by Alyssa Noonan

Don't say goodbye - photo by Jessie Halabura

Don’t say goodbye – photo by Jessie Halabura

Hello, fellow Horse Junkies!

Today’s post is about moving towards our dreams! Being like most equestrians I am not independently wealthy. And have spent the past 10 years trying to be responsible about my equestrian addiction. Knowing (hoping) that someday I will be in a career that will allow me to own a car, a house and a horse and not be eating Mac and Cheese for the rest of my life I have been patiently waiting to purchase a horse.  During this “responsible” phase I have been lucky enough to be able to work horses for their owners. Throughout this time I’ve got to work with some pretty amazing horses and have enjoyed my time developing my “horse starting skills”. Over time I’ve slowly started to create a niche for myself which has become re-starting OTTB’s from track life to life in the hunter/jumper ring. I have truly enjoyed every horse I have had the opportunity to work with and have learnt so much from each and every one of them. However, when it comes to the sales game I’ve been lucky enough to have all of the horses sell relatively quickly for the owners which is not a bad problem to have! However it is challenging to pursue your personal riding goals while constantly starting over from scratch.

This January I was able to participate in a clinic with two of the horses that I was working with at the time. It made me realize that I had become stagnant as a rider. And although I may choose certain techniques etc with different horses I myself as a rider had not been striving to improve myself. I’ve spent ten years focusing on the horses I have been working with and have done little to improve my riding. I’ve been very happy doing this as I have always felt that I have a lot of time. I am still very young and the more horses I could help the better.  Of course I still yearned to always be more competitive with my horses, but was always focused on challenging the horse and did not push myself as a rider. Now I wanted to push myself as a rider as well. So with an invigorated enthusiasm I set myself some new riding goals with the realization that I could be doing so much more, and doing it better! It was time to start aligning myself to meet my goals.

Then. Bam. I was hit with news that I was in no way prepared for. At the age of 28, and with no family history I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. My doctor informed me that I was not allowed to jump, and that I shouldn’t even be cantering as if I were to fall or be injured they would have to stop my chemo treatments which could be very dangerous due to the rapid growth rate of the cancer. Not to be deterred from my new riding goals, I decided that was fine and there was a lot of work that could be done from the walk and trot and I would pick up the canter work as soon as I was cleared to do so.

Then my bone scan results came in.  There was a bright spot on my spine. What this means? There is an extra “Active” part of my spine and as I didn’t have any recent falls or injuries to that part of my body they told me that it was most likely metastasized cancer. This is a heart stopping moment. I can’t have stage four cancer. I’m too young, I’m not ready! I’m going to fight! My husband and I sat down and started making a list of things we wanted to do in my now much shortened life span. “What is the one thing you want to do before you die?” my eyes welled up with tears when the answer came to me. And I squeaked out “the one thing I won’t be able to do”. ! I had come to the realization…. I will never be able to achieve my riding goals. Ever. Yes I will continue to ride for as long as possible. Yes, I will probably continue to jump for as long as possible. But not at the level I wanted, strove and dreamed for. I knew in my heart that fighting cancer with everything I had meant I wasn’t going to be physically able to ride at the level I wanted to. I had waited too long….

The words “but I’m not done yet” kept drifting or charging into my mind as the days went by and we were absorbing, planning and preparing. I went for a vertebrae biopsy to confirm the results. We waited and waited for the results and finally got the call. And I cried, truly cried, for the first time in this journey. The biopsy showed no cancer cells! This is a suck the air out of your lungs kind of news! It was my second chance! “I get another go!” was the new mantra and “Happy” was my new theme song that played in my head for about three days. Resulting in me randomly muttering “happy,happy,happy,happy”. After the celebration I looked my husband in the eyes and said “when this is done, I’m getting a horse”. But I had a long journey ahead before I could begin thinking about my riding goals. But now I had a chance to pursue them again and that is not a chance that we all get!

So my casual hunt began, I started looking on all the websites and facebook pages, trying to decide what exactly I wanted and how I was going to find the horse of my dreams inside my nonexistent budget as I wasn’t really in a strong position to get a horse before and now even less. However, it was not going to be impossible and my husband and I worked out a plan to still be “responsible” and be a horse owner.

Then I was at the stables when one of my favourite trainers came to me and said “I have the perfect horse for you! He hasn’t finished his race season but he is just perfect, and he has the perfect name for your battle right now”. Now let’s be honest as non horse owners we have all heard “I have the perfect horse for you” a million times. But with this trainer it is different. She has picked many of my “restarts” and all of my favourites!  So when she says she has a horse. I was very excited! So off I went to see “Tame the Tiger” and we instantly clicked. He is a laid back guy with a ‘been there seen that’ attitude but still has spunk and personality! He’s pretty and the perfect height and build for me and my goals. I brought my coach to come look at him and she agreed that he was a great match. And voila! The easiest horse shopping experience ever, no frogs to kiss, and no hours in the car only to find out the sales video is nothing like the actual horse, etc. There he was, 5 minutes from my barn, at the local track training with a trainer I know very well. He will finish his season and then be turned out to be a horse for a few months until I am ready to bring him home and start his new career.

No frogs to kiss, only princes - photo by Jessie Halabura

No frogs to kiss, only princes – photo by Jessie Halabura

So now I wait to finish my chemo treatments, to complete my surgery and move ahead with my life! I am impatiently waiting to quite literally get back in the saddle and am so excited for the chance to do so, as I wasn’t sure that was going to happen! I have every intention of moving forward with my horse, learning together and meeting our potentials. This doesn’t mean I will push him faster than he is ready, but I want to always be growing and learning and becoming a better rider and horse together. As there is one thing that I have learned on this crazy journey and that is you have no idea what tomorrow brings so take every opportunity and embrace it with enthusiasm! I look forward to sharing my journey of getting back in the saddle and starting my OTTB with all of you!

Before I go though I want to ask each of you: are you moving in the direction you want with your riding career? Is it frozen or fluid? There is no need to charge ahead at full steam but we should always be moving forward. I know I regret not doing so sooner. I ask you, if you could never get in the saddle again, what would you regret most? Now I implore you! Go out and take one step towards completing that goal! We only get there by going one step at a time, but we can’t get there if we don’t make that first move!

Happy Horsing!

Alyssa Noonan