The human and horses lessons intertwined in our journey feel worthy of sharing . . . for those who simply need hope about second chances, for the want-to-be rescue horse owner who needs a primer on what to expect, for the frustrated equestrian who can’t figure out what is wrong with her horse, for the individual who has hit a relationship wall and desperately needs a new way of looking at life, and for the dreamer who is about to give up yet wonders if there is a still a possibility to see the vision realized.
So here I tell our story — one that is still unfolding. It captures the extravagance of God’s grace, the fruit of perseverance, the beauty of slow growth, and the remarkable gift of hope that comes through second chances. May it encourage you to press on, expecting the remarkable to manifest in your life too.
Did you know that I went roged when I decided to adopt Kody in the summer of 2022? Oh yes, my trainer urged me to get a quiet older school horse and not a green-bean rescue OTTB. My husband asked me again and again to consider the timing since I had two more rigorous years of grad school ahead of me. My daughter gave me the eyes that said, “Mom, are you sure about this one?”
But I did not want to hear or see what I did not want to hear or see.
Instead, I had a long list of all the reasons why Kodiak Jack was the right horse at the right moment for me.
At the top of the list was the fact that I was bringing Kodiak home to Honey Brook Stables, into a barn community where I felt safe, loved, and supported. I had no idea at the time what an anomaly that is. I had previously heard of the drama that can exist in the horse world, but I had not personally experienced it so I couldn’t imagine what that might look or feel like. I confess I took the gift of this community for granted!
Second on the list was that I knew without a doubt that Kodiak would be well cared for – the horses at Honey Brook Stables were happy and healthy. When issues arose, they were tended to, even if that meant pulling a horse from the lesson program and making a financial investment to explore the problem, as much as a hardship that was for all involved.
Also at the top of my list was that I knew Kaitlyn McGarvey would be able to turn this unbalanced and uneducated horse into one I could ride with confidence, and she would do so with kindness and confidence. She did exactly that, albeit not on the six-month timeline we had hoped for, but nonetheless accomplished this feat considering numerous setbacks!
Yes, we hit many bumps with Kody, battling everything from unexplainable lameness to ulcers and various nutritional issues. But in the end, Kody continued to grow and develop into a horse who I could ride. That of course was also due much to the support of Kristina, my “comeback from fear” lesson instructor, who helped me process the trauma of my previous falls slowly and steadily gain my confidence and skill so that I could meet Kody where he was at.
After thirteen months together, Kody and I were in the best place emotionally and physically – the hard work was evident in both of us!
And then it all fell apart one August day in the summer of 2023.
I received the heartbreaking news that Honey Brook Stables would be closing as the family decided to sell the property and return the rolling acres to Amish farmland. This decision impacted not only my life as Kodiak’s owner but also radically shifted my career aspirations for Stableminded, as our home base existed in the old dairy barn.
You can imagine the shock.
And the anxiety and fear.
Where do I move my business?
Where do I move Kody?
Do I wait it out until Kaitlyn and her team figure out where they will land?
Do I move on, hoping that Kody and I can make it on our own?
While we were given a few months lead time before any decision had to be made, other circumstances in my life made it feel at the time as though the answer was right before me. I had already started working at a second internship site to gain more experience in the equine-assisted counseling work an hour from my home. They had a boarding spot for Kody, so it seemed logical to move him there where I’d be working each week. It truly felt like the way forward was a provision from God. Yet in the middle of all the chaos, I shut myself off from heeding a very legitimate concern – just like I did when I adopted a green-been, rescue, OTTB while being an unconfident rider navigating her way through anxiety and fear. Yeah, that.
I didn’t allow myself to own the fact that driving an hour one way to see my horse would be a commitment that could result in such emotional, physical, and even financial stress. I didn’t calculate the cost of gas and tolls. I didn’t consider the depth the impact of the time on the road and away from home. I didn’t factor in the “what if” scenarios, such as the transition not going smoothly for Kody, requiring twice as many trips to the barn to check in on him, hoping to reduce the anxiety level for both of us.
