By Christine Rhodes
Second chances at life are often hard to come by — for horses and humans alike. Many Thoroughbred racehorses find themselves in dreadful circumstances once their careers on the track are over. However, for Rocket Zone — affectionately known as Rocky — retirement from racing in October 2012 set him on track to begin a new life as a show jumper.
Rocky’s life changed forever when he arrived at Race2Ring, an off-the-track Thoroughbred rehabilitation facility in Conover, North Carolina. Maranda Schill, then a 14-year-old local equestrian, connected with Race2Ring through their Love Lease Ride Show program, which offers a year-long lease agreement and 10 paid shows for accepted riders.
“I was ecstatic when I received notification inviting me and four other riders to come to their facility for a riding audition,” said Maranda. “On audition day, I met the newest love of my life, Rocket Zone. He was a huge, giant-strided boy. He had spunk — the perfect spunk required in the jumper ring. The staff at Race2Ring recognized it too. We were a perfect match and I was chosen as the perfect person for Rocky. It’s truly special to connect with an animal of such great size and strength and give him the love he deserves.”
Maranda, now 16, and Rocky, now 8 years old, quickly developed a special bond. After the year lease came to an end, Maranda adopted Rocky for one dollar. Maranda credits her exceptionally strong bond with Rocky to the amount of time she spends caring for him on a daily basis. Because Maranda is Rocky’s primary caretaker, she has learned every detail of his routine and quirky personality.
“Every morning after breakfast, Rocky lays down to take a nap and we both love those early morning snuggles. He’s such a teddy bear in his stall, but knows exactly when it’s time to put on his game face. If I’m having a rough day, he’s always there to give me a nudge on the shoulder and do something silly that makes me laugh. It never fails. He’s also very photogenic and loves to take selfies
Rocky’s New Career
Rocky’s life as a jumper has been much more successful than his racing career. He had 25 starts on the track, but only a few wins. “After working with Rocky for only a few months, I learned that he, too, had a passion for jumping. I began by showing at local shows and started C-rated jumper shows. His first season was very successful and he was showing great improvement,” Maranda said.
In their two short years together, Maranda and Rocky have compiled quite the list of accomplishments. They’re currently competing in the 1.10m jumper classes and qualified for USHJA Zone 3 Finals for 2015. They also won 1st place in the 2014 Year End Awards in Junior Jumpers and Overall Jumpers. In 2015 they received the 3rd place North Carolina Residing Thoroughbred award given by the North Carolina Thoroughbred Association and based on the Thoroughbred Incentive Program standings.
Their accomplishments are proof of the long hours of hard work they’ve put in together. “We feed off of each other’s passion for soaring through the air,” Maranda remarked.
Revisiting the Past
Even though Maranda now has full ownership of Rocky, she stays in touch with the staff at Race2Ring. Every year, she sends an update on Rocky’s health and body condition, as well as notable events and accomplishments from throughout the year. She also has taken Rocky to the Junior Jamboree, a fun schooling show hosted annually by Race2Ring. “I’d definitely encourage other people, especially young riders, to consider adoption,” Maranda says. “Even though off-the-track Thoroughbreds have unique challenges, it’s so rewarding to watch them adjust to their new lifestyle and see their training progress.”
Rocky’s story has captured the hearts of many — at most shows, he and Maranda have numerous supporters and make new friends. Maranda says that she’s quick to tell others about their experiences. “Rocky’s story has inspired so many people. Almost everywhere we go, people recognize him and ask how he’s doing!” Because of their popularity, Maranda started a blog to allow others to keep up with their progress.
Maranda and Rocky are lucky to have found each other. Rocky’s story demonstrates that seizing a second chance at life is worthwhile for those willing to put in the effort. As Maranda stated, “It takes hard work and sweat to be successful with horses, but it also takes an unbreakable bond between horse and rider that consists of friendship, love, trust and the love of the sport. I’m blessed to have found this with Rocky and great supporters along the way! He’s really one of my best friends and it’s amazing how we’re in sync and can accomplish anything we put our minds and hearts to. He’s so dedicated to me, as I am to him. I’m forever indebted to Race2Ring.”
About the writer: Christine Rhodes is an amateur hunter rider who enjoys combining her journalism goals with her love of horses. She resides in Hickory, North Carolina, and loves the mountains and new adventures.