Friday, January 3, 2014

Friday's Entries in Five Star Tack's "What's Your Best Accomplishment This Year?" Contest

I am continually amazed at the stories that have been coming in! There are a few more to post which will occur Saturday. Then the hard task will begin to choose the three best. It's not going to be easy!


This past year has been an incredible,  painful and emotional year, but by far the best year of my life as an equestrian and a high schooler. I moved from a somewhat abusive and decrepit hunter barn to a state-of-the-art eventing and dressage facility 45 minutes away, with no horse in tow. I had only been leasing old school horses at my previous barn, and now went to look at a young Irish Sport Horse named Quincy, an eventing prospect with the potential to take someone all the way up the levels to Rolex (my dream despite having only done intro before.) However, a green event rider on a green horse, while hilarious to watch, did not work and I feared I would never get to leave my first horrible barn. However, my now-trainer/coach, Terry, had the foresight to put me on another horse that she said "had a personality like me." Because I didn't know Terry at all yet, I was curious to see. When I saw the 17.5 big, hairy, young Percheron Hackney cross standing in the cross ties, I was mildly offended until I looked into her soft brown eyes. In them, I saw so much mischief and life and even laughter. I could have sworn this giant horse was laughing at me, and could not help but smile. This horse had strength, confidence, and a little bit of an attitude, and I began to realize that  Terry was dead on about our personalities. 

I tried riding Emma and was amazed at her beautiful gaits, balance, and jumping ability, something her size and scruffiness did not give away from the ground. That same month, April, we signed a one year lease contract and Emma became my event horse and I became Terry's protégée. Over the next few months, we worked tirelessly at dressage (neither of our favorites), surprised ourselves with ability at stadium jumping, and happily galloped cross country over previously unthinkable Novice and Training level fences. We had a great summer of hard work and progress, until August when I developed an almost career ending injury after a seemingly simple fall in dressage. The impact of the fall caused a bone contusion in my left knee, meaning that everything was bruised including my bones. This injury, abruptly halted my riding with my having to wear a brace and use crutches for a few weeks along with physical therapy. Because of my already horrible knee conformation, the muscles tightened beyond what I could bear in physical therapy and my knee did not get better, and actually worsened. My doctor and mother were slow to progress to the idea of surgery, and I had another few weeks of physical therapy. By then, horse and rider were growing weak and upset from the lack of work, and I longed to be able to just go for even a trail ride. 

Finally, in October, after I threw a large fit in my surgeon's office and finally got through to him how much pain I was actually in, he scheduled my surgery to release muscles, shave down, and cut scar tissue in my knee on Halloween. My surgery went fantastically, and with renewed determination, I was trying to walk the next day and was sitting on my horse the next week (not advised by my doctor, but I am only 16 so I can't be responsible all the time) I went back to physical therapy and was cleared in November to ride and in December to jump again and ride as we had before my injury. Overjoyed, I went back to the barn only to find that I was not the only one who hadn't been exercising, and that we would both need a lot of conditioning. But the next few weeks were far from productive, and Emma and I grew sour with each other and with our tasks as horse and rider. This bitterness about our lost show season and being weak got so bad that I dreaded going to the barn and that Emma dreaded being ridden by me. We completely resented each other and were mean to all those around us. However, one night at the beginning of December, it was like a light switch in both our brains had flipped. I got on Emma and rode without attempting to do dressage or have any expectations, and had one of the happiest rides of my life. When we cantered, I giggled like a child learning to canter for the first time and Emma was visibly happy. For the first time, I had hope that we would not only get back to where we were, but that we would improve. 

Since then we've been jumping and working slowly on dressage, and are always happy to see each other. On Christmas day, I realized just how much Emma meant to me when my parents surprised me with her and I sobbed uncontrollably. This horse and I had been through so much, and I knew at that moment that I loved her in the deepest and purest way that girls love their horses. I knew this horse and I, regardless of whether we won or not, would be an inseparable team. So I would not trade any of our experiences in 2013, including all of the bad ones and my fall, because they strengthened our relationship as horse and rider beyond what I previously thought possible. Bad experiences are essential to becoming a team that is more than just ribbons and superficial beauty. Love is the most essential of all, and with it, you can overcome anything.


