Taking the Leap: Leaving Home at 15 to Chase My Dressage Dream

Photo © Meg McGuire Photography


Right now, there are many young riders scattered across the country dreaming of victory gallops or training horses full time. I was just like them, and have worked from a working student to a dressage trainer. By sharing my story, I hope to motivate young riders to never give up on their dreams. 

My dressage journey began in San Antonio, Texas. When I was 7 years old, I told my parents, “I want to be a Dressage trainer and go to the Olympics!” A year later, I was competing every month but when I turned 14 dressage became a different ball game. Competing at 3rd level and Prix St. George, I could barely manage a 60%. I was failing, and knew I needed to make a change.

Even so young, I knew that in order to be successful I had to eat, sleep and breathe the sport if I wanted to make it. So at fifteen, I convinced my parents to let me move out on my own to become a working student. First I moved to California to be a working student a dressage barn there, then back to Texas and later Florida. 

Becoming a working student so young was extremely difficult. Even though I was only 15, I was expected to be an adult. I made 10000+ mistakes, and failed numerous times. I cried frequently, and was always exhausted because I often worked from 7am – 9pm with one day off a week. 

Photo © Meg McGuire Photography

But there were so many benefits to all my hard work. I had the opportunity to ride between 5-10 dressage horses on a daily basis. I got to compete on numerous sale horses, ride sale horses for buyers, make videos, teach lessons to clients and train client horses. Through all of this, my riding improved tremendously. 

Sometimes you see 14 year olds earning their gold medal or juniors competing in the Grand Prix. It’s not easy. Even with all the wonderful training I received in my working student situations, I still struggled in the competition ring. The hardest failure was not making the FEI junior team for 2 years in a row. I dealt with lameness, buying the wrong horse, hospitalizations—the list goes on. But I never gave up.

Photo © Christine Kleha Simpson

Finally, after more work than I can describe, I made the FEI Junior Team and competed in NAYC on the 7-year old horse I trained myself, Dazzle. He ranked 9th individually, and we represented Region 9 to earn the team bronze. Dazzle tried so hard for me, that training his piaffe, passage and one tempis almost felt easy. He was the magical kind of horse that gave me the confidence to take the leap and start applying to trainer positions. With our recent success and all the years I dedicated to being a working student, I felt I was ready.  

Even though the first barn I applied at turned me down, I didn’t give up. Eventually, I found a head trainer dressage position in California. I applied, and the owner, Merijane, flew me in for a week trial. Merijane had just retired from judging and bred dutch horses. Her barn had 7 Dutch Warmbloods that needed to be trained. 

Photo © Jenna Rhoads

At 18 years old, she knew I was young, but was willing to let my riding and training speak for itself. Merijane must have been impressed, because she hired me and allowed me to start my own dressage training business at her property. Within months, I brought in new clients and love watching the barn grow as talented horses come to join our team. 

So today, I’m 18 and owe my career to the years I spent as a working student. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been worth it. To all the young riders out there—be yourself. Be unique. Chase after your dreams, and never give up.

Skye Simpson is an FEI dressage rider. She is a USDF bronze and silver medalist competing up to  I-1, and her goal is to take her young horse to the U25.