The sport of eventing is often regarded as the ultimate test of resilience, and demands a strong bond between horse and rider. Jenna Gould is a twenty-six-year-old submission coordinator from Connecticut and an amateur eventer. She lives for the thrill of galloping and jumping with her equine partner, Tic Tac Man, known affectionately as Red. Only a couple years ago, a mysterious illness caused Jenna to lose feeling in her left leg and prevented her from riding and even walking.
“In 2010, I got a viral infection that attacked my nervous system and paralyzed my left leg from the knee down. What was scary was that it took long time for doctors to figure out what was going on with me. I began to realize the large possibility that that was how my life was going to be forever. It made me realize that something as simple as being able to walk could be taken away at any time, and that those little freedoms should never be taken for granted. I had to wear a brace and do tons of physical therapy exercises to try to regain the use of my leg. Finally, by September of 2013 I was learning to walk again on my own and without a brace.”
This experience fueled Jenna with motivation to live life to the fullest and set her own limits as she began to get stronger.
“The first time I got on a treadmill, I could only walk one mile! After learning to walk again I decided to get into weight lifting to gain more overall body strength. It was around this time that I also started riding more and looking for a horse.”
Jenna took road trip all the way down to South Carolina to look at a horse with a friend. Embarking on the long drive, she was sure she’d be returning home with her dream horse.
“The horse we went to see was a large sport pony and was exactly what I wanted on paper. Been there done that with plenty of miles and experience, plus he was twelve years old and not too tall for me either. I was so sure he was the one I had a shipper lined up to bring him back at the end of the week. Everything made it sound like the perfect horse for me, but when I got there and rode him, I knew it just wasn’t a match.”
Needless to say it was a huge letdown for Jenna to have driven 3,000 miles away from home, only to see her chances of returning with her dream horse evaporate.
“As we left the farm, my friend said, “I know of one more horse we can try down here. We’re here, we might as well.” The other horse was a green, seven year old off the track thoroughbred. He was 16.1 hands and between the owner being unable to ride and him throwing a shoe, he hadn’t been ridden consistently for a little while. So he was pretty much exactly what I didn’t want. But here we were, so I got on and gave him a try. Honestly, I was really nervous and didn’t know what to expect. After being on him a little while I could tell he was with me and we really clicked. We went over a few jumps and Red just went with the flow. So then we start raising the cups, and I’m going over jumps that are higher than anything I’ve jumped before. He absolutely took care of me! At the end of the ride, I was walking him down the driveway and we just had a moment. Even though he was the opposite of what I was looking for, we had a connection and I knew I had to get him. I tell everyone that he’s the best impulse buy I’ve ever made.”
Jenna fell in love with Red’s quirky personality and the bond between the two flourished. Many rides and workouts helped Jenna get back in shape.
“Six months after learning to walk again, I was strong enough to start running which is something I had thought I would never be able to do again. Each time I ran, I just tried to go a little farther. In March of 2014 I decided I wanted to do a 5k, and in October of that year I completed my first half marathon. That year Red and I went to hunter paces and combined tests, and I’d usually have to go ride after physical therapy. At the end of the year I reached a huge milestone when we competed in my first USEA recognized event.”
The pair have participated in a diverse array of events such as recognized jumper competitions, A rated hunter shows, and have ridden at Equine Affair. Even more impressive, after falling and fracturing her neck in the summer of 2015, Jenna was able to compete in a 3 phase event only ten days later.
“Red and I just get each other. I honestly think he lives for insanity. I’ve taken him so many places and no matter what’s going on, he just handles himself so well.”
Along with her riding goals, Jenna now has her sights set on preparing for a 50k Ultra Marathon. Her determination and optimism certainly contributed to her unbelievable comeback. However most inspiring is her attitude, which kindles her passion to continue pursuing new and even more difficult challenges.