The Rider I Am Today

My name is Kristina Porreca, On Instagram I’m known as kp_fl_horse. I’m 25 and have loved horses since I could probably talk! I reside in Fort Lauderdale FL, born and raised. Only an hour away from Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, where WEF is held. I ’ve always loved horses since I can remember. I took a couple lessons when I was 5 but had to stop because my parents could not afford it. I started riding again when I was 12 going on 13. Between those years of 5 & 12 I tried a couple different sports. I did dance, cheerleading, and Kung Fu. Unfortunately, none of those was fulling enough. I would continuously drive my parents crazy to take riding lessons. 

 I would say horses saved my life. I was depressed and so unwilling to go to school. I was bullied by both students and teachers. On top of school troubles, things at home were not the best because my mom was not doing so good. She has lots of issues going on with her back. To this day, I’m always helping when she needs extra help on top of my regular daily chores before and after the barn.

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2006 I started taking lessons at a little private barn that a friend of mine introduced me to. The first horse I started taking lessons on was a paint mare named Ace (which I wound up partial leasing) as well as an older OTTB mare named Midnight. I must say Ace and I did not get along to well. I’d also add that my trainer was not the kindest. She was on the mean side and played the ole favoritism game. I was probably with this trainer for almost 2 years. In late 2007 I literally packed all my riding stuff and left to a new trainer. BRS (Blue Ribbon Stables). I was on the hunt for my first horse, as I have proven to my parents that I am responsible. 

End of 2008 Is when I came across Red my first horse. I had at least in total tried 30 horse until I made my decision. Christmas 2008 Red was officially mine. I was so ecstatic. Red (Two Tall Wrangler) was a 17.1h solid bay QH Appendix gelding. Go figure I choose my first horse to be a giant. Things were good with the BRS trainer until some things went down. I won’t go into detail but just say she went psycho. She lost the lease on the property and a new trainer was to move in the barn mid 2009. I had the option to stay or find a new trainer, but I decided to stay and train with the trainer moving in. 

Trainer #3: Things were going well. Started to jump higher and was introduced to the jumpers. With this trainer we jumped our first 3’ and 4’ jump. I got to ride lots of different horses and met some new friends. After a couple a month’s things just started to decline. Red was looking thinner and they were locking the fed room so we couldn’t give hay even as a treat. Red was also being brought in filthy dirty with mud chunks stuck on him. After I had enough of that I started looking for a new barn, once I found one through a family friend, I gave my 2 weeks’ notice and brought Red to Myrland Stables in 2010. When I left the old barn all the girls would from time to time bother me and say mean rude things. 

Myrland stables is about a 20-acre barn right behind wolf lake. We took a little break from showing and decided to just sit back and relax. The girls here took a little to warm up to just because I’m so shy, but this is where the relationship between Red and I blossomed. We would go on trail rides every single day. In the summer we would go to the lake and swim and ride to the Wednesday night rodeos, since the grounds were so close, we’d even sometimes have to ride home in the dark when there was a time change. I also had to learn to swing up on Red bareback. This was a challenge at first but then became second nature. Late 2011 my dad introduced me to a friend he met who happened to be a horse trainer Grassy Ridge Farm “GRF”. 

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 In 2012 I was getting the itch that I wanted to start showing again, so I gave that trainer a call and started to take a couple of lessons. She unfortunately didn’t have room, so she had me give Mark one of Spring Water Farms “SWF” (a barn across the street) owner a call to take a tour and see about barding. Ironically, my boyfriend at the time new (now ex-bf) this trainer “Go Figure”. I gave him a call took a tour and was put on a waiting list to get in. Myrland stables owner knew I was leaving and was so chill about it because she also knew both farm owners. She said I am always welcomed back. 

Spring 2012 Red was moved to SWF. This was also right before my high school graduation. For a few moths I would ride Red across the street to take lessons at GRF. After a couple of months moving Red to SWF, I got busy with college, so things slowed down for a bit and didn’t take any lessons. Around summer 2013 I started Red back up in training, but not with GRF, but at SWF. Fast forward to 2014, early in the year we started to run into some problems. Red became lame, we had taken him up to Palm beach, to get his neck injected. With that still not completely working we had x-rays of his front feet hocks and stifles. He had some serious bruising in his front heals and bone spurs on his hocks, but nothing that would bother since they were Identical and not in a place that would interfere. We injected his hocks and coffin joints to see it would help. After almost a year of stall rest and mild turn out, and light riding here and there we were still in the dark as to what’s going on.

 End of 2015, I was given the opportunity to be a working student at SWF. When I became a working student, this is when the barn became my second family and really got to know everyone. At this time Red still was not completely sound, so he was to have additional stall rest, mild turn out. 

Towards the end of 2016 my trainer Mark purchased a little 15h palomino gelding named Latte! In the beginning of 2017, I got the chance to ride Latte and work with him almost every day. Latte became like my second horse, loved this little guy some much, he was defiantly special! At this time I had also made the decision to retire Red he was 15 and with so many issues and I didn’t find it right to keep in in a stall all the time. Red did everything I asked of him. 

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In July 2017, the day had come. The day Red was going to make his journey to his new home in Kentucky. He was going to a horse retirement place called “First Lights Run” were he would be out 24/7 with 10-15 other geldings on 20-30 acers. I got to the barn at 7am to get him all groomed up and spend some time with him before he left. Around 7:30am the transport trailer arrived. I walked my best friend, I had spent the last 9 years with, on to the trailer. I held my own and didn’t cry a single tear. Of course, later that day when I was alone I did. I was glad that back in March I had done professional photos with him. 

In September 2017 I got back into Jumping. It’d probably been 4-5 years since I jumped and 7 years since I show jumped. I was still training and a working student at SWF but took jumping lessons for a little with another trainer.  

In October 2017, is when I started looking for a horse. This is when my friend reconnected me with my trainer to this day. He had a horse for sale, and we scheduled a day to go out and ride. Originally, I was going to look at a mare he had, but when I got there, he pointed to this big ole bay Warmblood gelding. Of course, I fell in love the minute I saw him! It had been months since I had ridden such a big horse, so of course I was very timid. I made lots of mistakes jumping but he was so forgiving. At the end of October this big bay gelding would be officially mine and given the name Zeus! The trainer I bought Zeus from is the trainer that I am with to this day, Lozada Show Stables.

In November I took Latte to his first show along with 3 other gals from the barn. An oh boy it was and interest/ fun one. And he was sold in December, but he was sold to the best mama he could have, and I get to see his cute face from posts on FB.

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In 2018, Zeus took me to my first rated show. Of course, it was not just any rated show but WEF. Boy was I very nervous and made so many mistakes and slow as a turtle. Over the next year we showed a couple times and Zeus would give me my confidence back in jumping. 

2019, Zeus and I showed just one week of WEF, and so far, that’s the only show we’ve done this year. Late august Zeus tripped and fell, and I hurt my neck, nothing life threating but it was enough to scare me. He continuously tripped, so I made the decision to bring him the Palm Beach Equine clinic and got everything sorted out. Zeus and I will be back to jumping in no time!  I also was still working at SWF and even though it wasn’t a jumper barn but an AQHA barn. I can say I learn so much and can apply everything I learn to when I ride Zeus! Plus, I loved getting to ride other horses and it very good to know how to ride multiple disciplines. It may have taken me a while to be able to adjust from riding English to western every single day, but now it’s like second nature! 

With being around horses almost every day, I get to do what I love as well as photographing all the horses! Since I have so many models to practice on a daily! I must say I have been very fortunate to have parents to be able to support me throughout my riding while I am also finishing up my MBA in business management, which I will be done in December 2019, then as my parents say “ I have to find a real job to support the ponies”. I can’t complain since they have given me this tremendous opportunity for so many years.  

I hope ya’ll enjoyed reading my little snippet of my riding journey!

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First Time Horse Mom: Twenties to Twenties Jazz

My earliest memory around horses was riding my friends wonderfully compliant pony, Valentine. They’re foggy memories at best, but I remember the car rides to Del Mar seemed to stretch endlessly as sat filled with anticipation. We did very basic balance work that involved a vast amount of lunging in a circle at the walk as I reached my arms high up to the sky, out to my sides, and back again. They weren’t formal lessons in any sort of program, but the handful of times I went out there was certainly enough to get me hooked. 

