If someone told me years ago that I would someday be competing in the Extreme Mustang Makeover I would have said they were crazy, no way, not a chance, not ever. But now I know that Mustangs are the epitome of my love for horses and they’ve helped give me the strength to do things I never thought possible.
I can’t remember a time when horses weren’t in my life. I think all of us who love horses were born with this “obsession.” I tried to pass this passion for horses on to my two boys. I rode while I was pregnant. I put them on the horse when they were born. I tried to bribe them by saying “let’s ride down to the store for some candy.” That worked for a little while but they never really got it. They chose to do baseball, skiing, skate boarding and golf. Yuck!
Yeah, I’m obsessed but these big beautiful animals helped me get through three really big, hard challenges in my lifetime.
The first was when my mom committed suicide when I was nine. My dad bought me my first horse to help with my pain. It didn’t take it all away but it sure did help. My horses name was Tramp. He was a big horse about sixteen hands tall. I never had a saddle so to get on him I would put some grain down and climb on his neck and he would lift me up and off we’d go. Tramp and I would sneak out at night when there was a full moon, ride up to the reservoir with my girlfriends and go skinny dipping. I had a paper route to help pay for my horse. I would throw the bags over my Tramp and ride through the neighborhood yelling “ here comes the Pony Express,” throwing the papers at the houses as I galloped by. I could get my route done in fifteen minutes. I rode and rode and rode and then rode some more. I still like to gallop down a dirt road as fast as I can. I get that same exciting feeling of pure joy and exuberance as I did when I was ten.
The second challenge was when I caught my first husband cheating on me while I was eight months pregnant. I went straight out to the horse corrals and wrapped my arms around my horse Nevada’s’ neck and cried. Needless to say I divorced the husband and kept the horse. I was now a single mom with a new baby. I was able to ride occasionally with my girlfriends, my support group. But I couldn’t ride often and Nevada just waited for me until I had the chance to ride him more. During that time I cried and cried and cried until there were no more tears left. It was during those rides with Nevada and my girlfriends when all the troubles in the world seemed to be gone.
The third challenge and hardest is why I am here today. I was told in 2006 that I had stage-three breast cancer and it showed up in my lymph nodes. I had a mastectomy and started six months of hard-core chemotherapy. Every speck of hair fell out and I felt very sick. I was a full time waitress but I couldn’t work at the restaurant. So I spent my days at the ranch working with some of the problem horses. Working with the horses helped me keep at least some of my dignity and helped me stay somewhat strong. I was able focus away from how lousy I felt.
At one point some of the women from the church came to my house to pray for me. The Pastor’s wife told me there would be a sign especially for me, maybe an eagle flying by or something like that. I was on my way home from my surgery and stopped by the ranch. The horses were eating; five mares. One was my mustang, Cheddar, and there was another pretty wild mustang, Flicka, who I had worked with quite a bit but she was stand-offish. I walked into the corral and the mares stopped eating. They all walked over and circled me and I wrapped my arms around each one of them and cried. As I walked out of the corral both Cheddar and Flicka followed me to the gate. Only then did all the horses go back to eating. If that wasn’t a sign I don’t know what would be.
I had never really had the nerves to do horse shows or be out in the limelight but I didn’t want life to pass me by without giving some of the things I loved a try. When I finished chemo and radiation therapy and started feeling better I entered my first ever event, Craig Cameron’s Extreme Cowboy Race at the Pomona Expo. My mustang Cheddar and I competed in front of about a thousand people. I had a blast and felt totally alive. I took on the Western States Mustang Challenge next. Wow! What a thrill to ride in front of ten thousand people on Chato, this wild mustang who I had trained for just ninety days. That was one of the most exciting things I have ever done on a horse and I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t gotten cancer.
Being told you have breast cancer can do strange things to you. You can either sit on your couch and be depressed or you can live your life to the fullest. I chose the fullest. I was going to fight, fight, fight the beast that was trying to take hold of my body.
I’m not saying cancer is a good thing but you can take something really negative and turn it into a positive. I am now full-time professional trainer and develop relationships between people and horses through my own business, Equine Connections. I’m doing what I love to do all day long. My husband Dave, my knight in shining armor, my king, my warrior has helped me find my self worth in doing what I was born to do. He has supported me in everything I do.
