Lessons from the Rocmaster School of Confidence and Charisma – Bit of Britain’s Next Top Rider finalist Austin Skeens

Paul Ebersole giving some advice before AEC cross-country in the pouring rain. Photo Credit: David Skeens


After an overwhelming response with over 100 entries, Bit Of Britain has narrowed down the finalists for the Next Top Rider sponsorships.

It has been narrowed down to 11 finalists.

Tune into www.eventingconnect.today as these 11 finalists continue to strut their sponsorship worthiness with blogs and vlogs over the next few weeks. We encourage you to provide feedback and share your favourite blogs and vlogs on social media as these young riders vie to be Bit of Britain’s Next Top Rider! Voting for the Bit of Britain’s Next Top Rider begins on December 1st. 

Be sure to use the hashtag #BofBNextTopRider

Lessons from the Rocmaster School of Confidence and Charisma
by Austin Skeens

I am a fortunate rider. I have had the opportunity to ride lesson horses and green horses both young and old, but my recent partner, Rocmaster is teaching me lessons that will last a lifetime. Many of those lessons take place when I’m in the saddle, but some have more to do with attitude and fortitude under pressure. Listed below are a few of these lessons – I hope you find Rocky’s antics just as thought-provoking and amusing as I do.

1. Sometimes just a little swagger goes a long way:
Rocky has a definite swagger about him. He doesn’t walk into the barn or out to the pasture- he saunters. Other horses take notice. When they do, Rocky perks his ears and poses with an air of confidence. In direct contrast to Rocky’s “king of the farm” attitude is his drive to eat as much food as possible at any given opportunity. Unloading from the trailer, Rocky will regularly present himself to his subjects with a regal pose, only to clamber down the ramp like a rhinoceros with sea legs, almost flipping overreaching for grass before he has made it to the bottom. He always looks a bit contrite after this occurs. But he shakes it off and continues to go about his day.

Lesson Learned – It’s important to be confident. I deserve to be where I am, even when I don’t feel that way. Even so, it is just as important to be humble – I will definitely embarrass myself, and I won’t be on top of the world all of the time. I need to be prepared to have some failures. But they only remain failures if I choose not to learn from them.

2. Dress for Success – aka “Respect the Forelock:”
My grandfather always said “dress for the job that you want, not the job that you have.” Rocky takes this to the extreme with his voluminous forelock. When I purchased Rocky one of the first things his owner at the time, Colleen McKitrick, ever said to me was: “Respect the Forelock.” This is a mantra that comes back to me every day when I groom my horse. His forelock is part of his manly personality, and he just wouldn’t be him without it. It says – “right now my job is to fancy prance and jump the jumps with this boy, but my future job is to be the herd stallion.” (Rocky doesn’t know that this is a job he can’t have, he just knows that he wants it. I don’t want to burst his bubble, so I don’t tell him.)

Lesson Learned – If I want to be a professional, I need to present myself in a professional way. Not only in the way I dress, but the way I appear to spectators, other riders, and on social media. Showing up to a lesson or a clinic in a Metallica tank top and old breeches (though comfortable) will not impress anyone, and shows disrespect for the instructor and other riders. Sloppy turnout or poor conduct on social media implies that I do not take the sport or my role in it seriously.

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression” – Head and Shoulders Marketing Department
Photo Credit: Heather Skeens


3. Trust is a Must:
I am lucky to have Rocky. He’s a seasoned competitor; he knows the ropes, and he is teaching me every day. That said, he also is not shy about making his opinions known, and he is very adamant that he is right… 100% of the time. The problem is that neither of us is correct all of the time, so we have to rely on each other to make good decisions. For example, one time I was fully prepared to get a chip spot to a vertical. It was my fault. I sat up and kept my leg on. Rocky had other ideas. He leapt forward at the long distance and somehow kept from crashing through the poles as if they were bowling pins. In hindsight, a short spot probably would’ve resulted in said “jump bowling.” (SCORE: Rocky: 1, Austin: 0.) However, Rocky’s long spots won’t always work on the cross country course. At Morven Park in April, there was a tall solid vertical obstacle on course. The jump landed on a downhill slope. Unaware of the dangers ahead, Rocky threw his ears at the fence and prepared for liftoff. As the air traffic controller, I quickly sat back and gave a half halt, so that “Air Rocmaster” didn’t crash and burn.

