By Michelle

In May 2013 I submitted my first ever article to HJU and to my utter surprise, it was published. It was “The Weekend Sacrifice. Congratulate yourself for surviving!” It was about my first attempt at Training level eventing and how even though the numbers weren’t ideal, I needed to stay positive and celebrate the small victory of safely completing my first move up. So when I read that HJU was looking for an Adult Ammy blogger who can celebrate the little moments, I instantly started brainstorming.

You see, I loved being the editor of my school newspaper in high school. I loved submitting articles for my junior college’s annual magazine. But somewhere along the way I stopped writing about my thoughts, feelings, and observations. I focused on how to pay bills and finish my Bachelor’s degree. I got married to a United States Marine and moved across the country to the East Coast. Then we moved to California. Now we are stationed in Wisconsin. This military life has its challenges, many of which civilians could never comprehend. However, it has also opened doors for me that I never would have dreamed of.

All along the way I’ve had a horse. For a time in California, I had two (one of which was the horse in the Weekend Sacrifice article). After finding the perfect home for Bailey with dear friends in California I am back to one. A gorgeous bay OTTB gelding who has given me grey hair and taught me the value of patience and perseverance.

When I first met Sky his owner asked me to restart him under saddle and help sell him. I readily agreed, not knowing that I was meeting a horse that would change my life. He was a dream to start. After sitting for nearly a year you would expect a seven-year-old to be set in his ways, but not Sky. He was so happy to have a job and truly enjoyed working.

After several months he was still for sale but wasn’t generating any interest. The trainer I was working for sat on him and after one ride looked me in the eyes and said “This one is special”. She was absolutely right. December 2012 Sky became mine. 2013 was a busy year. My husband deployed, I took Sky on his first XC schooling (where he was a complete rockstar), I moved Bailey up to Training level (successfully completing twice but ending the season on an E at an obstacle I should have challenged), took Sky to a few schooling shows, and worked my butt off.

2014 brought a barn move, a lease for Bailey, and Sky’s first recognized show at Galway Downs International Event in March, going Novice. The score wasn’t pretty but I was super thrilled. He kept his head in Dressage, and the only reason we had such an awful SJ score was because I made the decision to circle a few times. Cross country was perfect (our version of perfect anyway), and I still get chills watching the video.

The weekend after the event we were doing a XC clinic with my trainer and schooled some Training fences and even a Prelim question, all of which he took in stride. We made plans for one more Novice run in May, then possibly going Training in June. Then, that evening, when I went back to the barn to feed and ice his legs again, I noticed a crack at the top of his hoof with dried blood around it. I immediately sent a picture to my farrier, who said he would be out first thing in the morning. Sky’s feet were a work in progress as he has the typical Thoroughbred low heel/long toe, but only on his right front. The rest of 2014 was crazy. Sky was on/off lame all year. We did extensive diagnostics thanks to insurance, even an MRI, with no concrete diagnosis other than “he has crappy feet”. I made the incredibly difficult decision to sell my sound horse, Bailey, after owning him for ten years. Bailey also carried me around our third successful Training level event. My husband and I also got the news that he would be deploying early in 2015 and that we would be moving shortly after his return.

Husband deployed in January and Sky was still on/off lame. We did a bone scan that uncovered inflammation in the coffin joints (already knew that) and arthritic changes to his lower vertebrae in his neck. We did injections, and he seemed to be on the mend. I also started working for the trainer I had been riding with and got some much needed miles on a few different horses. Then, just as we seemed to turn the corner with his feet, my farrier informed us he was moving to Missouri. Our barn was able to find a wonderful replacement but he just didn’t work for Sky, and we ended up dealing with lost shoes and more on/off lameness.

At the end of June we made the trek from SoCal to Des Moines, laying over once on the way. We spent several days with family while Sky rested and enjoyed the pampered life at a Thoroughbred racing farm just outside of the city before making the final push to a farm just outside of Chicago where Sky would spend the rest of the summer. In September we found a farm in Wisconsin, just over the border of Illinois, where things finally started to go well. I found an amazing farrier that had plenty of ideas for how to deal with his feet and a vet that was eager to take on his case. Slowly but surely we went back to work, taking it day by day. A fantastic jumper trainer tucked me under his wing and let me gain some miles on some very high quality horses that really taught me how to ride.

Which finally brings me to this year. Still with me? Yeah, this article is long, but imagine living this!! Sky had a couple setbacks, but my vet and farrier never gave up and my friends never turned away a tearful phone call. It just seemed that once things were moving forward, the train would fall off the tracks. Finally, this summer the stars seemed to align. I found an amazing dressage coach to compliment the jumper trainer.

Sky kept feeling better and better, and I casually set my sights on a recognized event at the end of July. Completing that event was so emotional for me. It truly took an entire village to get there, and even though we didn’t have a perfect show (one rail in SJ and one run out on XC, both my fault) you would have thought I was crossing the finish flags of Rolex.

The official vet for the show happened to be the same one who worked so hard to get Sky there, and she was there when we came off XC. I couldn’t help but jump off and give her a big (sweaty) hug. I cried back at the barn. I stuffed him full of peppermints. Two days after the show I nervously trotted Sky out and almost fell over in shock….he was sound. The “S” word that I refused to use for over two years. We went back to work and completed our second recognized event on Labor Day weekend, taking 5th out of 15 in Novice.

It was the first ever show I finished on my dressage score, and Sky was so thrilled to be out on XC again I had to remind him we weren’t going Prelim. Right now we are coming back from a few weeks off. Sky popped a cold splint, the arena flooded, and life got in the way. He had earned a much needed break, so he got about three weeks of just working in the Pessoa 3-4 times a week. He is strong, healthy, and my dressage trainer says he looks better than ever. He is really starting to be able to use his hind end, and to say that I am excited for this winter is an understatement.

So you see, I know how to celebrate the little victories. I have worked with some amazing trainers, boarded at some crazy places, and moved across the country. I have been up, down, knocked around, and stuck with a horse that many people told me would never be useable again. I have spent thousands of dollars and millions of tears, but we’re here. Of all the places I thought I might find myself and the horse I knew Sky could be, Southeast Wisconsin sure as hell wasn’t it. But we’re here. And we’re coming out swinging.

Michelle