 Years later and thanks to my aunt’s recommendation, I found a place I would begin my actual “riding” career around age six. Tucked away on the outskirts of Rancho Santa Fe, housed in a woman’s backyard I began to learn some basics. I started out on yet another pony, this one was named Jellybean. Although my steering was rudimentary, I yearned to ride her more advanced horses (young me thought I was way too good for this pony business). I knew nothing of the equestrian world outside of my own little backyard bubble, but clad in a green Troxel helmet and used pair of paddock boots I had everything I needed. We did a mix of arena work and trail rides, sometimes riding through the neighborhood around us (riding paths were the norm and allowed easy shaded access behind people's backyards). I loved my time spent riding through the tree lined streets, but when she eventually she stopped teaching I was horseless once again.

This woman also was an avid endurance rider, so check out that super cool purple bridle set up we used.

This woman also was an avid endurance rider, so check out that super cool purple bridle set up we used.

Enter a fateful Girl Scout trip to a local therapeutic riding program; I discovered a magical place where I could volunteer to help others while also taking lessons. I started out in the beginner lesson program, riding with just a bareback pad at the walk. I took one lesson a week for probably a month before they eventually bumped me up to actual tack and this time it was an English saddle. To this day I’m not sure why I was started with a bareback pad, but that was just how the program was taught. 

I hit the ground more times in those few years than the rest of my riding career put together (knocks on wood ferociously). Abu, Pegasus, Teddy, and Mr. T were a few of the gentle (and not so gentle) giants I got the chance to ride. I eventually heralded myself as one of their “advanced” riders and as such I craved more than just the once I week lessons. I eventually began half leasing a holy terror of an ex police horse they called JD. He’d kick and bite in the crossties, pin his ears if you approached, and absolutely loathed his job as a therapy horse. His attitude was causing him to fail out of the program, but since I fancied myself as the great tamer of horses, I figured our bond would get us through his lack of general ground manners.

My chaps were now brown suede, the boots black zip ups, and I’m pretty sure we’d moved onto a black bulky kind of Western style Troxel helmet. Oh, and the handsome devil next to me is the one and only JD.

My chaps were now brown suede, the boots black zip ups, and I’m pretty sure we’d moved onto a black bulky kind of Western style Troxel helmet. Oh, and the handsome devil next to me is the one and only JD.

Despite his major pitfalls, I had a massive soft spot for the devilish creature I was able to call at least very partially my own. He became my introduction to the basics of lunging, stickability, and how to dodge a mean left hook from the hind end. Outside the lease of the great bay devil, I attended a couple local schooling shows with the therapy center’s more “dependable” horses.

Photo featuring my oversized and borrowed show coat, zipperless tall boots, velvet helmet cover, and the magic steed Pegasus who decided attempting to run over the judge in the center of the ring was a brilliant idea.

Photo featuring my oversized and borrowed show coat, zipperless tall boots, velvet helmet cover, and the magic steed Pegasus who decided attempting to run over the judge in the center of the ring was a brilliant idea.

Here we have the same zipperless tall boots and velvet helmet cover, but a different and even more horrendously fit coat. Also pictured is the barrel horse who decided we should try and run a barrel-less pattern in our flat class. And who the heck braided him? I have no memory of this, the white knuckling it around endless circles kind of took up all that shows memory space.

Here we have the same zipperless tall boots and velvet helmet cover, but a different and even more horrendously fit coat. Also pictured is the barrel horse who decided we should try and run a barrel-less pattern in our flat class. And who the heck braided him? I have no memory of this, the white knuckling it around endless circles kind of took up all that shows memory space.

Here we have the same zipperless tall boots and velvet helmet cover, but a different and even more horrendously fit coat. Also pictured is the barrel horse who decided we should try and run a barrel-less pattern in our flat class. And who the heck braided him? I have no memory of this, the white knuckling it around endless circles kind of took up all that shows memory space. 

Each and every time I placed dead last and more often than not I ended the flat class by grabbing mane and holding on for dear life. The horses we took rarely left the property so the sudden introduction to even the sleepiest of show rings meant they lost the plot. Eventually my favorite instructor approached my parents about how I should perhaps look into moving on if I was serious about my riding. 

Starting in a new program twisted my stomach into knots. I had gotten very comfortable in the routine I was in and although excited, I was nervous to begin a different adventure. It was in this new program I learned how to jump from a gentle and lazy paint gelding named Magnum (little did I know I’d be using Magnum for my senior portraits in the near future). 

Senior portrait ft. Magnum and some wonderful photography skills by Heather Gallaher.

Senior portrait ft. Magnum and some wonderful photography skills by Heather Gallaher.

It was during this time that I was coaxed back into the show ring by my trainer and barn friends. It took major convincing and some wardrobe upgrades (still borrowed)  since my previous experiences left me a bit traumatized.

This is me and Toby aka Puddle of Mud aka the baddest b**** on the block. He is the ultimate lesson horse and when I couldn’t take Magnum to my first show he piloted us around as a most fabulous catch ride.

This is me and Toby aka Puddle of Mud aka the baddest b**** on the block. He is the ultimate lesson horse and when I couldn’t take Magnum to my first show he piloted us around as a most fabulous catch ride.

I eventually began half leasing a lovely yet opinionated bay gelding named Colby. He was definitely more horse than Magnum, but he taught me a lot and I ended up showing on the local GSDHJA (Greater San Diego Hunter Jumper Association) circuit with him up until I left for college. 

Colby, his momma Lauren, and myself at one of our best shows together. You can tell we mean serious business because I’ve finally invested in my very own show worthy Charles Owens helmet.

Colby, his momma Lauren, and myself at one of our best shows together. You can tell we mean serious business because I’ve finally invested in my very own show worthy Charles Owens helmet.

Look at us go! We jumped things! We competed in the 2’ and 2’3” hunters sans changes because that’s when life got a little too spicy.

Look at us go! We jumped things! We competed in the 2’ and 2’3” hunters sans changes because that’s when life got a little too spicy.

My move up north to UC Davis meant I was once again trainer-less, so I promptly became part of the UC Davis IHSA Hunter Jumper team (which is also where I met my good friend @equineendeavor). I spent a bit of time riding with the coach of the team, but over time I realized was not going to be beneficial. Over the next four years I bounced between different trainers; from the sixth month stint where I fancied myself an eventer, to the summer I rode sales horses at a serious hunter barn, I tried a bit of everything. 

Look! It’s baby Lauren and Charlotte with the absolute best lesson horse on the team, Ziggy.

Look! It’s baby Lauren and Charlotte with the absolute best lesson horse on the team, Ziggy.

At the start of my junior year I studied abroad in Italy and the time away from riding gave me a chance to gain a little perspective on what I really wanted. I came back and decided that I wanted to find the one place where I was truly happy to be riding, with little stress to perform. After some research and light stalking I found my new happy place ten minutes from my house, working with the off the track thoroughbreds of CANTER California. I ended up as the main volunteer for Just Peachy, an OTTB that defined the word mare. She required some rehab following her let down from the track and “Princess” Peach ended up becoming my project pony for the next two years. Our journey (which honestly requires its own post) would lead me to find my current housemates, close friends, barn family, and laughably terrible dart team all rolled into one. 

Senior photos take two, this time for college. I decided to use Peach and although she was a terrible model, we still ended up with some good shots.

Senior photos take two, this time for college. I decided to use Peach and although she was a terrible model, we still ended up with some good shots.

August 1, 2018 was when the handsome grey child I would come to know as TJ unloaded in the barn parking lot as the newest addition to the NorCal CANTER herd. The failed racehorse known as Twenties Jazz (or “grey baby” for the first week of his existence with us) was the horse that would soon change my status as perpetual lesson pony person to horse mom extraordinaire. In the following two months, I would find myself as a trainerless first time horse owner in possession of a green off the track thoroughbred and no idea what I was doing. 

