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A BLESSING IN DISGUISE - BY HERD MEMBER KASIA BUKOWSKA

When you run into an obstacle you can do one of two things:      
1) Let the situation, and in my case that was my chronic disease, get the best of you or,
2) Use the setback as a catalyst for change and improvement
 
My story
I went from jumping 1.30m courses at home on my horse Sławny to being bedridden and spoon fed. This drastic change all happened within the timespan of a week. I was an active person not only training and competing my jumper, but I was also a go-cart enthusiast, obsessed with Zumba, and participated in cross fit classes at my local gym. To go from that to not even being able to open a bottle of water was gut-wrenching. And what’s worse, doctors said I wouldn’t ride horses again. Even if I were to get my flare into remission, my body wouldn’t be able to tolerate the stress of such physical activity. 
 
I had high aspirations for furthering my riding career before being diagnosed with lupus SLE and fibromyalgia. My ultimate life goal was to one day competing in the Grand Prix. But my invisible illnesses had other plans for me. This is the point in my life where I actually started painting horses, in 2014. It alleviated the emotional pain of not seeing horses for months on end. Expressing myself through art allowed me to start on my journey in overcoming this obstacle in my life.
 
I spent about a week mourning and drowning in turmoil, being bitter and pushing everyone away. I was very angry and not sure I even had the will in me to live. I felt like giving up. But because I spent all day and all night in bed, I had the chance to research something before giving up all hope. So I started researching “how to train a horse from a wheelchair.” That led me to start learning about horsemanship and how I eventually came across the story of Amerbley Snyder, her tragic accident, and her will to get back in the saddle. After getting to know more about how she beat the odds, I was able to start pulling myself out of this downward spiral.
 
Why I started painting horses
At first, I started painting as an exercise for my joints. Doctors had said that though it hurts, I have to move or wiggle my fingers as much as possible, otherwise, my tendons would shorten, stiffen, and shrivel. Painting was my way of “exercising” and it kept me focused on pushing through.
 
Symbolism of my art
My earlier artwork was dark as it was a way for me to express how I felt about my situation. I felt helpless, alone, and useless. I felt insignificant, like a burden, and an embarrassment. My signature drip style came from a place of sadness, a symbol of the tears I cried because of the physical and emotional pain. I also added something to the painting as a symbol of hope; whether that be in the eye, the strokes of the brush, or colors used, I never let go of hope. I disagreed with my doctors when they said competing and riding might not be in the new hand I was dealt, that it was too dangerous for my feeble bones and stiff joints. All I really wanted to do was just be able to brush my horse and take him grazing and maybe one day feel his canter again. But at that time, that was asking too much. I could, however, make brush strokes on a blank canvas of my horse! And that’s just what I did to stay connected to horses when I wasn’t able to be around them anymore.
 
Today, my artwork still incorporates this drip but it now symbolizes strength, determination, and perseverance. I love creating whimsical pieces inspired by my five beautiful horses!
 
My horses
My jumper, named Sławny, I competed bridleless on last Septemeber at the International Bridleless Championships in Wrocław, Poland. And can I just say how happy I was to prove my doctors and my family worng?! Booyah!
 
I also have two shires. I ride Roxy bitted, bitless, or bridleless and I plan to back the other shire, Lilly, later this summer. Lulu is the cuddliest of all my equines and I have currently backed her five times. We are just walking, stopping, and turning, but I hope to add some trotting into the mix this summer. I recently purchased my fifth horse, Brylant, in February this year. We are in the process of building him a stall and setting up his own paddock, as he is a wild ball of energy! He is a stallion and he’s turning three in May! 
 
Never give up

Coming back to the topic of not letting yourself quit even when the odds aren’t in your favor, one thing I have learned since being diagnosed with chronic illnesses is that you really have more strength bottled up within you than you think. You just need to find the right outlet and the right group of supportive people to help bring that fighter out of you! In learning to manage my symptoms on a daily basis, I have become more attune to listening to my body and paying more attention to my needs. I am motivated to work but I am also aware that I need to take care of my body and get enough rest, the right amount of exercise, and be on the right diet.
 
It was hard for me to let go of my dream to compete in the Grand Prix, but I found other goals that fulfilled me in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Like riding bridleless for instance! In the midst of an insurmountable challenge there are blessings. You just have to get yourself in the right mindset to see it! Stay positive, be grateful, and you will attain what you seek.