Lesson Learned – Even though he is a smart, athletic guy, Rocky isn’t perfect or easy to ride. That being said, despite some recent success, I am not a perfect rider. Nobody is. Occasionally, our chance of success on a given day can be seriously hindered because we get in each other’s way. In other words, sometimes it’s best to just let Rocky do his thing. Alternatively, he will occasionally try to make some seriously bad decisions, and he has to trust me enough to listen and follow instructions. I think that’s really special, as Rocky is not only my horse, but my teammate. Sometimes we need to trust each other more so that we both refrain from receiving a mouth full of disappointment… and dirt. Mostly dirt.

4. Don’t sweat the small stuff:
I was told that early in his career, a loose horse ran through Rocky’s dressage arena at a show. His response? To keep right on strutting his stuff. Mud? A blowing plastic bag? Screaming child? Driving rain? No sweat. At the Virginia Horse Trials in the spring, a car alarm began blaring right next to the dressage arena in the middle of my test. Once again, Rocky was nonplussed. I, on the other hand, totally lost my concentration in the middle of what could have been my best test ever. The resulting mistakes rattled me so badly that I continued to obsess about it into my show jumping round that afternoon, and my loss of focus cost me a ribbon.

Rocky hitting the salad bar after a trailer ride… IMMEDIATELY after a trailer ride.
Photo Credit: Heather Skeens


Lesson learned – Freaking out over little mishaps makes them so much bigger, so it’s best to follow Rocky’s example and just shrug them off. (Well, Rocky will tell you he doesn’t make mistakes but don’t listen to him.) Letting go of my imperfections is difficult for me, and is a work in progress. My trainer, Paul Ebersole, and dressage coaches, Cody Armstrong and Lynn Jendrowski, have been a great help to me because of the calm, instructive way that they handle my mistakes. I have spent a lot of time working through Daniel Stewart’s book, “Pressure Proof Your Riding,” and I believe that his techniques have been very helpful as well. I am learning how to be as focused and confident as my horse needs me to be.

It’s amazing to me how much our horses teach us without the benefit of spoken language- not just about communication and riding, but about life. The four lessons outlined above don’t just apply to riding and competing, but to grow up, having relationships with others, and working in the real world. I am fortunate to have such a wonderful partner that I can rely on and learn from. I hope that he feels the same way about me.


Follow Austin on his social media and help him to become the 2018 Bit of Britain’s Next Top Rider:


2018 Bit of Britain’s Next Top Rider quest is on

The finalists have been chosen. In case you missed it, here is what will happen next:

Part 2 – We will get to learn more about each of these interesting young riders
Tune in over the month of November to find out about the unique stories behind these young riders. Riders will be submitting Blogs or Vlogs to share their stories.  This is an amazing group of up and comers with goals and dreams. Look forward to hearing about Eventing from all over North America. Be ready for stories that are going to make you laugh, cry and cheer.

Part 3 – Public voting
On Dec 1, 2017, public voting on the Blogs and Vlogs will begin on Eventing Connect for the finalists. The public voting will end on Dec 12, 2017. The public voting will account for 50% of Bit of Britain’s sponsorship decision. Other considerations will include their social media following and social media interaction from Oct 19, 2017 to Dec 12, 2017.

Part 4 – Sponsorship Announcement
On Jan 5, 2018, the sponsorships will be announced on Eventing Connect. Three riders will receive sponsorships for three different values that will include a variety of products from which the riders can choose:

  • 1st place – Gold ($1500 USD),
  • 2nd place – Silver ($1000 USD)
  • 3rd place – Bronze ($500 USD)
Scroll for more top stories on Eventing Connect