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Hello, my name is Kira and I have been a part of the Herd for about 6 months now. Forest and I met on TikTok and became fast friends. We bonded over our love of horses and the bumps in the road that led us to where we are in life. When she approached me about sharing my story during Pride Month I was excited and anxious at the same time. I hope that by being vulnerable and sharing my story it could help someone figure out who they are. Here we go…
I would like to tell you the story of how a trail ride on my heart mare, Sophie, down a dusty gravel road changed my life. But before we get into that life changing story, here’s a little background information on me. I have always considered myself a late-bloomer. For most of my life, I seemed to always be behind my peers (turns out developing a chronic illness in middle school will do that to a person). I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 20, which is clearly not the norm. I am a 30 year old woman from Kansas. I am an educator. I have loved horses for as long as I can remember but didn’t get the opportunity to start riding until much later than most at 24. At 26 I bought my first horse, Sophie. I was 29 when I found my love of Eventing, and I was 30 by the time I competed in my first 3-Day Event. I was 31 when I discovered, and came to terms with, my identity as a lesbian.
Sophie and I have been partners for eight years. Along with being my first horse, Sophie is also my whole heart and has helped me through some major life changes. She was green-broke when I bought her, but we learned and grew together under the watchful eyes of trainers. I know this is not the traditional way for most but it worked for us. In the time I have owned her, Sophie has seen me through a lot of challenges both in and outside of my riding. From losing my job to rehabbing a broken collar bone. But the biggest challenge Sophie has ever helped me face was finding myself.
When I was in fifth grade I remember the first time of feeling truly alienated from my people; that feeling has followed me through my younger years into adulthood. I felt like I didn’t connect to the world the way other kids my age did; because I was still imaginative, because I had different interests than what was considered “normal,” and because I felt things very deeply. I knew I was considered unusual and that I didn’t fit in. These feelings of being different continued through my teens and into my adulthood. At first I just secluded myself away from others because I thought it would hurt less than trying to connect with others and being excluded. Inevitably, I became very lonely, so instead I began giving up parts of myself in order to assimilate with those around me. I learned to change myself in order to fit in with my peers. I pushed down my wants and needs in order to please those from whom I wanted attention. I shed every bit of myself that didn’t make others want to keep me around. By the time I graduated college, I had perfected the art of pleasing people, people didn’t know the real me but I thought that was okay because at least they weren’t rejecting me. This is not a way to live but only to exist.
Don’t get me wrong, I did have some relationships that were genuine where I felt I could be me. I felt comfortable letting my guard down and being mostly myself with a select few individuals; however, I was constantly watching for signs of displeasure from them so I could quickly fix whatever part of me was the problem. The past trauma of how others treated me made me very anxious about opening up to people.
I wanted to live what I thought was a normal life. So did what everyone else did. I graduated from college, married the man I had dated for five-years, got a teaching job and bought a house. I made sure to stay on the path my parents and society had laid out for me. And I did all the things I was told would make me a successful and happy adult. I never even gave myself the chance to stop and see if this was really who I was or what I wanted.
I was comfortable in this life, but with every passing year, I became more and more of a shell of a person. The only thing I did for myself was to start riding and bought my beautiful red mare when others thought it wasn't a good idea. At the barn, and around horses, I felt free. Even if no one else understood why I was taking up this new hobby that was okay; because I was fulfilling my childhood dreams, the ones I had kept safely tucked in my heart all those years. Even though learning to ride as an adult came with its own unique set of challenges, I loved learning all there was to know about being an equestrian and good horsemanship. It was my break from the box I had put myself in; it also became a wonderful distraction from the emptiness and restlessness I was beginning to feel in the rest of my life. The more empty I began to feel, the more I rode, trained, and competed. In the span of 6 years, Sophie and I went from western beginners to schooling novice cross country. Even when I had to take 6-months off for my broken collar bone, I channeled all that drive into physical therapy and staying in shape so I would be ready when I could get back in the saddle. I had to keep myself distracted from the increasingly present thoughts that something was wrong in my life and marriage. What was going on inside of me that had me feeling like this?
