Dressage's Dark Horse - How A Former Eventer And Her Longshot Gelding Found Grand Prix Success
When eventing trainer Terri Rocovich decided to make the switch to dressage with the purchase of her first "official" dressage horse, she searched for a horse with whom she felt a connection. That connection was found in an unexpected package - Uiver, a 10 year old, 3rd level Dutch Warmblood gelding who had a flair for resistance and a nasty habit of "exiting the dressage court on his hind legs".
Rocovich first laid eyes on Uiver through an intriguing ad online. The stunning bay was as handsome as he was headstrong, with outstanding movements and a FEI caliber confirmation to match. The only glaring oddity was his price tag - Uiver was shockingly affordable. Rocovich didn't hesitate to act, she contacted her friend and Uiver's new trainer, David Blake, to try the gelding out.
Once in the saddle Rocovich put Uiver through a straightforward assessment, stating "my sister calls it the 'Butt Test'. You just put your butt on the horse's back and there's either a connection or there's not. Some people in the horse world don't understand that concept. They'll look at some horse and think OK he can jump this high or do this level dressage and that may very well be true, but in my opinion if there's not a bond between a rider and the horse you'll always be limited."
Despite Uiver's naughty reputation the sparks between him and Rocovich flew. She recalls empathizing with the horse, feeling that Uiver, who had only been recently gelded was likely misunderstood by his rotating stream of handlers.
"You import him to a new country, you introduce him to new people that he can easily intimidate, and he's got raging testosterone and hormones. And on top of that he does this weird thing when he begs where he pins his ears back and people think it's aggression, but it's just his weird way of begging."
To Rocovich, Uiver's behavior made sense. So she brought him home.
The gelding settled in surprisingly quickly, taking to the quiet environment of Rocovich's private ranch. Together Rocovich and Uiver continued to work with trainer David Blake, trailering in regularly for lessons. After just two months they entered their first show at third and fourth level. Prior to this, Rocovich had only competed to third level on her former Thoroughbred event horse, and admittedly not done particularly well, so her expectations with Uiver at their first show were modest to say the least.
"I bought him in June of 2011 and our first show was in August of 2011. We entered 3-3 one day, and 4-1 the next and he won all of the classes with huge scores. David just looked at me and said 'OK, Prix St. Georges next time!' and I told him 'David, I don't know how to do tempi changes!'. The horse did not know tempi changes either. And David's response was just 'don't worry he'll learn'."
Rocovich and Uiver's success continued to escalate from there, with only small hiccups along the way.
"At the next show in November of 2011 we did PSG and I probably screwed up half of the test. But then the following year he was 4th at the Region 7 Championships for PSG and then we moved him up to I-1 and I think he was 3rd in the championships at that level."
Finally, in 2015 the Grand Prix first timers won the USDF Region 7 Championship at Grand Prix and went on to compete at the USDF Finals in Kentucky. Rocovich says the learning curve that landed them at Grand Prix in four short years was truly a case of "the blind leading the blind". No one was more surprised than Rocovich herself by their swift accession up the levels and their knack for nabbing ribbons.
"When I bought Uiver I never intended him to be a Grand Prix horse. I just wanted to get my silver medal and do PSG. That was the height of my aspirations at that point."
It didn't take long for the Southern California dressage community to notice the dynamic duo and recognize the change in Uiver, who had formerly trainer hopped around San Diego along with his reputation.
"Me being able to have this horse is a gift in itself, but it's been really cool to have people walk up and say 'what you've done with this horse is unbelievable'. Sue Blinks walked up to David and I at Del Mar National a couple of years ago while David was giving me a lesson, and we do the little contact system where I have an ear phone in and he's got the little speaker by him so I could hear what Sue was saying. And she walks up to David and says 'I've just got to tell you what you guys have been able to accomplish with that horse is nothing short of amazing'. And that's from an Olympic rider! Talk about one of the greatest compliments that anyone could get."
But what ignited a change in Uiver so great that it would even catch the eye of Sue Blinks?
"I don't think I've done anything special. I do think he's happier not being in a big barn environment though. A lady at a show last weekend who used to work for one of his old trainers said 'It's just cool to see him so happy. He just needed a mom, he needed a person'. He needed to not just be handled by grooms and trainers, and every once in awhile the owner - he needed one person that was central in his life, where he could be the center of that person's universe. I told her that Uiver being happy is the greatest accomplishment of all. It is always strange to me when people don't prioritize the horse's happiness first. I can't imagine it any other way."