Hockey Star is Keen on Dressage

National Hockey League All-Star player Jeremy Roenick faces danger every time he skates onto the ice for a game. The Phoenix Coyotes’ center, noted for his courage, has a titanium jaw — the one he was born with shattered when he was elbowed into the glass around the arena. His nose has been broken eight times, and he’s sustained “an array” of other broken bones.

But there’s one thing he’s nervous about, and it’s something his wife, Tracy, does nearly every day. Getting on a horse is where Jeremy draws the line.

“I don’t ride myself. Horses are so powerful and so big, and they spook at the littlest things,” he explained, noting he also worries about his wife’s safety. “I cringe every time she walks behind a horse.”

That’s not to say that he doesn’t appreciate the family’s horses.

“I pet them. I really love them. I love to give them the snacks, the apples, the sugar,” he said.

“He begs them, `Please be good for her,'” says Tracy with a fond look.

The two made a trip to New Jersey this month from their Scottsdale, AZ, farm so Tracy could compete at U.S. Equestrian Team headquarters for the first time after qualifying for the USET Intermediaire I Championship at the Bayer/USET Festival of Champions.

Her husband came along not only to help his wife, but also to do a segment on dressage for, of all things, the National Hockey League’s Cool Shots television show that offers an insight into players’ lives.

“They said, `We’ve got to show it and get it on TV,'” Jeremy recalled, reporting the producers’ reaction when they heard where he was going. “It’s good publicity for the NHL. Usually, half the players are out playing golf. Not too many guys are out supporting their wives doing the Olympic dream.”

Jeremy understands about Olympic dreams. He will realize his own next year as part of the U.S. Olympic hockey team. Tracy’s a lot further away from hers. The Festival marked the first time in a decade that she has competed in a national event, her last big outing having been the 1991 Young Riders championship.

Tracy took time off to have the couple’s children, Brandy, 6, and Brett, 4, so she only has been getting into dressage again seriously for the last year. Qualifying for the Festival on her 9-year-old Dutchbred, Kashmir, was almost too good to be true.

“I’m just thrilled to be here. If I do better than 12th (of 12 competitors), it’s wonderful,” says Tracy (who wound up seventh).

“All these other ladies and men have been in the Olympics, or they’re sponsored. Tracy’s just by herself,” says Jeremy.

Well, not completely. Her coach is Debbie McDonald, winner of the USET Grand Prix Championship and a favorite to make the 2002 World Equestrian Games team with Brentina.

“She comes to me once a month for four days,” says Tracy. “We’re really close. It’s really been an awesome relationship. She’s a dear friend, with or without the horses.”

McDonald agrees, especially since her 16-year-old son, Ryan, is an aspiring hockey player whose idol is Jeremy.

“Jeremy’s taken him under his wing,” says McDonald. Ryan was brought to Phoenix by Jeremy to skate with the Coyotes for two weeks, sealing the bond between the families.

Jeremy’s hockey-playing buddies are mystified when he talks about dressage.

“They have no idea what it is, but they ask me, `Are you crazy, getting into horses?’ They only see the dollar aspects of it,” says Jeremy.

He tells them, “`My wife has a hobby, she has something to do.” A lot of my pals on the ice, they have to go home and entertain their wives all day; they have nothing else better to do. It’s wonderful she has something she loves to do, and I think a lot of people are jealous of that.

“I support everything she does,” Jeremy continues. “If she has to take off and go to shows, whether it’s getting a new horse or buying a farm, I’ll try to do everything I can to help her follow her dreams, being a pro athlete myself. She has to deal with a lot of things I go through, traveling, trying to achieve my goals. I try to give her the same kind of opportunity she’s given me.”

They have a long history of give and take. The Roenicks, now 31, met at Thayer Academy in Massachusetts when they were both 13.

Was it love at first sight?

“It was fear at first sight,” confesses Jeremy. “She was the hottie at school. She was the good-looking girl, and everybody was nervous talking to her.”

But he won her heart by going to watch the riding lessons she took with Olympian Dorothy Morkis.

“I had to show interest if I had any shot at hanging out with her, I had to enjoy the horses,” explains Jeremy. And he picked up a lot.

“He can say, `You know, the haunches were leading in the half-pass or whatnot,’ says his wife. “He’s been really supportive. For someone who isn’t into the sport, he understands it pretty well.”

That was obvious listening to the commentary he provided for TV at the Festival.

When Jeremy retires from hockey, his wife envisions him driving the tractor around the farm. He envisions playing on the celebrity players’ golf tour. The truth is, he probably has a big TV career in front of him, though he obviously would have to expand beyond talking about dressage. That should be no problem.

“I will do commentary on anything. Just being in front of a microphone is something I really enjoy,” says Roenick.

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