Mary Cameron Rollins can safely say that her life, at 26, has been a circle of friendship. She’s been a Wellington, Florida, resident since 2009, but she grew up in Pensacola, Florida. And that’s where the story began. As a child, 9-year-old Rollins competed in the hunter world. She met another girl, Savannah Simmons, a member of a rival barn. Simmons lived in Southern Alabama, a hop, skip and a jump from Pensacola, and the girls knew each other in and out of the arena. Simmons diverged to volleyball and played at Birmingham Southern College for the Panthers. Rollins, the gravitated to dressage, and was the 2009 NAJYRC Individual Gold medallist. “We lost touch, and then I was competing at the 2012 Festival of Champions and they came and found me,” Rollins said. “We reconnected and it's been wonderful ever since.”
After rekindling their friendship, Rollins became Savannah Simmons’ and her mother Teresa’s trainer at their Southern Cross Farm in Daphne, Alabama. Teresa bought a chestnut mare, Rock Star, and Rollins came to Alabama to help with the training. Now, 23-year-old Savannah has taken over the ride from her mother and is working toward the Prix St. Georges at Devon Kane’s Diamante Farm.
In 2011, Teresa Simmons found an amazing horse for sale, Royal Prinz, a 10-year-old Oldenburg stallion (Royal Diamond-Mystica, Dream of Glory). “The first time I saw him, I called my husband and said we have to have this horse,” she said. “We purchased him and he has just been wonderful.”
Labor Day weekend, they put the horse in training with Wellington’s Oded Shimoni, a veteran of two World Equestrian Games and two European Championships. Soon after, Rollins got the ride.
On Jan. 24, Rollins and Royal Prinz won the FEI Intermediaire I at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival (AGDF) 3 National show with a 72.368 percent. It was the duo’s second Intermediaire I at only their second show together. They also won the FEI Prix St. George at the AGDF 1 on Jan. 10 with a 69.474 percent.
“Every time I leave the ring, I'm in tears on this horse because he just gives his all,” Rollins said, her voice wobbling with emotion. “Every time. There are not a lot of horses that are like that. I’ll have that test in my memory for a long time. The whole thing felt a little bit like a dream. I got in my truck after the ride and called my mom and said, ‘This is crazy! I can't believe this is happening to me.’ I just feel very blessed and very fortunate.”
Rollins thanked the Rollins family, her groom, Roberto Alegria, her personal trainer and her sponsors. Then, she grew emotional again as she thanked Shimoni, her trainer for the past year and a half.
“We have such a great rapport,” she said. “I was in the warm-up ring today and he said a joke or something. I'm cantering down the long side in a medium canter and laughing out loud. Everyone was staring at me. But he challenges me every day to be better than my best. He's really changed my riding. I'm so much stronger mentally and physically. My horses are feeling the best they’ve ever felt.”
Teresa Simmons said that Rollins and Royal Prinz are fabulous together.
“Oded said that she doesn’t know what a good rider she is, but he doesn’t want to tell her because she won’t listen to him anymore,” Simmons said.
Rollins laughed. “I really think in this sport you are always evolving and you are always getting better − or getting worse, if you are developing bad habits, but hopefully getting better. I don't know if I will ever consider myself a good rider because you can always learn something new. You can always develop better habits. You can always develop better skills. You can always develop better horsemanship.”
Teresa Simmons held up a bag of treats for her horse and smiled.
“We bring the treats and hold onto her coat tails,” she said.