In January, 2013 my eyes were fixed on one goal. I wanted to be the best. I wanted to be the next super star rider who made the cut, showing grand-prix, running Rolex, the whole nine yards, and there was nothing that would stop me.
Looking back now, it’s easy to see the flaw in my vision. For some people this is a fine goal, but for me tunnel vision was a dagger I stuck in myself and my horse. At 16 though, my good-but-not-great ability to ride and lack of funds didn’t register. So off I went looking for a horse to rocket me around a cross country course. And I found him.
Ty was a thoroughbred gelding I found in Aiken, SC. 7-years old at the time, he was a forward, edgy guy who took me over some training level cross country questions. I loved him, so home we went.
The first few months with Ty were simply awesome. He was a little tricky, but game, talented, and fun. We started schooling bigger fences and getting ready to move up and run novice.
Then almost overnight it all changed. My Ty went from forward, clean, and confident to hot and overly sensitive off my aids. He stopped at fences, then at poles, then started spooking. He would no longer cross tie, and his reaction to pressure got worse as we tried to work past it. My lovely Ty turned into a horse that I didn’t have the ability to handle.
For over two years I tried to make it work with him. I got frustrated, broken up, hurt, and mean. I lost my confidence. For two years we did the dreaded dance- one step forward, two steps back. I began riding and handling Ty and other horses defensively, with what I felt was warranted frustration. I felt cheated, like Ty owed me something that he wasn’t shelling out. At the same time, I felt guilty, like a monster. This horse was wonderful when he came to me, now that I’d had him, he wasn’t. I wasn’t too naive that I couldn’t put 2 & 2 together, and I blamed myself for the horse’s apparent ruin.
Time passed, and I came to grips with the fact that I probably wouldn’t run with the big dogs like I’d pinned my hopes and dreams on. Partly because as a 19-year old college student, the reality of my budget, talent, and temperament (IE the uncanny ability to get under people’s skin) hit me in the nose. This realization alone left me lost; I felt purposeless. At the same time, I allowed the love/hate relationship I had with my horse to fester towards the latter, and I needed him gone. When Ty hit the top of a wave where he was fairly reasonable to work with, I deemed him safe and sellable. So off he went to a new person.
I remember watching the trailer haul him away from me, but instead of feeling free, I was broken. I had sold out the horse that I’d strung along for years. It wasn’t right, and as much as I’d tried to convince myself otherwise, it wasn’t for his best interest.
None the less, there I was, horseless, pockets filled with cash from Ty’s sale, and giving my mom a shallow promise that I’d wait a while before I bought another horse. I’d be deliberate. Waiting would have been the reasonable thing to do, seeing as I had no confidence, no plan for what I wanted to do next, and no professional guidance at the time. But then, less than a week after seeing Ty off, a stunning, fiery chestnut caught my eye on OTTB Connect. The 5 year old gelding was scheduled to race later that week, but his owners wanted to get him gone because the horse didn’t want to run. So, in good reasoning, I snatched him up straight from the track. “He’ll be a sale horse” I said. “That way there are no strings attached” I said. Because that always works out as planned.
I named the horse Ford, because he was dashingly handsome, but a bit of a weenie, so Chevy wouldn’t do. Ford and Ty were opposites in so many ways. The amazing thing about this horse was that he brought out the best in me. He brought out the person that Ty had needed. With Ford, the love, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, and self-control just came. Ford kept me humble, and in an unnatural way for a horse who went from track athlete to pet, he took care of me. So for the next two years, Ford and I skipped along, helping each other develop.
It’s funny to look back and see the essence behind growth, perfect timing, and God’s will. Through a completely irrational purchase, God gave me Ford, who not only gave me confidence, but changed the course of my life. I no longer found motive from competition, but rather the process of creating a bond with the horse and getting to know his personality. I didn’t find completeness other people’s perception anymore either. Instead, I began finding it in helping the horses who needed an advocate. This purpose is quieter, and keeps my heart soft to those around who need me still today. The realization was unmerited, undeserved, and yet given to me through my wonderful Ford.
Throughout this time, I became more and more aware of the injustice I’d done Ty. I thought about how I didn’t consider any of the million physical ailments that could have compromised him while I had him, or how I’d put his needs aside for me own selfish ambition. I’d not only given up on him, but thrown him to the wolves when I did so. Ty knew me as a person that I would never let Ford see. In retrospect, in failing with Ty, I now see that this world doesn’t need that person. I can’t thank God enough for being the way He is, for not giving me what I deserved, but paying His grace forward with Ford. For showing me not how to reach my potential, but how to find my purpose. Because as I now see, my fulfillment comes not from winning a race, but helping others win theirs. For this realization, I thank God; I thank Ford, and I thank Ty.