While I continued to press on, doing my darndest to have a positive attitude, I was beginning to crumble inside. The grief over all that I lost personally and professionally, and the frustration over seeing our fitness and growth decline in this adjustment period, only increased my anxiety and sadness. About six weeks into the unraveling, an opportunity presented itself to move Kody closer to home – 17 minutes to be exact. Although I had some apprehensions, alleviating the stress caused by the distance seemed to make the most sense at the time. This time, however, I heeded all the advice of those around me and decided to move Kody again. The transition was relatively smooth for Kody, however, for me the grief continued to mount.
One thing I greatly valued about the equine-assisted therapy place we were at was the horsemanship approach. All who were involved in handling and caring for the horses were on the same page with a trauma-informed neuroscience philosophy about behavior and training, which was aligned with my experience at Honey Brook Stables and my role as a mental health professional. These were my people, so to speak, so moving Kody from this location came with a whole lot of sadness.
While still trying to get my bearings at the new location, I opened my email to discover that the property where Kody was boarded was on the market for sale. Yes, you read that correctly. It blindsided the boarding manager as much as it did me.
What are the chances that we could find ourselves in this situation again only three and half weeks after moving to this boarding facility?
Fortunately, I live in a place with numerous options. Unfortunately, the openings are slim, and fees outrageous with more and more barns closings and operating costs continuing to rise. I was beside myself looking at the doubled cost of expenses in caring for Kody since making that decision to adopt him less than 18 months earlier. Honestly, I considered for a moment returning Kody to the rescue. Yes, that is how overwhelmed I was.
Every reason I had for adopting Kody when I did no longer rang true.
I felt alone. Scared. Insecure. The way forward felt bleak. I was worn down. And I was highly concerned about stepping into a new environment not only for Kody but also for myself. This experience has taught me that there are a lot of opinions in the horse world about how to handle, care for, and train horses (and humans).
Not every barn is a right fit. That makes the decision-making process daunting because you don’t know what you don’t know until after you move into a new barn.
For a survivor of trauma, having such little control over the livelihood of a creature you love desperately is overwhelming. But that is the reality of horse ownership. When you can’t afford a property to keep your horse at home, you’re at the whim and mercy of others.
I knew I wasn’t in this process alone. My faith has been my sure foundation for the last 30 years and this situation wasn’t going to change that reality. I begged God to open doors and to show me the way forward. Ironically, He answered that prayer while I was standing at a door at my church, holding it open to welcome attendees.
An acquaintance walked by and I called out to her, “Would you by chance know of any boarding facilities with openings?” She paused for a moment and said, “Maybe. Let me get back to you.” The next day she put me in touch with a gal who might have an answer.
Twelve days later, Kody landed in a new boarding home that was unlike anything we could have asked for or imagined. Unlike previous boarding situations, this location is a private home of an amateur dressage rider with experience running a large facility and a compassionate approach to horsemanship. She has offered Kody and me such a soft landing, with the warmest hospitality, above-par professionalism, and calm that is palpable. This feels like a place where both Kody and I can flourish on this next leg of the journey together.
But before I get too excited about the growth potential, we first need to recover from four months of life that wasn’t supposed to be this way.
Four months of life that was outside of our control. Four months of life was full of triggers and trials. Four months of experiences that we’re stretching, exposing, shaping, enduring, and frustrating, with a smidge or two of rewarding. No, it wasn’t all hard and awful. We got pretty good trailer loading. We navigated new environments together and deepened our connection. I discovered I could canter Kody on a circle in an arena by myself without a trainer and find delight in it. So yes, there were good things in the midst of so much hard.
Even though it wasn’t supposed to be this way, I know what we experienced will not be wasted.
Yes, I’ll channel the resilience I’ve gained into future growth moments, striding forward with equal parts grittiness and gratefulness.
And you can do the same when life doesn’t turn out the way you expected.