Then came March 2020, yes the March that will go down in the history books. Covid-19 was spreading and the world shut down. As our world shrank to that of our homes, I lost all the distractions I used to avoid my problems. I was one of the lucky ones in the equestrian world though, my barn didn’t completely shut down. Those of us who boarded horses were still able to have access to them as long as we could avoid others. I turned my truck into a mobile tack room and began taking lots of trail rides. It was also in March that I first admitted to another soul that I had an attraction to women.
This was a big milestone in my life. Up until that point in my life, I thought all people raised as female felt about women the way I did; boy was I WRONG! The first person I told encouraged me to begin seeing a therapist to explore what this new realization meant for my life. So that’s what my life became: therapy and trail rides. At first I was identifying as bisexual. I thought I must be since I had dated and even married a man. Then came the trail ride that changed everything. I had therapy that day and we were exploring why the bisexual label didn’t feel right, why I couldn’t just accept that and move on with my current life. I can tell you exactly where I was on that road when it hit me, out-loud I shouted, “Sophie, I’m a lesbian!” As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I knew they were true. A wave of understanding and relief washed over my body and the world made sense again. Turns out I had people-pleased and became so unattached from my true self it took a global pandemic to get me to stop and reconnect with what was going on inside my own soul.
I was gay. Coming out to yourself is only the beginning. There were times in the months to follow I didn’t think I would be able to come out and change my life. I thought it would be better for me to end my life than come out as my true self and destroy other people's lives. I want to stop here and say that no matter who you are and how you identify we want you here. You matter. Your life matters. I learned valuable lessons during this time about how to value myself and to use my voice to let others know who I was and what I needed in this life. I had to learn to become a whole person. Through all of that darkness and hard work I leaned on Sophie, she gave me a reason to live and put in the hard work. Whenever I needed an escape I could go to her, she picked me up when I was down and gave me a safe space to process, feel my emotions, and begin healing.
Coming out to my barn family was one of the scarier moments I had, I couldn’t stand the thought of being rejected by the community that held me together when I was falling apart. I didn’t know of many openly gay equestrians and certainly no openly gay women in the sport. I was terrified of being ostracized from the one place that had felt safe to be me. I am forever grateful for how well they responded when I told them and for the support they gave me once they knew. I have also been blessed to find other LGBTQIA+ equestrians through social media, it really is a comfort to know I’m not alone and I try my best to be out, proud, and be the sort of representation I needed but couldn’t find. I was also drawn to Herd of Zebras for their emphasis on acceptance and community for all equestrians no matter how they identify.
Today, two years after my realization of who I truly was, my life looks much different. I came out to my family and friends, my husband and I were able to amicably divorce, and after some time I started dating a wonderful woman who I am building a life with. Internally I have been working to reshape myself, so I can live freely, the way I feel when I am with Sophie. I am learning that I am worth loving just as I am, that I do not need to be anyone other than myself. I have learned just how powerful and important the advice to “be yourself” is. I am also learning to set and stick with boundaries and whose opinions of me I actually care about.
My riding life looks a little different too. Sadly, I am having to retire Sophie. She broke the coffin bone in her left hind foot and the injury refuses to fully heal. She is pasture sound and will be able to live out her life at a friend’s farm. Although our riding and competing days are over, the love I have for that horse will always be there. As long as she is healthy and happy I will continue to provide for her, care for her and love her. I owe my life to that horse.
So that’s it, that’s the story. The story of me and my red quarter horse mare, how through our bond she helped me find myself. The story of coming-out in the equestrian world. And the story of how the bond between horse and rider saved my life.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. You can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or chat.
Trevor Lifeline The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) young people under 25. The TrevorLifeline is a crisis intervention and suicide prevention phone service available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386. TrevorText is available by texting “START” to 678678.