Luckily I have the support of great friends who are there to help me through the process of training my baby brained child into my very own hunter prince. Most recently I took the great baby elephant to a local SAHJA (Sacramento Area Hunter Jumper Association) show,  trailering in on both Saturday and Sunday. We managed to ribbon in most classes I had signed us up for, sans trainer (an experience that I found truly terrifying). Although to some fourth, fifth, and sixth place doesn’t look like much, to me it meant the world; especially since some of those classes had ten to eighteen other riders in them. The weekend left me feeling that maybe I wasn’t so bad at this whole single horse mom thing after all. I had successfully prepared my child to take on two days of trailering, a busy new location, and a packed warm up. It also meant that I was able to handle my own prep before the show, the hectic warm up, and battle for my spot in the order of go (against trainers with an endless number of rounds reserved for their students). 

The baby elephant being the best at one of our most recent shows at Woodland Stallion Station. I’m dressed nearly head to toe in items from my work, a definite upgrade from my first few show looks (shoutout to Tack Warehouse).

The baby elephant being the best at one of our most recent shows at Woodland Stallion Station. I’m dressed nearly head to toe in items from my work, a definite upgrade from my first few show looks (shoutout to Tack Warehouse).

It's been a shocking transition from lesson kid to horse owner, especially since I had the best timing and decided to add to the family as a recent college grad trying to figure out my own life. I never thought that I’d be a horse mom, especially outside of a training program and more often than not it feels like I’m flying by the seat of my pants, but it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve made. Besides the fact that TJ and I teach each other new things every day, I’ve learned more about myself throughout this process then I could have predicted. I don’t think I could ever label my journey as an equestrian as linear or typical, but I am very grateful to call in my own.

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From a 400 Acre Farm to the City

Whenever someone asks me how I got involved with horses, I simply reply - “I was one of those lucky girls who grew up with a pony on a farm”. I was born in Northeast Ohio on a 400 acre dairy and grain farm. My mom was an active rider so there were horses waiting for me in the barn before I could walk. 

My first official mount was a tiny little Shetland pony that I named Lightning. He was an old and patient teacher. I galloped around the farm with him up and down hills, through the fields and around the yard - often in a tutu or costume. I rode bareback and tried to turn him into a trick pony. Those were the good old days, I was just a carefree kid with a pony. 

As I got older, I joined 4-H and started competing at local horse shows. I tried nearly every discipline from jumping to reining. I won my first high point championship at age nine on my mom’s aging Appaloosa named Teton. He was a great teacher but a bit too much for me to handle, especially at a canter. 

My parents decided I should get a larger pony so we started searching the local Farm & Dairy paper. That’s when we found him - Pirate aka Pirate’s Painted Treasure at the shows. He was a $500 pony that was throwing grown men, despite being 13.3 hands. Pirate tested me in every way, but eventually I won him over. He became known as the wonder pony locally and we dominated the competition. Pirate gave me confidence. When I look back on my riding career, I realize he was my heart horse, or should I say pony. No one ever tried for me like he did. Eventually he became blind and we still competed together. He trusted me and never let his blindness hold him back. He always wanted to go to a show and hop in the trailer. Sometimes I wonder if that was it for me - will I ever have a bond as special with another animal? I was nine when I got Pirate and he passed peacefully out in the pasture when I was 24. I promised him that I would never sell him and I kept my word to him.  

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After Pirate, I started to get serious about barrel racing. I had  two other Paint Horses growing up that I competed on. I also bought and 8 month colt and trained him when I was in high school, eventually selling him to my sister. Horses were always a part of my life and daily routine. 

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When I met my husband, Adam I had a Paint mare named Rumor that I barrel raced locally. Rumor was a sweet and honest horse. Adam was offered a job in NYC and I realized that I couldn’t keep her. I ended up leasing her to a blogger and friend I met on the internet. Rumor and I both left Ohio, she went to North Carolina and I started my city life in Brooklyn. After two months in NYC Adam was offered a job in Los Angeles… here we go again, I thought. Luckily Rumor was happy and loved in her new home and I continued my horseless journey in the city. After two years of leasing Rumor, I had finally found my footing again and horse girls. I realized the dream of owning a horse in the city was possible. Rumor’s lease ended and my friend bought her from me - it was something we put in the lease. She had the option to purchase her at the end. I took that money and began looking for my next perfect Paint Horse - eventually landing on Fira. That story is one that’s still being written, but I’m thankful for each day with her. 


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Learn More about Fira

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Back in the Saddle

I sat bareback atop a striking black blanketed appaloosa stallion, looking into the distance, the wind blowing my hair all around me. That moment was in the past, and in the next, we were galloping down the seaside through the surf, water everywhere, the wind in my face, with the most freeing feeling I had ever felt. My soul had come alive.

"Lauren, are you listening?" my 3rd grade teacher called, "We are heading back to the classroom, check out your book and please get in line."

My daydream ended. I was in 3rd grade, and my favorite day of the week was Wednesday, when we got to visit the library. The library was where I could rotate between my favorite horse breed books and study them meticulously. But who was I kidding? I usually didn't even need to check out a new book. The appaloosa book was my favorite. There was nothing I wouldn't have given to had my own blanketed appaloosa to ride the way I did in my daydreams. I hopelessly wished that someday I would be that girl with the beautiful horse, nothing able to come between us, and not a care in the world.

I begged my non-horsey parents to let me ride, and finally, my mom broke down and planned my 10th birthday to be at a local barn about 10 minutes away from our home. My parents had no idea what they were getting into.

On the morning of my 10th birthday party, February 11th, 2006, I was nervous with anticipation. Would I get to meet and ride the horse of my dreams? Probably. (Little girl logic)

I ending up riding a chestnut quarter horse gelding called Jet. Although I didn't get to know him well enough in our 30 minute leadline lesson to determine if he was my dream horse, I think I fell in love with chestnut horses that day and never looked back. I also made a huge life decision the day of my 10th birthday party - I decided I would become an equine veterinarian. I already knew I wanted to become a veterinarian (that had been my "calling" ever since I was capable of a conscious thought), but now I knew my passion was indeed horses, and I needed to be a veterinarian for horses. Nothing else would do.

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I began taking weekly lessons, starting western, and soon transitioning to English. I learned the basics of English riding, and that year at horse camp, I met the first horse of my dreams. I had seen him in the back pasture at the barn, but had stayed quiet, not voicing my secret love for him. I remember sitting in my mom's car, Mom on her Razor cell phone with my trainer Jean, talking about horse camp. I whispered to my mom, "Can you ask her who I am riding?". She repeated my question to Jean.

"Sebastian." My mom said flatly.

"SEBASTIAN!?" I exclaimed, "THE BIG BLACK BLANKETED APPALOOSA IN THE BACK!?

I think my mom was alarmed by my response, and Jean heard me through the phone. My mom nodded. I think my heart nearly stopped. I was out of breath. I was going to get to ride my dream horse at horse camp - What a beautiful life it was. Although Sebastian was what I learned was a gelding, not a stallion like the horse in my daydreams, I still felt I had hit the jackpot and would truly be the luckiest girl at horse camp.

Horse camp came and went that summer and I continued riding Sebastian for most of that year. I rode Sebastian in my very first horse show, and Sebastian got to pilot me over my very first jumps. I loved Sebastian, and as a lesson kid, I really couldn't picture my life without him in it.

Then November rolled around, and my trainer advised my mom that I was progressing quickly and should begin thinking about leasing a horse, and of course, she knew just the one.

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Sunny, "Giant Steps", was a 1985 chestnut thoroughbred gelding put up for a partial lease by his owner. We arranged a time for me to take a lesson on him, and of course, I loved him from the start. I began leasing Sunny 3 days per week, but never forgot my love for Sebastian, often wandering to the back of the property to feed him carrots and give his mottled nose a kiss.

Sunny was a schoolmaster, taking me through my first courses and teaching me the concepts of adjustability and contact. He was incredibly honest, telling me when I caught him in the mouth over a fence and offering a romp afterwards. Sunny also took me to my very first SAHJA (Sacramento Area Hunter/Jumper Association) show, where we won multiple firsts and the judge told me that I was "rocking the casbah". I definitely did not know what that meant - But I was loving this new taste of the sport, and loving my beautiful red partner.

I spent all of 2007 with Sunny, and the beginning of 2008, which was when my 23-year-old friend began slowing down. His owner made the decision to retire him, and I was heartbroken. Imagine a young girl, completely unaware of what retirement meant for a horse, and unaware that it was a good thing for her beloved horse. All I remember was my mom pulling me out of school so that I could say goodbye to Sunny as he stepped onto the trailer and away from my barn, on to his retirement home. I sat in my car watching him drive away and cried - not only because I knew my lease was over, but also because I thought that meant I would never have the opportunity to ride Sunny again. Sunny later came out of full retirement and into semi-retirement to become a short stirrup mount for his owner's son, loving his job, and living to the ripe age of 29. I did get to ride him again multiple times, and I treasured each and every one of those rides.

