Gem of the Month - He’s A Rockstar

Rocky, as seen in the November 2003 issue of Horse Deals

Owner/Rider? Serena Ireland

Location? Hunter Valley, NSW

Rocky’s Stats?
Rocky is a 14yo Arabian pony gelding born on 23rd October 2000. Rocky is by Far Montana out of Booligal Park Porsche and stands at 14 hands high.

What was it about Rocky that made you call?
The main things that stood out to us when we saw Rocky was his height (as we weren’t looking for a particularly large horse), his price and his conformation, particularly his long neck and legs making him appear athletic.

Buying a young horse requires a vision, what vision did your family have for Rocky? 
My mum’s horse had recently broken down and we weren’t in a financial situation to purchase a horse that was already going or started. Our vision was that he would be a project for my mum to work on until it was time for me to move on from my own pony and take over riding him.

How did he handle the starting process?
Rocky was broken in by Jeremy Janjic and was extremely difficult. He was cold backed and very unpredictable as to whether he would buck you off in the first 20 minutes of a ride - and boy - that little horse could buck like a trooper! It took many years of time, patience and progress for him to work through those issues. He bucked both Jeremy and my mum off in the days before I rode him but I’ve never fallen off him. Apparently that was in the deal Mum made with Rocky before she handed him over, that he wasn’t allowed to hurt me.

What education did he receive prior to you taking over the ride at a tender age of 10?
He received basic training of preliminary level dressage and some novice movements from my mum. In order to get him exposed to situations, my mum would hold mini dressage clinics/lessons at Pony Club and would ride him around while giving instructions in the arena. Eventually, after he was deemed a “safe conveyance” and had been warmed up, I began to ride him for the dressage/showing morning session at Pony Club and would switch horses for the sporting afternoon session.

Why did you decide to focus on pony dressage with Rocky?
He had already received training in that discipline. I had always really enjoyed dressage and it had always been my main focus and discipline throughout my short riding career to that point.

How has he progressed through the dressage levels?
Rocky progressed through the levels of dressage at a rapid rate considering my age and both of our levels of experience. For example, I competed in my first medium test when I was just 12 years old. However, as trainable as he was, he was certainly not the lightest pony in the world and as a small 10 year old it took a long time for us both to develop the strength to become lighter and less on the forehand. When I was about 11 and we really started to increase our training, I used to say to my coach, Liz Mudd, that I would die of arthritis when I was 21. Eventually we pushed past that and we were able to form a great relationship and progress through the levels. I’ve always been a very dedicated, determined rider. Even from the age of 12, I was very willing to be up at 5:00am, rain, hail or shine, to ride before school, if I had a competition to prepare for and there was not enough daylight at the end of the day.

I competed in my first Inter I test at Alexander Park Dressage Club on my 14th birthday so it is quite clear we both have a relatively good work ethic. We are now competing FEI Inter A and B which are our baby steps to the ultimate Grand Prix.

Describe your partnership.
I certainly believe that Rocky and I have the most amazing partnership. He is such a human character and I absolutely love him to bits (of course who wouldn’t?). He is SO quirky and even now at a wise age of 14, will still buck if you do his girth up too quickly or if he gets cold in the winter. So he’s no beginner’s, bombproof pony but he has the most amazing work ethic. Rocky is in no way evasive and would never choose not to do something. Rather, he would merely offer something different if it’s hard or there’s a form of miscommunication. He is certainly in a forever home, I couldn’t bear to sell him after how far we’ve come. He’s my baby and he may not be some flashy international dressage Warmblood but he is a little superstar that will try his heart out in everything.

Your most memorable moment with Rocky so far?
When I was 11, after much begging to my mother, I went down to Sydney and watched the Grand Prix freestyle at the Sydney CDI. I went home and started teaching Rocky flying changes (with no idea what I was doing but I was 11, how hard could it be?) and I swore to myself that one day I would compete there on Rocky. There were only 2 slight problems, ponies weren’t allowed to compete and all riders had to be over 16. Bugger.
However, I turned 16 in January last year and 2014 was also the first year they allowed ponies to compete in the Young Horse, Advanced, Prix St Georges and Grand Prix at the Sydney CDI. So by competing in the 2014 Sydney CDI at Advanced and Prix St Georges, I was able to fulfil my dream of competing in one of, if not the most, prestigious dressage competitions in Australia, in my first year of eligibility as a rider on a horse that I trained myself from the very beginning and had grown up with. I left the arena sobbing with joy pretty much at the end of all 3 tests.

Plans for the future?
Long term, I’m hoping one day Rocky can show my mum the ropes of the higher levels of dressage but my ultimate goals for 2015 are to 1. compete Inter A and B at the 2015 Sydney CDI, and 2. compete in my first Grand Prix test. To compete Grand Prix on Rocky has been my goal throughout this entire journey. It will be the result of 7 years’ worth of tears of joy, sadness (when we nearly lost Rocky to colic in 2010), and frustration, moments that I’ll never forget, commitment, determination and a partnership that will hold a special place in my heart forever.