Riding in Gratitude

One rider brings light to a couple who generously supports the dressage dreams of others.

Credit: © Michael Knoechel Elise Elman and Moca compete at the Hoosier Horse Park.

I would like to give credit where credit is due to Chuck and Joann Smith. They are the owners of Gypsy Woods Farm, in Richwood, Ohio, which is the home of Rocher and Marnix, two well-known horses who have competed in the highest level of dressage. Rocher, the Westphalen mare who competed internationally with George Williams, is now 24. 

Together, Rocher and Williams received numerous awards at the Grand Prix level, including fifth place at the 2003 World Cup Dressage Freestyle Finals in Gothenburg, Sweden. Marnix, a Dutch Warmblood gelding, is 21 and a veteran at the Grand Prix level as well. Both Rocher and Marnix are still ridden—Rocher very lightly and Marnix a little bit more so. They are both happy and loved very much.

Besides taking such great care of these wonderful horses, Chuck and Joann have helped out many people within the dressage world, including trainers, businesses and riders from Training Level to Grand Prix. I speak from experience because they are currently allowing me to ride their horse Moncasin, or “Moca.” Last year, Joann suggested that I try for my bronze medal on Moca. Considering my prior experience, I thought it might have been a reach. In 2012, I had never shown above First Level. In 2013, I didn’t show at all and thought there was no way I would get my bronze in one show season in 2014. But with the Smith’s encouragement and undying confidence in my riding ability, we got it done. 

This year I am trying for my silver medal, again with their enthusiastic encouragement. So far, I have gotten both Fourth Level scores and one Prix St. Georges score toward that goal. If it weren’t for Chuck and Joann’s generosity, I never would have come close to riding at this level. And even though jackets were waived at the show where I was competing at Prix St. Georges for the first time, there was no way I was riding without wearing my shadbelly! 

Chuck and Joann seem to be enjoying my journey as much as I am. They are genuinely happy to see me succeed, and I appreciate this opportunity more than words can say. I’m certainly not the only recipient of the couple’s generosity, though. They allowed Katie Knoechel, a junior rider, to compete Marnix in 2014 and earlier this year. It was a win–win for all involved as Chuck and Joann were glad to see Marnix in the ring again. A bunch of us even drove to Lexington, Kentucky, to see the pair compete at the Adequan/FEI North American Junior/Young Rider Championships.

Credit: © Elise Elman George Williams with Chuck and Joann Smith’s Rocher

I, myself, have just begun riding Marnix as well and all I can say is “Wow!” Never in a million years did I ever think I would have the opportunity to ride a Grand Prix horse and not look like a complete idiot. 

In addition to riding Moca and Marnix, Chuck and Joann also allow me to love on Rocher, who we refer to as “The Queen.” I love interacting with her, whether it be grooming, bathing or hand-grazing her. She is one of the neatest horses I’ve ever come in contact with and I think she loves the attention as much as I love giving it to her. 

I was asked to go to Dressage at Devon when Rocher retired in 2013, and it was an honor to be there. At the show, it became even more clear to me how respected Chuck and Joann are within the community and how loved Rocher is by the public.

Rocher’s legacy may also live on in her daughter, Gardez La Foi or “Rocket,” which is French for “keep the faith.” Rocket has been started under saddle, and Chuck and Joann are excited to see if she’ll be as spectacular as Rocher.

There are probably too many riders to count who have benefited from Chuck and Joann’s generosity. They have given so much to the dressage community over the years, and I am a very thankful recipient of their generosity.