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In the spring of 2008, my parents decided to take the leap and purchase me my own horse. Although they weren't horsey themselves, they could see I was sticking with it, and for some unknown reason (that I am beyond thankful for), they decided to give me the greatest gift I have ever received. My dad sold his snowmobile to make it happen, and a few short weeks later, Dante stepped off of the trailer and right into my heart.

Dante came from a local sale barn that my trainer had a longtime relationship with. The first moment I saw him - I knew. Love at first sight does exist!

Dante and I started off our partnership in an exciting way - Going to our first local show a month later June, and the month following going to our first rated show. Dante was a bit of a challenge for me as a novice 12-year-old rider, definitely a fancy boy, and a perfect horse for me to move up on. But in late 2008, just months after Dante had come into my life and we had gone to our first shows together, the economy tanked and my dad's business was hit hard; he was a custom home builder. Nobody was in the market for a custom home in 2008.

We lost everything. My parents filed bankruptcy. Our home and cars were repossessed - My dad's remaining snowmobiles were even sold so he could put food on the table for me, my mom, and my 2 siblings. My mom started her own business after being a stay-at-home mom for 20+ years to help my dad, and my dad went to work farming for a friend who owned a cattle ranch and hay farm in a neighboring town.

We lost everything but Dante. My parents struggled financially for years to come, but they never once missed a board payment and made sure I had my horse. Even though Dad often joked, much to my chagrin, about selling Dante for the cash!

So although I was never again able to show more than schooling shows throughout my childhood, I still had a horse lover's childhood fulfilled. I may have never lived up to whatever potential I had as a young rider, but I had Dante, and that's all I needed. I had finally become the little girl with the beautiful horse, and nothing could come between us.

When Dante retired from jumping in 2012, I moved him to a boarding facility down the road from the hunter/jumper barn I had grown up at. He became a bareback and brideless horse, cruising around the property in nothing but a halter on most days. We began doing more groundwork than ever before too, and our friendship flourished more than I knew was possible. Dante had become the black blanketed appaloosa of my childhood daydreams.

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I began college at UC Davis in September 2014, and of course, Dante came with me. I was so excited to have my best friend at college with me, and only a 7-minute bike ride from my dorms. Since I had worked all summer prior to starting college, I was able to afford to join the UC Davis Hunter/Jumper Team. As soon as I moved away from home, I also became financially responsible for all of Dante's care.

Two weeks into college starting, I arrived to the barn to find Dante non-weight bearing on his right hind leg. It was broken. After extensive diagnostics and having to have the euthanasia conversation with my veterinarian, I opted to treat Dante medically and see what would happen, knowing that I would most likely not be riding my horse ever again. Dante was deemed pasture sound after months of rehabilitation. I was relieved. My best friend wasn't going to be leaving me anytime soon if I had anything to say (or do) about it.

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I was able to continue riding with the UC Davis Hunter/Jumper Team for my entire first year of college and part of my second year. Then finances became tight. I was working 3 different part-time jobs and going to school full-time, but the level of care I needed to give Dante to keep him comfortable - in addition to feeding myself - was taking a toll on my wallet. I was again taking a hiatus from riding for an indefinite amount of time, but I had Dante, and again, that was all that mattered to me. I willingly gave up riding for Dante then, and I would do it again today if it meant I could have Dante back.

Many would say to me, "You're a good enough rider, why don't you just exercise ride for somebody if you really want to ride?". The problem ended up not just being that I didn't have the money, but then that I didn't have the time. Between working multiple jobs, caring for Dante typically multiple times per day, and trying to excel academically to get into veterinary school, I just didn't have the time. I remember feeling like I would never get back to riding like I used to with Dante.

In October 2017, finally finding myself with a little lighter of a schedule in my final year of college, I began volunteering for CANTER California with hopes that I would finally be able to ride. A week after I began volunteering, Gallon, a broken 12-year-old OTTB walked into my life and I just couldn't let him go. Despite my desire to be able to ride again, there was something about Gallon that captivated me, and I knew he would become Dante's brother whenever the time was right.

In December 2017, before I could adopt Gallon, I said my final goodbye to Dante. It was one of the most trying and emotional days of my life, but setting him free from all that he had endured in his final years of life was bittersweet. I still miss him every single day.

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In April 2018, on Dante's birthday, Gallon was cleared for adoption and I adopted him for $1. Some might say it was foolish, but I do not regret it at all. I planned to attend veterinary school and continue my hiatus from riding, so having a retired OTTB who needed me wasn't such a bad idea in my mind.

When fall rolled around last year, I knew I was going to be taking a gap year before veterinary school and I was itching to ride before the next chapter of my life began. I began searching for a barn to start taking lessons at, and stumbled upon SunFire Equestrian. I was hooked on riding again after my first lesson back - And the best part was, my new trainer loved me! She asked me if I could start exercise riding the chestnut gelding I had ridden in my lesson, Quinn. He reminded me of Dante. I told her I would love nothing more.

I rode Quinn until he sold in January, and then I began taking lessons on a talented Holsteiner mare named Zegna. Zegna sold in the spring, and then I was introduced to my current lease horse, Owen. I began leasing Owen 3 days per week and decided to move Gallon out to SunFire as well.

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I was to be starting veterinary school in Arizona this month, actually - this week. I withdrew for a reason that is all too familiar to me - Finances. I couldn't afford my lifelong dream of becoming a veterinarian, and the debt I would have been in if I would have accepted the loans I was offered would have drowned me. I hope someday I can reapply and return to my lifelong dream - I came so close to it I could envision the "DVM" at the end of my name.

But when my veterinary school door officially closed and I let my trainer know I would be continuing my lease on Owen, she texted me that night saying, "Just putting this in your ear... I am looking for an assistant trainer..."

... Me? An assistant trainer? My imposter syndrome thoughts kicked in. But I had no real show experience? Was I really that decent of a rider? I didn't ride very much all through college? Did I know what I was doing? What did she see in me? Could my life really be taking this turn? How is this possible? Am I even qualified for this?

Although I was clouded in a world of doubt, I met with her the following week and told her I would accept the job offer. I won't be doing anything out of my wheelhouse - I will be teaching beginner/novice/intermediate English riding lessons. I taught riding lessons at UC Davis all through college, and this past year have been teaching riding lessons at a local non-profit. I love to teach. I just never thought it was a possibility for me.

These past couple months I have been riding to my heart's content and soaking up all of the new knowledge I possibly can. I am back to jumping - where my heart belongs - And I have even been doing a bit of dressage.

So I suppose as trite as this sounds, I think sometimes life takes us down roads that we never knew were possible. Every hurdle I encountered was to prove to me that I was good enough, that having a dream horse meant more than just riding, and that someday I would get to where I was meant to be. I feel like I am finally back in the saddle for good this time, and I am all the better for the path I took to get here.

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Living MY Dream

When I was little, not even old enough to talk, my parents and I would go for Sunday drives for fun. I would gaze out the window and watch landscapes pass, every time I would see horses out in a pasture, I would get so excited and squeal. I’ve loved horses ever since. 

 I started taking lessons once a week during the summer, at a small barn down the street from my house, when I was 6. I loved learning all the basics. Anatomy of horses, parts of different kinds of tack, how to tack up, how to get on my lesson horse by myself, and ride around a small arena. While the riding wasn’t anything formal, it made my heart soar for the two fun filled summers that my addiction started. One year, my dad was a little late to get me signed up, and all the spots were filled. We found another barn that I could continue taking once a week lessons. 

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This was when things started getting more serious. I watched show jumping in the Summer Olympics for the first time, and I decided from that point forward that I wanted to jump, so here started my English lessons! Once a week turned into two, and then three times a week.

