I was supposed to be done with horses. They were a phase, one that was meant to end following my high school graduation. But as we all know, horses are an addiction. My college rebellion? I ran away to Penn National, and with the help of one of my most trusted mentors, I purchased a young thoroughbred. I figured I would have him while in school and then sell him senior year prior to my graduation. What I didn’t realize is how this little OTTB would change my life.

“Popps” entered my life when I needed him most. I was a stressed student struggling to find my identity.  Popps helped me find myself. The first month that I had Popps, I turned him out and just let him be a horse. I came out to the farm daily; brought him in, brushed, him, fussed over him, and sometimes worked him on the lounge. I got to know him… his likes, his dislikes, his legs. Our first ride he exceeded all of my expectations. He was perfect! Brave, calm, and wanting to please. I was ecstatic.

That wasn’t the only time he exceeded my hopes. Somehow Popps always managed to step up to the plate. He surprised me when as a complete green bean he finished second on a 28 in the Open Beginner Novice at the Virginia Horse Trials, later when he completed his first preliminary, and again when he officially became an FEI horse.

That’s not to say we didn’t have our setbacks. In truth, over the four years that I had him he taught me patience, humility, and the importance of having a sense of humor. I can remember when I was convinced that he would never be an event horse because I couldn’t get him over a ditch. It’s amazing to think that only a few years later he rocked around multiple difficult preliminaries as though they were child’s play. I have yet to meet a horse with a work ethic as good as Popps’. No matter what challenge I put in front of him, he always would give me 110%.

The personal connections I made because of Popps are invaluable. Not only did he help strengthen my pre-existing relationships, but it was my desire to fully utilize his athleticism and talent that inspired me to take chances and form new connections. Without Popps, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to work for or ride with many of the trainers that I have. And for that, I will always be extremely grateful.

No, Popps isn’t the fanciest. And yes, if I could go back and change some of the decisions I made with him I would. However, the lessons he taught me are invaluable and have shaped me as a rider, trainer, and horsewoman. Now I get watch as he teaches another child how to ride.  The smile on that girl’s face tells me she loves him just as much as I still do, and always will.