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You hear the story over and over again... a little girl walks into a barn, gets onto a horse and the rest is history. True Love. Best Friendships made and a lifelong commitment begins. For us and our daughter Grace, it went a “little” something like that.
Grace was born with a rare congenital heart defect and spent much of her first five years in and out of the hospital... weeks at a time. In between stays and doctors’ visits and surgeries, Grace would attempt to try all of the activities most other girls her age were joining ballet, soccer, Girl Scouts. She tried her best and we cheered her on from the sidelines. I would hold my breath and pray she didn’t get hurt. As she grew, and her classmates found their “niche” Grace continued to search for her “thing”. On the car ride home from school one day, I heard her from the back-seat whisper “I just haven’t found my people”. My heart sank.
After speaking to my encouraging and empathetic cousin Erin, an equestrian herself, I decided to bring Grace to the barn of her old friend, Holly. The day she met Holly, her trainer Allie, and a sweet gentle paint, Tucker, was the day her life changed.
“Holding my breath” and praying took on a whole new meaning. Grace had shared the news with her cardiologist that she would, in fact, be taking riding lessons and he, knowing Graces determination, agreed to let her try. I stood outside the ring with our dear Allie holding onto Tuckerʼs reins as Grace took her first steps around the ring. As she came around the corner and I saw the smile reaching across her face and her green eyes sparkling, my own filled with tears. And I let out all that worry in a big sigh of relief. She had found her people. The girls at the barn quickly became the little family that she had talked about. Friday nights grooming horses for the big Saturday show, very early freezing mornings feeding and loading the ponies into the trailers, days spent eating their “horse show Mac and cheese”, and cheering for each other, win or lose. Every little girl’s dream.
But Graceʼs story hasnʼt been easy... before riding... and even after. My trusted cousin Erin told me before she even got on the first time that “it wasnʼt if you fell, it was when”. (And now I know it isnʼt just literal). She has broken her arm in a tumble, and often sports the bumps and bruises that all equestrians brush off and put far away in the back of their minds.
But unlike most, Grace recently had major cardiac surgery, suffered terrible residual effects and spent weeks in the hospital. With the love and support of her barn family, and the many friends she has come to love in the bigger horse world, she was able to return to the ring after months of rehabilitation. She followed all of the restrictions placed on her by her team of doctors at Boston Childrenʼs Hospital and her caring pediatricians here in Connecticut and continues to take all of her medications.
In spite of all of the obstacles that she faced, Grace competed in the last two schooling shows of her barnʼs series. Decked out in her Herd of Zebras gear, Grace and her new leased paint mare Doodlebug, made their way back around the show ring... that same smile that I saw on my little 10-year-old... was right back where it should be. Her faithful friends stood alongside the ring with me as she accepted her ribbons and we didnʼt even see the colors. Blue or red or yellow... her champion spirit was visible for all to see. She looked and me and said proudly “so... Mom... next show we are jumping higher”.
Iʼm back to holding my breath...