My trainer helped find my very first horse, and I started going to open breed shows. While I was so excited to start showing, my horse didn’t have the same feelings. After a few shows of him running away with me, from one end of the arena to the otherand my string bean body not able to get him under control, myconfidence dropped. I was terrified. I was able to show a different horse, more of a been there done that kind of horse. While he helped me get back in the show ring, I wasn’t working toward my goal of being able to jump. After much considerationand talking with my trainer, we came up with the game plan to sell my horse to get me something more suitable to my needs, and move to a Hunter/Jumper barn.

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After a summer of consistent lessons with incredible school horses and an incredible trainer, we bought another horse that would help me get my confidence back. “Aria” was nicknamed “Mary Poppins” because she was “practically perfect in every way” and she taught me all the ropes and gave me many great rounds showing. Not only did Aria teach me important lessons while I was riding, I was able to learn the importance of workingto help afford my board and lessons. I was a true barn rat. I watched other people take lessons, offered to sub cleaning others stalls or feedings for extra money, and helped clean tack for adults that had busy work schedules. After a year with my little chestnut mare that I loved, I very quickly out grew her and moved on to an OTTB that was named “Pop Tart.” He was my next step up, and with the help of my fantastic trainer, he and I grew and learned so much together. We always had so much fun,had success at the shows, but with the reoccurring theme, I quickly outgrew him as well. 

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My trainer saw something special in my dedication, and abilities, so she worked out a lease agreement, so I could ride one of the most talented horses at our barn. Donovan was the horse that put me on the map. This horse was a once in a lifetime horse, and he came along right when the economy dropped. I learned a whole new meaning of working hard for what you want. Paired with parents who believed in me, and a trainer who wanted to see me succeed more than anything, I worked hard and was able to continue doing what made me happier than anything else in the world. Donovan was the thing that got me through high school. My social anxiety gave me fears of most things regular teenagers were excited about, but when Donovan and I walked into the show arena, I was more confident than any time in my life. He made me, me. 

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A year after graduating high school, I met Aaron, the love of my life. Being incredibly young, and driven by love, Aaron and I got married. I needed to take a break from riding so we could afford our life together. I became a large animal vet tech with the best clinic in Utah, so I could still have the connection to horses that my heart longed for. I loved my job as a vet tech. All the years of working hard for my horses were being put to good use. Working long, exhausting, and physical hours along side of brilliant vets, I learned so much. 

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One day, while running anesthesia on a race horse, the owner was informed that he had a injury that would require him to never race again. After surgery, and in the recovery room, the vet I worked with the most, suggested that I purchase this horse. He told me that with adequate time off, he would be sound enough he could jump. The thought of buying a broken horse seemed crazy to me, but I trusted my vet, and went with the idea. I found the most charming barn seven minutes from my house, and by that weekend, I owned the broken down OTTB and moved into Three Roses Ranch. 

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Over the last five years, Hanska and I have grown and learned so much together, and just last weekend successfully competed in the 3’6” hunters. He has given me more confidence than I have ever had in my life, and because of meeting him, I met my beautiful mare, Faith. She and I have learned how to ride and compete in the AQHA/APHA ranch riding classes, as well as in halter. I continue every day trying to better myself for the sake of my horses and work hard to afford the life that they deserve.  

I’m still the crazy little girl that shouts when she sees a herd of horses in a pasture on the side of the road, that is always looking for something to learn about horses and different disciplines. I’m just a little older, and a lot taller, and happier than I could ever imagine. I’ve got calloused hands, a farmers tan, and permanent dirt under my nails, a husband who supports me, and two dogs, and I am blessed to live the life I live. 


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Bless The Lesson Horse

Dust billowed behind as we made it down the country road, the Jeep Cherokee jarring me and my mother in reaction to every bump and dip in the road, matching the excited butterflies in my stomach. We were on our way to my weekly Monday night riding lesson. We drove up the drive to the tiny barn, and as I got out of the car the humid atmosphere and loud hissing of cicadas welcomed us to a typical summer evening in north Florida. I dropped my helmet off in the tack room and grabbed the tan halter that belonged to my favorite horse, Rocky. Walking quickly, I ventured into the pasture to collect him for our lesson. His bright eyes watched me as I outstretched my hand in greeting, and felt an acceptant blast of warm air from his nostrils. I was home.

I am a first-generation horsewoman, and the only person in my family who actively rides. My grandma always told me that some of my ancestors in New England were horse thieves, which makes me think that it got passed down but just skipped a few generations. Ever since I laid eyes on a horse I was obsessed. I played “save the foal” with my mom, an elaborate game where bad cowboys would steal a baby mustang from the herd and trap it, and the goal was to get past the waterfall, through the mountains, and ultimately make a daring rescue. I used every one of my toy horses in a mock western landscape with cardboard boxes. I always hated Barbies and baby dolls, everything had to be horses. For Halloween one year, Mom made me a cardboard cut-out of a flying unicorn and I went as She-Ra. Mom got very good at painting horses for me.

When my parents realized that the equestrian bug was not just a phase, they started looking into ways for me to get riding experience. At 8 years old, I got my first riding lesson. My parents could only afford a 30 minute lesson once a month, but I was walking on sunshine. It was at a barn called White Star Farms in the Redlands, Florida just outside of South Miami. I was instantly smitten by their Paso Fino horses with their luxurious manes and tails, Spanish flare, and unique way of moving. And to be honest, I didn’t care what kind of horse they were, I was just happy to be around horses! I first learned how to ride on a bay gelding named Tommy. I learned how to keep my heels down, how to paso corto, and how to groom and tack up a horse. My very first fall was a very comical experience: I was walking Tommy around after our riding lesson, and he put his head down to eat under a small tree, and kept right on walking under the tree! I grabbed the branch in front of me and slide out of the saddle while Tommy just couldn’t be bothered! 

In about a year after I started taking lessons, my family moved up to Tallahassee due to new opportunities for my dad’s work. I excitedly stared out the window of the car as we pasted farm after farm of horse land. My mom had a college friend who had some horses in her backyard and I started riding horses with her. I transitioned into a western saddle on a bay Mustang mare named Missy. Looking back on it now, it certainly wasn’t the safest learning environment. I remember I fell off at the canter into a picnic table that was in the arena and had bruises for months. I remember going to a show and the lady throwing me up on her four year old colt for a pole event, and I was not ready for that at 10 years old. It was shortly after that bad experience that we looked for a better, safer place for me to ride.

In middle school we settled on a small place that taught English and the emphasis was on the care of the horses. They had a variety of breeds: Quarter horses, Morgans, and a Saddlebred.  I was placed into a Monday night group lesson and in the summers they held a week-long sleepover camp at their house. I adored waking up and feeding the horses, learning more about proper care and grooming, the importance of warming up and cooling down. I was taught never to brush a tail but to pick it out carefully, one strand at a time, to avoid breaking the hairs. I learned how to sit a buck and how to ask for a “big trot”, all the while in the flattest saddles you could possibly imagine. My first horsey love was at this barn, a dark bay Morgan named Rocky who had a small white star, a snip, and a double whorl, on above another, on his forehead. Thinking back on it now, I think my love of horses with double whorls started then and somehow followed me. I often wonder where he ended up, and like to think he lived out his days fat and happy in a big pasture.

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One of the best things about living in Tallahassee and having a love of horses is being close to one of North America’s best three-day event, the Red Hills Horse Trials.  I went almost every year and was absolutely in love. I started searching for a barn where I could learn how to jump and ride dressage. I found a barn, and I overlapped my training for a brief time at both, but ultimately said “thank you” to the flat saddles and “hello” to knee rolls. I was 16 and worked off some of the lesson costs by doing barn work. One of my most laughable memories was when I accidentally turned out a pony in her normal field - but they had rotated the herds and forgot to tell me! The pastures were so big and the horses were the same colors and numbers as her pasture mates; it was an easy mistake. I had to rush out and gather her back up before any very exciting greetings happened. Life at a barn is never dull.

I feel like the time spent between high school and college was all a blur between the academics I was pursuing and the amount of activities with which I was involved. Theatre has always been a huge part of me and I was engulfed in it, especially during college. I rode less, a lot less. My trainer from high school had to sell her farm and gave up giving lessons. In my final year at FSU, I started taking lessons with Marsha Hartford-Sapp. I was really able to learn more in the short time there than I had before. I rode schoolmasters of calibers I had never touched before, and learned something brand new every ride. My favorite ride was an old chestnut Hanoverian mare who made you WORK for it, and when you got it right, the feeling of true engagement and suspension was absolute bliss.