I am the girl that was very shy, not even confident enough to compete in our local horse show, but these horses have given me the confidence and empowerment to do anything I want. They have guided me to the ultimate happiness. Now when I meet people who love horses like I do I think “dear God, they have that horsey obsession too!”
I want to say just one last thing about Breast Cancer. If you feel a lump or something that doesn’t feel right get a biopsy. I felt a lump on my breast and told my oncologist about it. She said it didn’t really feel like anything but we would do an ultrasound. Nothing was seen so she said keep doing your mammograms. I did my mammograms faithfully for the next two years and nothing was seen on those tests either. I kept asking my husband, “does this feel bigger?” but he couldn’t tell. So I went to our little local doctor and he did a biopsy. I was rushed to Los Angeles for surgery. The oncologist called my tumor “a sneaky one.” If there are “sneaky ones” then biopsies should be the norm. Your probably wondering why I was already seeing an oncologist. I had a malignant melanoma in 2000. I would drive to L.A. for all my blood work every six months.
If you feel something that doesn’t seem right get a biopsy. It’s the best way to tell for sure. You have to be your own best advocate for your own body. If I can help one person avoid what I went through, I did my job.
I was really surprised after writing a letter to Poster Boy (Saying Goodbye is Never Easy) to find this letter back from him in the comments section. I wanted to make sure everyone read it so I posted it here.
Thanks for saving my life. I wasn't sure what was going on when I was loaded into that trailer and was scared when I came out in a new place but as soon as you walked up to me I knew you were my friend.
Right from the beginning I trusted you and you were very patient while I learned to understand your language, but sometimes it seemed as though you knew my language and I knew exactly what you were asking me to do. You helped me realize that things are not as scary as they seem.
There were times when I was lonely and I missed the friends I had made in my old home. Now I understand that the world is a lot bigger than I ever knew and there is much more to experience and enjoy. I've made lots of new friends in my new home but you are indeed my best friend of all.
You've allowed me to get back in touch with the habitat I was born in. And I also know the comfort of the ranch where I stay. The tricks you teach me are fun and the workouts you give me are invigorating.
Most of all I enjoy laying down on the hot sand in the warm sun and relaxing with you laying by my side. I never feel closer to you than when you lay on top of me and we sleep for a moment.
There is so much more I want to learn and I'm eager for the next time you come by with that sweet grain you always bring, because I know it means we have something new to try that day.
Thank you so much for your kindness and your unconditional love. You are truly wonderful and I'm blessed to know you.
Note: This video is about two months into training. Hopefully I'll have one more
video up before the competition showing our most current progress.
My Dearest Poster Boy,
The time is drawing closer to our competition. Only one more week. I can't believe it's been almost three months since Michelle and I went down to Ridgecrest to bring you home. You have changed from a rangy, scared, defensive, unbroke wild horse into a beautiful mustang with tons of muscle tone, and amazing bravery. You are now the color of a new shiny copper penny. And you love to be out with me.
You are always willing to work and you meet me at the gate ready to go. I have put you through so much in such a short time, but you have always been willing to follow my lead no matter what is asked of you. I have been trying to figure out what your strongest assets are. You are good at everything I show you. I really think you like being out on he trail.
I especially enjoyed sitting in the tall wheat grass that we would stop in on our long rides. I would get off and just sit on a rock and watch you eat with your eyes closed. watching you and the tall grass blowing in the wind reminded me of when I was a young girl. I would just sit and watch my horse eat for hours with not a care in the world.
The ride we took yesterday evening was truly memorable for me. Riding into the Tungsten Hills, the sun was just setting and the hills were lit up with a dusky glow. The evening snow flowers had opened up. You were so careful walking up and down the steep rocky hills. Thank you.
On the way home I enjoyed riding you through the campground, talking to the people camping. It was a great experience going past all the tents and campfires. I know that these kinds of rides make life more enjoyable for you too.
There are going to be so many new experiences for you. I hope whoever gets you knows that you are the most amazing horse I have ever worked with. I love you so much and I prayed that whoever adopts you realizes your potential and doesn’t let you sit around, but spends lots of time with you and loves you because you know how to love back.