In December, 2017, I was scrolling through an article from Indiana University describing a rare colic surgery. The image of the horse in the article about stunned me. It was Ty. I’d searched for him on and off over the last couple years, but had never caught wind of his where-abouts, only that the people I’d sold him to had sold him as well. Honestly, I’d avoided thinking about him too often, as the odds he’d ended up in a good place were slim to none, and finding him in one piece was even less likely. After spending a few days tracking him down, I got in touch with Ty’s person, Stephanie. She managed Refuge Ranch Ministries, a horse rescue and riding therapy program in Minnesota. Ty had been dropped into their program only to colic a few weeks after his arrival.
God’s timing for Ty amazes me still today. Ty wouldn’t have made a suitable therapy horse and certainly had no insurance for colic surgery. However, the people at Refuge Ranch are a special kind of wonderful, and took him to the clinic for examination where the vets found his case rare and educationally valuable, so Ty went in for surgery to remove a sub-serosal hematoma of the proximal jejunum. And he made it through! Throughout his recovery time Ty received patience, respect, and love from those who surrounded him. After talking to Stephanie it was clear to me that she loved Ty and that the program was going out of its way to understand the horse to bring him to better physical and emotional health. Seeing this forbearing kindness towards Ty brought resolution to my heart, and I will never forget how Stephanie changed my perspective, driving me to look at every horse individually and humbly.
“Ty needs to be loved and forgiven like God loves and forgives us. No, he’s not where we want him to be, but we have to keep pushing him towards being that horse with the same patience and love that God shows us as we fail to walk on water day after day”.
I told Stephanie that if she ever needed somewhere for Ty to go, I would hook up the trailer and bring him home. At the time though, I wasn’t sure I deserved a second chance with him. I really didn’t think I’d ever see him again. Our realities were so distant, so full, and life went on.
Not too long after though, I got to dip my toe in hell. At the end of 2017, I noticed some increasing oddities about Ford’s demeanor. He became different from the horse I’d known for two years. He started becoming hot, spooky, and studdish. He became aggressive towards other horses, and he lost his sense of self preservation, running through fences, picking fights, and cutting away from me at full force. These oddities built upon each other, and for the better part of four months Ford spiraled downhill.
It’s impossible to describe exactly how it felt to watch my child degrade into something unrecognizable. He seeped through my fingers as I tried to hold him together. We tested for ulcers and Lymes and EPM and testosterone, nutrient deficiencies and toxicities, chemical imbalances, systemic pain, testosterone again, dental imbalance, and neurological conditions. He didn’t respond as we tried chiropractic treatments and long-term sedation and anti-inflammatory, botanicals, new environments, dietary changes, and endless consults. We had vets & research specialists from around the country trying to crack Ford’s case, but it was not in God’s plan. With details I wish not to go into, come March, it was clear that Ford had become a danger to himself, the horses, and the people around him. He had lived almost four months in as much of a hell as I had, and we had run out of options. In a last-ditch effort to pin-point a cause, we brought Ford to Rood & Riddle for an MRI of his brain. Nothing showed. On March 9th, 2018 I made the call to put my sweet Ford to sleep.
I felt guilty, cheated, like a failure, empty, and overwhelmed. Ford had given me confidence. He’d taught me how to love again. I didn’t know what to do next.
After much prayer and petition, support from friends and family, and time, I started to see who Ford really was to me. Before Ford, I was lost. I was lost in my faith, without confidence, and completely blind to my own misdirection. Then, like God sent Christ as a light on the chance we might look up to see His way, I truly believe God gave me Ford. I sold Ty selfishly as a desperate run at relief from my struggle, and was handed a horse who brought the best out of me- unmerited and undeserved. With Ford I was loving, kind, and out of myself.
Due to this grace of God, I realized this person didn’t have to go away. This person could make a difference for struggling people and horses who’ve been shorted. I started The Well Horse blog in hopes of doing for others what I couldn’t do for Ford. I started paying forward the love and service that was paid unto me in the shape of a red headed thoroughbred.
This past summer has been one of the most eye opening, meaningful times of my life. Between rehab projects at my farm, developing The Well Horse brand and program, and consulting for a non-profit to enhance their equine nutrition and wellness management program, I feel like I’ve landed in the purpose God has molded me for.
With this mission, I was overwhelmed when Ty’s Stephanie contacting me with news that the horse needed a home. For a split second, I was afraid. I feared that Ty would hold too much resentment to soften to me again. I feared that I would fall short in being the person he needed to manage and improve him. More than anything though, I remembered the person who had Ty before, and I very much feared that person.
But none the less, Ty awaited a situation. He still needed someone without their own agenda, someone to continue in Refuge Ranch’s shoes to fill the management deficit that Ty had faced for so many years. Ty didn’t need the ambitious, emotional, self-focused, Rolex aspiring teenager who battled him against his physical and mental limits. He needed someone who appreciated his simple significance, someone looking to relish in the process of his development. Someone without selfish ambition. So, as I hauled the horse into my barn a month ago, I promised Ty that I would be the latter person. I would be Ford’s person to Ty, God’s child to Ty, the one he never got to see.
So now, The Well Horse has its newest long-term addition. A horse who will tell quite a story, overcome mental and physical barriers, and prayerfully find his niche along the way. Welcome home Ty, as we start your journey to becoming a forever well horse!