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After college, I moved to Vero Beach and started working for lessons at an eventing barn called High Hopes Eventing Farm. It was small which meant that I learned a lot hands-on. The trainer adopted some young horses which I got to work with and exercise. At one point in time she had five chestnut Thoroughbred mares, all the kindest souls. I learned to jump courses, and had a blast running through water cross-country schooling. I fell in love with a horse named Daisy, a huge 17.1 chestnut off the track Thoroughbred. She was big boned with a delicately dished face, a unique star, and a double whorl between the eyes. She was incredibly kind and sensitive, and the largest-moving horse I have ever ridden. Her walk was marching- she was going somewhere with purpose! Her trot ate up the ground and just floated. I remember one ride I took her out bareback, and her canter was so soft yet powerful and she offered lead changes as smoothly as if she was in the FEI sandbox. It’s one of my most treasured memories. The four years I spent at High Hopes I learned so much, and look back fondly on.

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In 2015, my husband and I moved across the country to Denver, Colorado to start a new life in a place all on our own. Between 2015 and midway through 2017, I was only able to take a handful of lessons. My confidence for jumping was shaken after I fell flat on my back after a simple crossrail back in Vero Beach (why is it always the simple stuff?) and I decided I was going to focus on dressage. I started taking lessons with a dressage trainer, and the opportunity to partial lease came along. I had never had a better first ride on a horse. Fortune is a beautiful bay Thoroughbred gelding with a unique star, two whorls right in the middle, and a kind and curious personality. I started partial leasing him December 2017 until May 2018. He taught me a lot about the importance of relaxation and listening. Half the time I would go out and play with him freely, letting him loose in the arena after everyone else had gone home and just spend time with him being a horse. He was a puppy dog on the ground and thrived off of the attention. Under saddle, he was tense and nervous and you could tell he was trying so hard to please. I fell into bad habits, seeing spooky items at every corner and the little things created a mental block for me. I ended our lease due to financial reasons, in the hopes of saving the lease payment towards a horse of my own.

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Since May of 2018, I have been transitioning back into a forward seat but with a classical approach. I have been thriving off of learning more about the biomechanics of my body in the saddle; why the body needs to do what it needs to do. I believe that hopping around from discipline to discipline and riding multiple horses can be beneficial, but I have picked up some bad habits along the way. I’m too rigid. My hips are stiff. My hands need to stay closed, my leg under me, and my leg on. My mind is finally learning to stop thinking ‘what if’ and just ride.

Recently, riding a chestnut Appendix paint named Hank has boosted my confidence. He’s the perfect horse for right now because he is steady enough and knows his job, but doesn’t just give it to you (I’m looking at you, outside leg!). I was ridiculously happy with myself when I sat an excited buck when cantering out in the field. I was over the moon this week as I make my baby debut back into jumping. I am finally feeling like it was the right thing to strip everything down to the baby basics and re-learn how to ride. And for now, the goal of riding more correctly is more than enough to worry about. 

I have been a lesson kid for the entirety of my equestrian journey, and I am so thankful for the trainers who continue to maintain lesson programs for kids who don’t need to own their own horse to get the opportunity to ride. In the future, I hope to be able to have a horse to call my own. I believe that when I do, I will happily let my trainer give lessons on my horse to pay it forward. I’m so incredibly thankful for the opportunities I have had in the saddle, and may the universe bless the lesson horses who taught me and who continue to teach student after student. May your pastures always be green, your students always be kind, and your freedom of expression never be dimmed.

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The Equestrian I Am Today

Like many equestrians, I’ve been surrounded by horses my entire life. I was raised in a horse family- both my mother and grandmother being horse lovers. That being said, it’s hard for me to pinpoint when exactly I started riding when people ask how long I’ve been involved in the sport. It seems like I’ve always known how to ride a horse, that I’ve been riding since I could walk. 

I started taking real lessons, not just back yard riding, when I was about 10 years old. Right away, I fell in love. I had no idea there was so much more to riding than what I had been doing in my grandparents back yard! This is also the same time I found my love for dressage. I took lessons for a few years, and would compete in an occasional schooling show on various lesson ponies. On my 13th birthday, I received the best surprise ever- my very own cream colored pony, straight out of The Sound of Music song. Pippen was my first horse, a stubborn yet sweet haflinger pony. I loved Pippen more than anything else in the world. He taught me so much, and gave me the confidence I needed to become a better rider. We competed a little bit together, mostly in intro level tests because his little legs and chunky little body could only be so dressage-y. Regardless, I loved that horse. He especially became my saving grace after a life altering event that caused me to have my right arm amputated. 

One of the few things I remember from my time in the emergency room is trying to keep myself positive by saying “Guess I’ll have to switch to western pleasure now” and my surgeon who we found out later is a fellow dressage rider telling back, “Over my dead body will you do western!”. Sure enough, after a week of recovery in the ICU, the first thing I did after my hospital release was visit Pippen. I wasn’t cleared to ride for a while, since my risk of infection was so high because of my large wound. That didn’t stop me though. My mom would cover my bandaged nub with a plastic bag, then lead me around the pasture on Pippen. Once I was able to start riding again, I was faced with challenges I never thought I’d face. Learning how to ride with one arm? Hard. Tacking my own horse? Impossible at the time! Pippen was an angel for then, once again giving me the confidence I needed to ride again. However, once I got the hang of it, we realized that I needed a horse that was more fine tuned than Pippen, and one who would respond better to lighter aids. Enters Charlie, my heart horse. I remember the day I met Charlie, and the second I gave him his first of many face scratches. I knew from the get go that he was the horse for me, but it took the people around me a little longer to come around. After all, Charlie was a paint and a hunter! Not necessarily the warmblood most have in mind when dressage horse shopping. Regardless, he was the one. And to this day, I know I made the right decision. Charlie retaught me mostly everything I know, working together from intro level tests all the way to the Para grade 5 intro tests, which have 1st and 2nd level movements. What I love most about Charlie is that we can have serious rides where we really focus, then the next day go out and ride bareback around the field and he is the exact same horse. Even though he may not be a fancy warmblood, he’s really the best parter. To me, he seems like even more than a team mate, he’s a friend! And he gave me the confidence to further myself as a para equestrian. Overall, even though my riding journey has had its fare share of ups and downs, I wouldn’t change my experiences (the good and bad!) for the world. My journey made me the equestrian I am today. 

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A Love Letter To The Underdog

Long before Joyful Dressage, Two Red Mares, or even Misfit Farms existed, there was a sturdy, moody, and excruciatingly hard-working young girl with two parents who had their different roles in my riding life. As I sit writing this, I’m staring into the area of my parents’ front yard where two horses once lived. Despite the many years that preceded a boarding situation gone awry, it feels, to this day, that this acre of land is where my future rooted before it bloomed. 

I’m one of those who girls fortunate enough to be able to ride their whole life. Not because my family is horsey, not because of our financial position, and not because of circumstance. As a toddler, around 2 years old, my grandmother bought me a horse breed book. I can still remember the smell of the book at my mom or dad read me descriptions of breeds and colors before bed until I had practically memorized all the book had to offer. For my third birthday, I was gifted a pony ride. A young father of (then) one hoisted his firstborn into the stirrups of a trusty trail pony and took me for a walk around the property. No helmet, in saddles, and proudly wearing a dress. 22 years later, not much has changed, minus the helmet – thank goodness.

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 Through my formative saddle years, I don’t think there was anything particularly special about my riding talent. The barn happened to be a few miles away, letting me take weekly lessons. I attended pony camp during the summers. During the school year, my homeschooling allowed a flexible schedule where we could spend extended period times at the barn – me learning about the chores horses require, and my momma getting some peace to read with my little brother.

What was special was my determination. Without sounding self-aggrandizing, I know for a fact that I am a hard worker, and I always have been. And hard work began to differentiate me from girls my age and older. Cue a little spotted lesson pony. Apple, now my partner of 19 years, proved himself to be the biggest challenge and the most intense love of my life. We experimented in every discipline as we grew, and we failed at all of them. I know now that he was not the IDEAL child’s pony, but then, I thought being bucked off every ride was par for the course. Bruises, scratches, and frustration were just signs of experience, I reassured my little self. I knew each time I successfully navigated the waters of Apple’s alter ego, Crapple, I grew stronger, and each time I was able to have the foresight to ride proactively, I knew to my core I was getting better. I did not, and still, do not, have time for fear.