I would like to share my story of my best accomplishment of 2013 with my 7 year old Hanoverian gelding Tigger.  We did not win any ribbons this year or even attend a show.  Our accomplishment was just getting back in the tack.  The story starts on November 10, 2012. I was long trotting Tigger in a field that I have done numerous other times with no problem at all when suddenly Tigger fell into a very large hole.  He completely flipped over, front ways landing on top of me.  I suffered a concussion and a broken neck (I was wearing a helmet).  Honestly the only thing going through my mind when I hit the ground was "Oh my god, my horse just broke his leg".  I got up after collecting myself to look for my horse, who was no where to be found.  After a few steps I instantly saw stars and I laid back down.  After an ambulance ride to the local hospital and then a Care Flight ride to a major hospital an hour and half away it was confirmed I had broken my C7 vertebra.  I was put in a body cast for 3 and a half months.  I had learned while in the hospital that my father went out to the ranch where I kept my horse and found Tigger  in his stall put away unharmed from the fall.  My father loaded up my horses and dogs and brought them back to their farm at my childhood home, knowing I would not be able to finish out college that semester, as well as not being able to care for my animals.  

My family was very supportive during this time and helped me put my horse in training with my trainer while I was unable to ride to keep Tigger in shape and keep him sane.   My trainer lived a good 3 1/2 hours away from me so once every few weeks my father would drive me out to go see him and watch her ride him.  He looked so beautiful to me and I was getting the itch to get back on my horse, not knowing really when I was going to be able to do so.  My cast came off the first week in March and I slowly had to wean my self out of a smaller one.  Once given the clear to get back on a horse, my older dressage horse (who was my first horse and much more calmer then my Event horse Tigger) was tacked up and I was hoisted up on his back and lead around.  There was not a dry eye around when I got back on.  After I built up enough strength, that month I got to take back the ride of Tigger in mid-April.  I took the first few weeks slow of just walking, then a few more of just trotting and again a few more for canter.  By the end of the summer I was jumping small cross-rails and verticals with confidence.  

I finally mustered up the courage to take Tigger to an open cross country schooling late October thinking I was just going to trot around and maybe pick up a hand gallop and do a few gag fences.  My horse had another idea.  We jumped around the whole novice course and half the training level cross-country course that day.  No a hitch in our step.  Mind you, Tigger has never been the easiest cross-country horse.  I actually felt him hunt-down bigger and tougher questions. Once I felt this I knew everything was going to be okay and all my confidence was restored. I know it's not a huge accomplishment to many folks because we don't have a ribbon on the wall to prove our accomplishment but I got back on my horse after a devastating injury and not only did I just get back on, I started training hard again to hopefully compete in the spring 2014.



My biggest accomplishment ever has been with my shetland, Roxanne. Roxy came from a slaughter auction and as soon as she arrived, we realized she had been severely abused. The vet and others mentioned putting her down because of her severe fear and tendency to become dangerous. She was petrified of everyone besides myself. I told everyone to just give me a few months. I knew I could change her, they shook their heads. I slowly gained Roxy's trust, and by summertime, she had shaped into a stunning pony. I entered Roxanne and her rescued mini pasture mate in a show that fall. We went on to win every class, and Roxanne was awarded the Tri-State Champion, an incredible accomplishment for both my rookie training skills and Roxy, the diamond in the rough.


Molly came to my barn 6 years ago as sight unseen. She was skinny, scraggly and crazy. She broke three halters in one day just getting her out of the trailer. 6 months later she was sent to the feed yard for some training. Two weeks and 6 hospital visits later (three different riders) she was returned deemed a rogue, crazy and untamable. Yeah, that didn't stop me. I wanted her. After a week of ground work I was riding her with no problems. Two weeks later I took her to a ranch sorting and won my class. No one ever thought she would be rideable at all, much less safe to turn a small child loose on. So five years later everyone is completely amazed by what I am able to do with her. But out of all the trophies and ribbons, I am most proud of how safe she is for any child to be around. When other horses around her spook she just stops and stands still. 

This past summer, 2013, I worked at a girls summer camp as a wrangler. The last week of camp we were short on horses and I got to take my personal horse. Molly is a 10 year old AQHA mare that I have owned for five years. I knew she was going to be a great mount for me, but what I didn't know was she was going to change the way one little girl saw horses. 

The very first day of camp that week a girl came down with her group and refused to even go in the arena. She was terrified of the horses, breaking down in tears when one even came near her spot on the fence. This was a problem because the girl was signed up for the session that requires lots of riding. As the staff was discussing what to do I saw her staring at my Molly. I asked the girl is she thought Molly was pretty and she said yes, she looks sweet. I asked her if I could move Molly closer so she wouldn't be lonely while we took the other horses trail riding. She nodded and I moved Molly over. 

When we came back an hour later the little girl was petting Molly through the fence and talking to her. By the end of the day we had her riding Molly and by the end of the week she was even trotting on the trails with us. When I bought a scraggly, emotionally scarred, five year old, I would have never guessed that she would ever be what she is today, and that little girl will never forget the gift my little mare gave her that week. 

