainer, she had mentioned maybe trying dressage with Rocky. It wasn’t the first time she had considered this, but I never could imagine Rocky as a dressage pony. It was worth a shot though, so we drove two hours out of state to her favorite consignment tack shop where I bought Rocky all the tack he needed and new show clothes. Instantly, Rocky had a new spark in life. He loved his new job and within a week of training, we were signed up for our first dressage show where we placed second in both our classes. The first year of training and showing Rocky with my trainer was a whirlwind, and it gave me back the joy of riding again, something I felt I lost. When we handed in our forms for year-end awards, I figured placing would be a long shot being that this was our first year as a dressage team. To my surprise, Rocky and I had placed third in the tristate area in our division and earned our achievement award. Dressage training has really transformed Rocky, and he lights up in the show ring. I was so excited for the next show season, but I could not have predicted what would happen next.
The following year, a few months into our second show season, I found Rocky injured, completely lame on his back leg. The vet diagnosed him with a partial tear of a ligament near his stifle, and we were in for the long haul. I spent that summer rehabbing him back, unsure if my now twenty-year-old pony would make a full recovery. It was a rollercoaster of emotions, full of highs and lows. We had our good days and our setbacks. But little by little, Rocky started to come back and now it was my turn to build his confidence back. It was such a rewarding process, and I am so grateful Rocky and I can continue to do what we love. We managed to make it to the last show of the year, which is our favorite show because it’s Halloween themed. Rocky and I earned our first championship that day! Unfortunately, COVID-19 has put a pause in our third show season, and it’s really tough to lose another show season after coming back from an injury. We haven’t stopped working though. Rocky and I are still training to stay show ready for whenever we get the go ahead. Something I took away from the past five years is to never give up.
I never thought I would ever consider dressage but I am so glad I did. It has not been an easy journey, but I am so thankful for all that it has taught me. Like the saying goes, “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.” Finding my confidence through dressage also led me to wanting a career involving horses again. I am currently working towards earning my Bachelors in digital communications with the goal to have a career in equine journalism.
As a cowboy once told me, “Never worry about your falls, leave them where you fell. Every time you stick your foot in a stirrup is a new start. Ride with trust and confidence. Trust yourself and your horse, and you will have great results.”