 I “worked” (what are child labor laws?) at the stable where my trainer lived. I cleaned stalls, I taught lead-line lessons that progressed to full-fledged lessons. I tacked up/cooled down/un-tacked anywhere between two to six horses a day. I cleaned the tack room until it glimmered. I was entrusted with working on my own with the “client” horses, aka any horse my trainer was 1) too scared to ride, or 2) didn’t have time to ride. I babysat my trainer’s daughter, as did my mom. All of this work paid for Apple’s half-lease as well as his eventual full lease. My emotional attachment to Apple wasn’t something I had control over. I was possessive, jealous, and always concerned if he was being treated well by other girls. I cried in bed at the thought of my full lease ending, and no longer being able to call Apple “mine.”

To my surprise, my parents scrimped and saved to purchase Apple as a Christmas present. Now over 15 years ago, I’m forever humbled by the investment and belief they had in a precocious young girl, determined to keep her universe revolving around an appy pony. At no point did a world exist where Apple was not mine, no matter how tall I grew and no matter where I wanted to go with my equestrian career. It was him or nothing. It still is.

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While this all sounds great and lovely and idealistic, things went on behind the scenes I am only now, at 25 years old, to truly process and explain to those around me.

 To me, my trainer could do no wrong. She became a maternal figure, despite me not needing another mom. We went to the mall together, she let me stay at the barn overnight, she educated me from the ground up on breeding, dressage, Trakehners, and even helped (poorly) with boy problems. I was part of her home with her husband and young daughter. As I became a young teenager, she assured me she wanted to provide me with the riding career she had not had and that my family wasn’t in a position to financial facilitate. We all believed her. Who was to say we shouldn’t? Were we supposed to know better? My responsibilities at the stables grew, and I began to lease another horse that would take me from bare bone’s intro to schooling most of third level. We traveled to breed shows as she began to campaign her first homebred, she introduced me to who I truly consider my mentor now, and I thought of her mood swings as part of our relationship. Little did I know at that age her mood swings were typically alcohol-related.

I didn't tell my parents about a lot of things that happened. Some because I didn’t know they were wrong, like the lashing out and verbal abuse or her encouraging me to be a more aggressive rider than I should have been, and others because I knew they were wrong, like trusting her to be sober enough to take the wheel after competitors parties or allowing sexual comments to be made towards me by men three times my age. But… I was getting more riding opportunities than ever. While I never lacked confidence in the saddle, I was able to ask more pointed philosophical training questions and my capability began to shine. I was working my hands to the bones each day, up by 7am to ride my bike to the barn to feed, fix fences, fill waters, move horses, work horses, drag the arena, clean, ride, schedule and manage feed/vet visits, and make grain orders. On the good days, I rode a high that couldn’t be touched, lauded loudly by my trainer, the clinicians I took lessons with, and my peers. On the other days, I stifled my tears during rides or shows where I was belittled and broken down to pieces, told I wasn’t dedicating enough of my time or energy into my own growth. As if my trainer’s time had been wasted on me. I was growing in the saddle, becoming a real young rider, but behind closed doors, I was wracked with questions of self-worth, as her favoritism would swing back and forth to people with more money but less work ethic.

The shine wore off. I realized she was never going to be able to fulfill any of my aspirations because she was uncomfortable with anything past second level. I gritted my teeth and began to branch out, taking two exercise rider positions through connections I had made from her. I needed these opportunities. I had been the person she had trusted enough to care for the last foal she bred. A perfect, bold, electric chestnut Trakehner filly we agreed to name Joy. After a summer’s worth of work (for her and a part-time job), and saving every penny possible, I was able to purchase Joy for the price of the stud fee. A cost my trainer would later try to hold over my head as an adult that she did me a favor, knowing I could never afford “a horse of that quality without a little charity.” Ultimately, it was her loss. Joy turned out to be the best horse of her bloodline. Not because of her breeding, but because of how she was produced.

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Through these various exercise positions where my only payment was the knowledge gained, I realized I was aggressive, and I needed to get a handle on that. I learned to love mares. I ran young horses in hand, rode 1000 new horses, and quickly made mistakes when backing young stock. As Joy reached three, I knew in my heart of hearts I couldn’t let my trainer start her. Joy has always been special and particular, and I had seen my trainer’s multi-facetted ugly sides with horses. I knew I couldn’t let her lay a hand on Joy. Ultimately, that led to the ugly “break up,” a physical altercation, a broken bitter heart, and the horses living in my front yard. I was unceremoniously given hours notice to leave the ground I had grown up on.

 At 17, I found myself alone, with the help my parents could provide, in charge of educating a three-year-old and maintaining an aging pony on my own. I was lost and felt like my soul had broken. Dreams I had as a young rider blew into the wind as my peers continued their upward trajectory, fueled by unwavering faith in a trainer and their parents' checkbooks. I couldn't imagine trusting someone so much with something as precious as Apple or Joy. I wanted to be able to say no, ask questions, and disagree. But, until I was back on my feet, this meant utilizing all my resources to give Joy the education she deserved. I paid a lady three miles away to use her facilities, where I would hand walk Joy over, get on and school, then get off and walk back until Joy was trustworthy enough to ride over. We hacked around my horse-friendly neighborhood. My little town opened a Frisbee golf course, and I would sneak down when I didn’t have the cash to pay for facilities just so I could school on flat grass. I audited every clinic I could get to, began to scribe, and tirelessly studied any material I could get my hands on. I had begun college, and I would ride before commuting, or long into the night after classes.

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Joy and I began to enter local dressage shows. And we began to do well. I reached out to my mentor, someone I had been an exercise rider for who would let me trailer to visit him for the occasional lessons. He kept me on the right path, respected my ethics, and allowed me to move at the pace I deemed necessary. I felt at home on this little chestnut mare, no matter what the girls in my region were doing on their massive schoolmasters and the shameful, misguided pressure they placed on my own journey. They didn't understand my aspiration of simply and slowly building Joy to be the best SHE could be, instead of buying schoolmasters I couldn't handle and had to be in full training programs. They were nervous before every test on horses they were having flings with, using them to achieve their personal goals before trading them out for something new. That's the cycle as a young dressage rider if you want to be a pro or get to NAJYR. Meanwhile, I was gleeful before each test the few times a year I got to show because of all of the hurdles we overcame to be there. And I got to be there with her! This spooky, sensitive, sometimes ticking time bomb was all mine! No matter what happened, I was building a relationship that I hoped would last a lifetime, and that meant win, lose, or excused, I made each trip down centerline a positive learning experience for us both, remembering there's always another chance to do our best. 

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Our scores began to get higher. We attended rated shows, and we qualified for our first regional championships, where we placed with high scores in massive classes and did our first parade laps. For the longest time, I thought Joy would talent cap at second level, and I was okay with that. It would be disappointing, but a horse like Joy is once in a lifetime. You don't just throw them away when you can't get where you want. However, in usual Joy fashion, she reminded me to let myself dream a bit bigger, as we came home with a 69% in our second level debut. She told me she was ready to step up, and I worked to provide her the adequate preparation. I set my sights on earning our USDF bronze medal - a goal many girls had long achieved and left in the dust - before I aged out of the JR/YR classes. And we did it. An undereducated 21-year-old girl and a backwoods produced, disfavored, and underestimated six-year-old mare. Two years later, not long after beginning my first semester of law school and planning Joy's downtime hobby (hint, bun in the oven), I couldn't believe I was writing my silly filly's name, Fair Joy *Pb*, down to enter an FEI test, and I weeped when I tried on my shadbelly for the first time. We completed a short season at Pre St. George, earning our silver medal along the way. That moment of our final centerline before taking a hiatus from showing for Joy to spend time in the broodmare shed was the most overwhelming flood of emotions unlike anything I had ever felt. We had achieved something beyond my wildest childhood dreams, and we had done it with minimal guidance. I hoped I proved to her that her faith in me had never been misguided, and in return, I cried into her neck with reckless abandon, telling her "thank you."