My name is Rob Foley. I am a Navy SEAL with extreme Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and PTSD and I have had many operations over the years. The PTSD has always been the most difficult living with and then the more recent news regarding the entire left hemisphere of my brain being severely damaged. As one top Neurologist put it; "Robert, this is one of the worst I have ever seen. You should not be able to walk or talk". 

Well I do walk and talk and without explanation as to how I am able to do this I credit my Creator and give thanks to my Creator each and every day. My introduction to horses is what changed and saved my LIFE. I was taught with horses, "slow is the way to go". They also shared with me, "Not to bend a horse to my will, but rather reach an agreement with the horse" and the TRUST will grow quickly and it has with every horse I have stood with. I FEEL the horse and the horse FEELs me.

It was one day in early 2013 walking with a horse out of the pasture during a wintery snow storm that I heard a voice, a voice that would change my life. The "Voice" said to me on that blistery morning, "It's NOT about you!" and I stopped as did my horse and again I heard, "It's NOT about YOU!" Tears welled up in my eyes because ONLY then did I understand the WORDS! It was not about me. Yes, I need these horses. Yes, these horses have helped to heal my shredded heard when it comes to my PTSD. Yes, these beautiful creatures, horses, helped me decompress and bring me peace and calmness and each and every horse that I have touched is aware of what they give me. But NOW, I discovered that I must share this AMAZING Healing Power of the horse with my Veteran brothers and sisters suffering from PTSD, TBI and Military Sexual Trauma (MST). 

My purpose today, as it has been for the last year is to stand with horses and speak openly like the “point of the spear” on behalf of Veterans suffering with PTSD, TBI and MST. Twenty four Veterans kill themselves each day or 8765 Veterans kill themselves each year. 26,000 Veterans (predominantly Woman) are RAPED (MST) by fellow soldiers each year. I speak publicly on behalf of my brother and sister Veterans to reduce the number of suicides. I do it to give Veterans a new sense of TRUST and HOPE that they can once again have “Peace of Mind” (that MOST Americans who have not served have and take for granted) and finally a PURPOSE to live again. If I can prevent one suicide, I may be possibly saving a marriage, a family and the children that are affected and will be for generations as will their children from PTSD that originated from their father or mother or both. Horses are so POWERFUL in their healing abilities and this is the message I will continue to share with Veterans. I will also share this with the REAL Heroes and they are the folks that have the resources and abilities to assist our men and women suffering from these afflictions, for they (Veterans) only want what most non-veterans have and that is “Peace of Mind”.


I am 16 years old and have had my horse for about 3 years now. When we purchased him he had been out of work for at least a good year and had previously been a hunter. Over the past few years we have developed an amazing bond that I have not had with another horse. I trained him in eventing along with my trainer and got to experience the thrill of watching him excel in this new discipline. We have had our many struggles, but overcame most of these. He is not an easy horse as many professionals had ridden him and could not get the job done easily. He has moved from beginner novice to training in a span of a year this year and absolutely loves his job. All in all my accomplishment for the year of 2013 was developing an amazing bond with an amazing horse and moving up the levels in eventing. I hope to move up to prelim for 2014! 



 Hello, my name is Willow. My achievement this year was with me and my barn horse Mercedes. It all started when I moved to Ridge Meadow Horse Farm with my pony Belle. The barn owner had just gotten an off the track thoroughbred and her name was Mercedes. He wanted her to be trained so I got on her. When I first sat on her it just felt right and I knew right then we had a special connection. She was now my favorite horse to ride and I rode her 3 times a week. I took her to schooling shows and got a lot of compliments on how well she looked and how well I looked on her. We did so good at every single show, winning champion at our 3rd show ever! After riding her for 6 months and jumping her, she was fantastic. I knew she would be my next horse and she was for sale.

Before we were going to buy her we got a vet check done. Mercedes had shown no signs of anything being wrong but the vet said otherwise. The vet took X-rays of her legs and it turned out that she had an old fracture in her splint bone and one of her tendons had been torn off the bone that anchored it. The vet was surprised that Mercedes had been jumping for me and had kept me so safe the whole time I was riding her. The vet told me that Mercedes should not be jumped anymore to lower the risk of her breaking her ankle. After this news I was so upset because the bond that Mercedes and I had made was unbreakable at this point. Even with what the vet said and lots of tears I am still going to buy her understanding that she can not jump or do a lot of things. I am going to do showmanship and trails with her now :) So I can say my accomplishment was the bond I have made with this horse and how well she has been to me. I love you Mercedes.



