A Winning Moment for an Amish Horse with a Rocky Past

At just 10 years old, Rocky’s life had already lived up to his name.

He’d had multiple owners, and spent most of his life booking hundreds, if not thousands, of miles trotting pavement as an Amish buggy horse. The strenuous work and sordid history had left him skinny, scarred, unsound, and significantly under-muscled and underweight. In mid-september 2013, it had also literally left him sitting in a Pennsylvania feed lot, waiting for the next foreign-bound truck when the volunteers of Forever Morgans came across him.

Rocky at the New Holland Pennsylvania Feed Lot. Courtesy of Forever Morgans

Rocky in Pennsylvania. Courtesy of Forever Morgans

“He had been sent to auction and bought by a kill broker,” said Cindy Noll, a fosterer and volunteer with Forever Morgans. “He would only be available for a week before he got put on the truck to the slaughter plant.”

Forever Morgans’ network of volunteers scopes the auctions and feed lots, then advertises viable rescues through their many social platforms to approved adopters. In Rocky’s case, they only had a matter of days to make a miracle happen.

Thanks to the power of social media, 2,000 miles away in Northern Utah, Celia Jacobson found herself staring down the photos of a skinny Rocky, unable to look away.  Celia had been showing. breeding, and training Morgans for 40+ years, and owned two Morgan geldings already when she saw Rocky. “I really didn’t need another horse. Horses come across Facebook all the time in need of rescue, and it makes me sad,” she said. But with Rocky, “There was a softness in his eye,” she said.

A short video of him calmly leading around the feed lot, the discovery of his magnificent Morgan pedigree (“World Champions, top and bottom,” Celia says), and despite his condition, the undeniable lure of his beautiful build convinced her that even if all she ever did with him was look at him, “What an opportunity it would be to own this horse.”

Celia passed the adoption approval process, paid the fees, and coordinated with Pennsylvania local Cindy Noll to foster Rocky through his quarantine period. Rick Smith, co-owner of Keystone Equestrian where Celia boards her horses, agreed to make the 60 hour round-trip journey to bring Rocky home. A feed lot, a quarantine, 2,000 miles and an epic snowstorm later, Rocky was bedding down in his new home in the American West alongside Celia’s other two beloved Morgan show geldings, Sawyer and Skeeter.

Rocky at Cindy Noll's quarantine facility the day he headed west. Courtesy of Forever Morgans

Rocky at Cindy Noll’s quarantine facility the day he headed west. Courtesy of Forever Morgans

“When he came in, you could count every vertebrae all the way down his tail, and his wither stuck out like a cake plate,” Celia said.

After nine months of daily love, affection, patience, commitment, vet checks, and supplements, Rocky is sound, fit, sleek, and most important to Celia, genuinely happy. Rocky’s vet says he has put on 250 pounds since he first saw him, mostly in muscle. He has thrived since retiring from buggy life and hard pavement, and now does light country pleasure work under saddle that suits his natural headset and showy movement.

Rocky's improvement in body and energy after 8 months of rehab. Courtesy of Celia Jacobson

Rocky’s improvement in body and energy after 8 months of rehab. Courtesy of Celia Jacobson

She said the hardest part of his training was addressing his fear to canter. “As a buggy horse, they are severely punished if they do,” said Celia. But as he was given the chance to run with his stablemates in the turnout, and learned to trust Celia’s quiet encouragement and praise, he worked through it. (“He now thrives on attention!” she added.)

Rocky was doing so well, in fact, that in early June she decided to bring him along to a local show with her other gelding, Sawyer; not to compete, but to learn the show environment. He calmly and obediently stepped into the trailer for Celia, but soon began shaking uncontrollably. “He turned around and looked at me with those big black eyes of his with the most heartbreaking look, like, ‘mom, what did I do wrong? We unloaded him. I cried.” They tried again on the second day, and Rocky did much better in the trailer and arrived cool as a cucumber to the show grounds. He remained the calm professional from beginning to end, even with the chaos of a busy show on every side of him.

She took him to practice in the hectic warmup ring, and still, he was happy to do his job. “So I decided to enter him.”

Celia and Rocky in his first English Pleasure Class. Courtesy of Celia Jacobson.

Celia and Rocky in his first English Pleasure Class. Courtesy of Celia Jacobson.

As Celia tells it,

“His first class I was cautious, he was being so good. I didn’t want to push him too much, asked him to canter, he stepped right into it and held it all the way around the arena.

In his last class, everyone was watching. They knew his story. When they asked for the canter and he took it, he got cheers from the rail. I felt like I was on a horse that had done this for years. He was like ‘we got this Mom, hold on.'”

The horse nobody wanted nine months ago was that night awarded the Morgan English Pleasure Grand Champion.

Celia and Rocky in their Grand Champion Victory Lap.

Celia and Rocky in their Grand Champion Victory Lap.

Going forward, Celia says her goal with Rocky is just to continue bringing him along slowly, without pushing him too far. “His potential is limited by his over-use in his past life,” and added that it will be up to him what he wants to do with the years of use he has left. “He seems to like this ‘show thing’, so it is worth the work while he wants to do it.”

“He only has a few scars that will never heal,” said Celia. “But as long as we are together, we are happy.”

Many thanks to Celia Jacobsen and Forever Morgans for their contributions to this story.

Do you have a transformation story to share? Think Craigslist to champion, an auction diamond in the rough, backyard pony to upper-level competitor. Now that you have peeled back the onion layers to find a rose, why not show it off?  Email Horse Nation the details ([email protected]) — the blood, sweat, tears, perhaps a little snot, and pinch of money that went into the process of turning a lump of coal into a sparkling diamond. -Krista Amos

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