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It's hard to completely understand how capable you can be on your own until you have to be. My parents, these towering figures of support in my everyday life, knew at some point, I would spearhead my riding career. I would be calling the shots. It just came younger than anticipated. They helped along the way, knowing that these two horses, Apple and Joy, were more than just mounts. They watched us grow up together, learn, develop, question authority, make mistakes, say no to clinicians/trainers, and keep trying, no matter the adversity. But it did come down to forging my own way, wiping away tears (sometimes blood), struggling to budget time and money, an incredible amount of sacrifice, and trusting that I had my horses' best interests at heart. I think I've succeeded.

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No one person's riding journey is the same, and that's one of the things I wish I could tell my teenage self. Non-traditional does not mean lacking success. It's been 22 years since that first pony ride and seven years since I made a life changing decision about my horses' welfare and my ultimate trajectory. I think back to teenage Bailey more often than not. I wish I could go back and give her a big hug, hold her tight, reassuring her she won't always make the right calls, but that any decision made in the furtherance of personally developed principals to serve your horse is worth the uncertainty. I wish I could tell her that it's okay to feel lost, to feel stunted, and even jilted at times. It's hard to stride out on your own with zero guidance but your heart and the trust of a young horse who doesn't know any better. I really wish I could tell her that in the future, her non-traditional journey will not be the punchline to a joke between peers but, instead, the beginning of a story that serves a purpose even more than horsemanship or scores or ribbons for any young girl in the same situation: with a horse they believe in, and not much else.

Consider this the love letter to bravely doing the right thing, no matter how hard it is, to the never-ending education of dressage, and to the underdogs.

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7 Years Later

Many of you know that I am a rerider, meaning that I had stopped riding for an extended period of time, but I never shared my experience before I had stopped riding. So sit tight and buckle up, because we’re going back over a decade ago. But can we pause to appreciate Baby Kaitlin and George… 

My riding journey started when I was in grade three after my sister and I had spent over 3 years tormenting my mother to buy us a dog. With only an appreciation for animals, my mother would have never welcomed a dog with open arms into our house- so she got my sister and I into horseback riding. To her, this was a quick and easy fix to all her dog related problems.

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I rode once a week, 9:00am on Saturday mornings in a semi-private lesson with my sister. As a child and still now, as an adult, I consider myself so lucky that I was able to ride these majestic beasts. Truth be told, I used to be terrified of horses. I would start shaking in the saddle, while grooming and you couldn’t pay me enough to get them from the paddock. Until I met one chestnut thoroughbred called Tara. She taught me how to be confident in the saddle and canter. Unfortunately, Tara moved away when someone bought her and shortly after that, the barn decided to close.

My sister and I transitioned into a new eventing barn, once I had moved barns we created friendships and relationships with horses that left me wanting more. Riding once a week was never enough, but my parents availability left my craving unsatisfied. So, I started working in the barn for free rides, lesson and more horse time. More saddle time meant more time with my all time favourite pony called, Tobey.

This pony stole my heart the minute I saw him walk by. Chunky, fluffy, orange and adorable my heart was set on him. He taught me everything from how to sit a buck, jump a course and how you always need more leg. After one chipped tooth later and some falls, I was ready to make a bigger commitment in my riding career. But truth be told, I was never the competitive type and unfortunately my parents couldn’t afford the time to spend taking me to all the commitments showing required. So I continued working in the barn and helping out with clinics to earn free saddle time. As my love for the sport grew so did my friendships with other riders and I couldn’t imagine my life differently. I spent over four years at that barn and loved every second of it while it lasted.

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I vividly remember the day my riding career came to a screeching halt. It was during a March Break camp in 2010, while I was halfway through grade nine. During the last day of the camp, the barn put on a mini schooling show- like many camps do. I to this day do not remember why I wasn’t riding Tobey, but unfortunately it just worked out so that I couldn’t. Instead I was riding, Romeo, he was a beautiful ride but nasty on the ground. I was riding Tobey the whole week and out of all horses in the riding school, Romeo was always my last choice because of his ground manners. 

It seems like the last Friday of the camp was not my day nor Romeos. We were warming up and it was like any other ride and was going fairly well, until we stepped into the show ring. With a strong canter and eyes up towards the first jump, I found myself laying on the ground- convincing myself that I was fine. Because it was just a schooling show, I was sent back to the warm up ring to shake everything off and to come back after the next person. 

With tears rolling from my eyes, I started my warm up again, before heading back into the show ring. I’m happy to say that Romeo and I made it over all of the fences, but going over the last oxer, Romeo took the long spot and I lost control. As we made it over the jump, he bolted for the bleechers that were up in the ring, making it 6ft shorter than usual. With long reins and no room, the only out Romeo saw, was the door of the arena. In hopes of trying to gather my reins and slow him down, I forgot to duck and practically split my helmet down the middle, as my head hit the doorframe. 

My 7 years of riding came to a cease and desist all thanks to a silly mistake of not ducking. I’m sure you can all guess this all resulted in a severe concussion. This concussion took over two years to heal from. I wasn’t able to finish grade nine, but I was able to take the class average so that I got the credits because of my grades at the time. In grade ten, I still wasn’t 100% and I wasn’t able to take any exams or attend assemblies. I was absolutely crushed. By the time grade eleven came around, I was back in the normal swing of things, but my doctor had yet to clear me for contact sports.

Eventually the sadness turned into numbness and when I saw horses and people riding, I just turned away from it because it hurt so much not being able to do it. So let’s fast forward three years when I started my second year of university. I was living in downtown Toronto on the eighteenth floor facing West- with a view of Drakes old penthouse and Lake Ontario. On the nights I wasn’t out, my life was quiet and I spent a lot of time looking at the lights reflecting on the lake in the distance. I would always say that my mind was congested while I was living there, so I would borrow my parents car and drive as far away from the city as possible.

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During the first quarter I met a guy called Marcus, as many of you know my boyfriend. As we became closer I opened up about the 7 best years of my life, because when I was on the back of his motorcycle it reminded me of the feeling of being free and one with something other than myself (not to mention on a sports bike, as the passenger you’re basically in two point). That January in 2018, I had made an agreement with my parents that if I move back home, I could start riding again. My mother was both over the moon and biting her nails, as she never wanted me on a horse ever again. February 1st, I moved back home and in the same day, bought new riding gear from the nearest tack shop. 

After just over seven years of being out of the saddle, I couldn’t have felt more at home when I got my butt into one. Phoenix was a beautiful draft x tb, I rode her for about 3 months and she helped reteach me. I loved that mare, but we weren’t quite the perfect fit, so I started searching horses to part-board. I rode some of my coaches horses but I didn’t click with any. That is when I decided to take the leap and search for a lease. 

It wasn’t until I tried a horse called Alcatraz who took me on this crazy journey, so naturally, I’d document it. This is when Eyes Up, Darling was born. I needed a positive, safe and creative outlet for my equine struggles with Taz. Truth be told, within the first two weeks of having him, I wasn’t able to canter him, lead him without a shank or really do anything with him. I was so close to ending the lease that I had inquired about it with his owners, but they refused to take him back. Needless to say, he was not the horse I thought I was getting, but I had to make it work somehow. Silly, wide-eyed and ambitious I only tried Alcatraz once and that night decided to lease him- I do not suggest this as I’ve learnt the hard way.

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I put my heart and soul into that little ottb, all to have him torn away from me within three days. Marcus and I had gone camping and while we were away, Taz managed to get an eye infection that resulted in an eye ulcer. For a month before he went back to his owner, I spent hours grooming, loving, and grazing him. The care he needed I could no longer provide as his medication needed to be administered twice a day and living an hour away- it was financially impossible (gas money is expensive).

Just for some background, Alcatraz is the only horse I would consider a project horse. He was severely underweight and didn’t have enough muscle to properly transition into a canter- nor did he know how to jump. By the time he left, he was a totally different horse. 

As I speed through the process of finding my little peach, Lexington, I feel at ease knowing that this is where I am supposed to be. You’d think I would’ve learnt my lesson by only trying a horse once without a trainer, but I guess not. Thank goodness this time it worked out. My equine journey started over fourteen long years ago and somehow the saddle called me home and that's exactly what being with Lex feels like. My riding story doesn’t show rosettes and a show resume, but rather my resilience, determination and drive for what I’ve always wanted- a pony of my own. I’m blessed at 22 with a healthy brain, a huge support system and a fiery dragon.

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