Maya Simmons Studenmund wears several hats: eventer, mother, wife. Throughout her riding career, Maya has striven to build a reputation as a horsewoman, and it wasn’t until recently that she felt she had finally found her once in a lifetime horse, an off-track Thoroughbred gelding named Archie Rocks.
Archie came to Maya early in 2015 as a 7-year-old whose racing career spanned 30 starts. He raced as Smittys Messiah (Le Monde – Unbridled Diva, by Unbridled Jet) before retiring in 2013, and Maya ultimately rechristened him Archie Rocks in honor of her grandfather, who served as a pilot during World War II.
“I bought him from Chris Talley about a year and a half ago, after a couple in Pennsylvania had him. He’d never evented when I got him, but I bought him off of a video thinking he’d be a good sale prospect. I thought he’d be at least a Novice horse.”
A mother of twins, Maya had a former Advanced horse but had since focused more on buying and selling horses rather than campaigning at the upper levels. “I thought that since I was a mom with twins, I’d just resell some horses here and there.”
Balancing Motherhood and Riding
Maya was in a motorbike accident a few years ago that resulted in a head injury, forcing her to take some time away from riding. “My husband and I decided that it was the right time to have kids, but it is so difficult as a female professional to take a step back,” she said.
“But my owners were so supportive of it; they really stepped in and took care of the horses and the business. As soon as I said I was ready to start riding again, they were right there. But I still thought I’d just sell horses, and that’s what Archie was supposed to be.”
But there was something special about Archie that Maya couldn’t quite part with. “I’ve never had a bad ride on that horse,” she said. “He’s so rideable, and I always thought he’d be a good three-day horse. That’s what you want. I took him Prelim for the first time last fall, and it was so easy for him. I thought, ‘Well, this is my horse to sell.'”
Maya made a call to longtime friend Hawley Bennett-Awad and offered Archie for sale, thinking he would be an ideal ride for Hawley. “I told Hawley I had her horse, and she told me, ‘No, this is your horse; this is your dream.’ So I took that to heart and talked to a few people and decided to keep him.”
Getting Back to the Top
It was a decision Maya has never regretted, as Archie has brought her back to the Intermediate level with an eye on moving up to Advanced in the future.
“I’m in no rush at all — he’s just 8 — but I’d love to be back at the top of the sport and competing again,” Maya said. “Intermediate is the first level that has challenged him even a little bit. The dressage is a bit hard for him since he’s a Thoroughbred, but he’s just a world class horse. You cannot buy that brain that he has. He never fights, never fusses. I could put anyone on him.”
The culmination of Maya’s hard work with Archie came at the Dutta Corp Fair Hill International CCI2* last month, when Archie finished sixth in a very competitive division just 18 months after starting his eventing career.
“I’d like to take more credit, but I can’t,” Maya said. “It was just so easy for him. I would have jumped him around the three-star if I could have! When you take a Thoroughbred off the track and give them something they love, there’s nothing that can stop them.”
Archie finished on a personal best dressage score of 51.1 at Fair Hill, cementing himself as a top class horse for Maya, who still has to pinch herself that she’s sitting on something so special. She’s quick to thank all who have stood in her corner throughout the journey.
“The owners backing you are huge; I could not do it without them. Being a mom, I can’t be teaching all day and running a full-scale business. But I have an amazing family support system at home. They love me and believe in me, and without them I couldn’t do any of this,” she said.
“Some days it’s hard. I find myself asking, ‘Do I push too hard? Am I crazy?’ But it works, and it’s all because I have a village, which is the only way I feel I can do both sides decently well.”
Aiming for Advanced
Maya bases in Southern Pines, North Carolina, and works with Will Faudree and John Zopatti. “I feel like I’m finally getting it all together; I finally know who my people are. You have to be in the right program for who you are, and that won’t be the same for everyone. I feel good.”
Looking ahead, Maya has decided to syndicate Archie Rocks to help her achieve her goals of returning to the Advanced level. “He’s my once in a lifetime horse, so I want to figure this out. I’ve been saying for awhile now that he’s the real deal, and I want other people to share in this journey,” she said.
“People get their once in a lifetime horse, and I hadn’t had mine yet. Many times I’ve thought, ‘Why now? Why now, when I’m 38 with two kids?’ But I realize now that this is a wonderful time. I have all of the time in the world to produce him and take care of him and enjoy him. I don’t have a million horses in training and I want to do right by the ones I do have. Every time I get off the horse, I find a way to get back on. And it makes me feel like this really is what I’m meant to do.”
For more information on joining the syndicate for Archie Rocks, please contact Maya directly.