This year was a big year for my horse, Mango, and I. He is a 7 year old warmblood thoroughbred and this year we were not only able to move up in the jumpers from the .95 meter jumpers to the 1.10 jumpers, but we also accomplished something I have been working on for 3 years and hardly getting anywhere. We got our first flying lead changes! He started out the year hardly knowing where his hind feet even were and by the day after Christmas he gave me the best Christmas present he ever could have, he finally figured out how to do flying lead changes. 



I've ridden since I was a little girl, eight or nine. I started when we lived in England, and it was important that when I moved to Texas I find a barn ASAP. I found a great barn and trainer and the rest was history.
When I was 13 I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, and became too ill to ride, but I was determined to get back on a horse. And I did just that. But due to complications from my Crohn's, I would pass out a lot in the heat as my body was too weak to handle hot Texas summers. But I persevered and kept trying, and eventually was back to riding as much as I could. Next step? A horse of my own. I was lucky enough to get a "porse", not quite pony, not quite horse. With him I even competed in some local shows, something I thought I'd never do. 

Unfortunately I had to move barns due to some political stuff (you know the horse world), and was also outgrowing my beloved pony. So I leased a big warm blood when I was 18. I had graduated high school early and literally put all I had into riding. It was a big change and I went through some rough spells with Juaquin, hitting the dirt a lot, but I always got back on. 

My barn started traveling doing A shows, something I definitely thought I'd never do. It was a big adjustment for me, a big powerful jumper and technical courses. If I did something he let me know it by dumping me. I hit the dirt a lot. But my goal was always to just move up from low children's to the highs. I kept at it even though I wanted to quit many times because I couldn't seem to finish a course. But hard work started to pay off. I remember the first time I got champion with Juaquin, at an A show in Waco. And then it finally happened, the last day of the last show I was to do with Juaquin before my lease was up, my trainer put me in the highs, and not only that, but the classic too! I didn't finish my course, but I did get around the classic, with an unfortunate rail. I was just thankful I got to experience the high children's before I would be going to college and not riding as much again. 

And all in and out of this time I had to battle my Crohn's disease, in and out of hospital, tests and labs, sick days or weeks even. But riding also helped; animals are healing. I'll always be a rider even though I rarely compete now.  I was diagnosed with a much more serious pain disease and at the moment have difficulty walking. But I know I'll be back in the saddle, nothing can keep me away that long. 


Leigh - Ana

On November 30, 2012 I signed the paperwork, which made me the proud owner of the most beautiful Hanoverian/Thoroughbred filly I had ever laid eyes on. She was spirited, intelligent, and full of raw talent just waiting to be developed. One year later, almost to the date, I sat on a chair peering through a small square window, at my perfect filly, lying on an operating table, fighting to save the vision in her left eye.

It was the last month of classes for the fall semester (how all college students organize their calendars), when I received a message from my barn manager that my filly, Harper, came in from the pasture with a foggy spot on her left eye. After consulting with my vet and putting her on medication without delay, the injury only worsened. Upon recommendation from my vet, I scheduled her for an immediate procedure, which would take place two hours away. Hauling my filly and her pasture mate as a trailer buddy, I had high hopes for a smooth surgery and almost guaranteed full recovery. To my horror, that was not the news I received upon her admission and pre-operation exam. I was told that the eye had deteriorated so greatly that there was only one layer left of her cornea and that it was on the verge of rupturing at any moment. I was recommended trailering her to New Bolton for an emergency cornea transplant, as the previously planned procedure no longer gave her a sizeable chance to save her eye and the vision tied to it. In that moment I saw my 18-month-old filly’s wonderfully broad future narrow to the walls that would confine her to limited vision. Due to the limited financial funds well known to students, the recommended trip to New Bolton was not an option. We went forward with the scheduled procedure as her only chance.  

Harper underwent a conjunctival pedical graft surgery with complete tarsorrhaphy. She came through the surgery and woke up from the anesthesia, however the surgeon was even less hopeful post surgery as she noted the rest of the cornea was bulging and lifting up off of the rest of her eye. We travelled home the next day with heavy hearts and instructions to dose her through the catheter every two hours, around the clock. With the help of the most dedicated barn manager, Nicole Malott, a couple of loving friends, and the organization of countless excel spread sheets, Harper received her medications every two hours, including midnight, 2am, and 4am everyday. For the next two weeks we would not know the outcome of all the hard work, as the eye may have ruptured without us being able to tell, due to her eye being sutured completely shut. In total, she was on seven different medications. At the end of the two-week period, and many needles, syringes, and lost hours of sleep later, the sutures were removed to reveal what was a fully intact eye, which, after a couple more weeks of medications, would be healed.

My perfect filly made a perfect recovery from what we were told would most likely leave her without her left eye; and that, is my best accomplishment from the 2013 year!

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