The Prompt: Hey Tell me a bit- when did you start riding? How long did you play polo- when did grace enter your life- what is special about grace- why do you want to keep her??

My response:

I started riding in 2010/2011 at the Denver Polo Club to join DU’s polo team. I always loved horses but had no previous experience with them. A friend was an avid rider and encouraged me to learn, so I began taking lessons on a 30ish-year-old horse named Clyde who couldn’t go faster than a trot if he wanted to and had been a therapy horse most of his life.

My polo coach helped me find Grace when I was ready to play in a game since Clyde was too old and slow to be able to play with me. Grace was the only horse available to lease at our barn that wasn’t afraid of the ball and had an owner that was ok with her playing polo. In fact, ten years ago Grace had a lot of energy, and her owner was happy to have some help wearing her out. I had been riding for about 6 months at this point. The first time I got on Grace she took off with me, interrupted someone else’s jumping lesson on the other end of the arena, and when I finally got my wits back enough to stop, took us backward because I was sitting so deep. It took about 2 months of polo practices together to quit being scared of her and another month or so before she figured out how to run up next to the ball and not jump over it. By then she had become my best friend, and after polo lessons, we’d go ride bareback out to the pond to go swimming, graze/eat lunch, and explore. I remember she found a toad at the water’s edge one day and followed it with her nose to the ground, curiously watching how it jumped. She also tried to befriend the barn cat, who she soon discovered had claws. She was full of curiosity, energy, and try. Recently, my polo coach told me she remembered how easy-going Grace was about learning new things: you’d ask her to do something new, and she’d do her very best, and keep on trying until she got it right. In our first polo game together, she spent the first “chukka” (7-minute period) a little confused, but regrouped with me during our break, and came back out ready to win. She soon began having opinions on MY abilities as her teammate, and to this day she will tell me how annoyed she is if I miss a ball she had perfectly lined up for me. In 2013, I graduated college, and her owner deployed around the same time, leaving Grace with me to take care of her. That was a whirlwind of a few months: I moved to Colorado Springs from Denver, started a new job as a special education teacher, and got married. It was so much change, and I knew even then that Grace would be the only constant that year.

Two months later, my husband committed suicide.

I was with Grace when it happened. He was active duty Army at the time and had been sent home on emergency leave from his deployment to Kuwait weeks before. It was devastating. I was newly 22 and had been completely swept off my feet by his charisma, humor, and genuine desire for connection with others. I admired his ability to care for and lead others, his perception, and his gentleness. I had known him as a friend for several years before we began dating and he had never hinted at the depth of the depression he had been struggling with, or if he had, I was unable to recognize it and was ill-equipped to help. When his behavior turned violent in those final weeks, towards me and towards himself, I was shocked. His loss came unexpectedly and left me in a wake of disarray. I had never had to rely on others for this kind of support and help in my life and had no idea how to ask for what I needed. Our culture places a specific shame on suicide and those close to it, and in many ways, I was isolated because of the scenario itself. In a way, I was embarrassed. I had always been a high-performing student (and now, employee) and believed that pain was equivalent to weakness. I blamed myself, as those who survive a loved one's suicide often do, telling myself if I had just been smarter, more empathetic, more reactive, more proactive, more beautiful, a better friend or partner, he would still be alive. For a long while, I wished he had killed me instead of himself. More than anything, my sense of autonomy and control over my life was now gone: I felt like my life was suddenly happening TO me. I clung to any sense of consistency that year, finishing out my year teaching. Every day that I could, I would drive up to Denver after work and on the weekends to spend my free time with Grace. She needed someone that year too, I told myself. (I was still unable to realize it was me that needed her, I reasoned if i didn’t show up for her, she wouldn’t understand but she would certainly feel the loss.) And I couldn’t bear the idea of her feeling any loss like I was.

Being close to her let me take a break from the grief if I needed to. She’s the kind of girl that takes her humans as they come and shows up in this world as calm, loving, fair, lol honest, and strong. I would sit with her and eat my dinner while she ate her hay even when I wasn’t hungry, brush her mane through even if I hadn’t looked at myself in the mirror in days, and talked to her about everything I was struggling with within my mind, or about nothing at all. With just the two of us, I could pretend to be someone else: someone who didn’t just lose their partner, someone who knew what they were doing and was happy with their identity and their life. At the time I didn’t recognize it as Grace did, but I was still that person. She gave me permission to box up the grief to deal with later after I had rested. She gave me permission to remember who I was, and grow towards who I wanted to be. She let me cry without judgment, laugh like a lunatic over little things, and was a truthful mirror of my energy when I needed her to be honest with me.

There were still days when I just couldn’t put the grief away. She somehow just knew how to make me feel better, either by “forgetting” that she was a trained horse for a little bit to help distract me and be more present in my body while communicating with her and focusing on our ride or by being patient and still and just snuggling me until my tears ran dry. If you have ever been held by a horse, it’s life-changing: her warmth, her steadiness, her acceptance, were powerful medicine. That year, and for several years after, I had so many emotions and wounds to unpack, care for, and heal. But I credit Grace for allowing me to do so at all. Her presence in my life ensured that no matter how badly I was hurt, I didn’t completely turn my back on love, connection, and trust and that I didn’t forget what friendship and purpose was, no matter how upside-down everything else felt.

When Grace’s owner came home from overseas she PCS’d to California for 3 years, taking Grace with her. Grace had gotten me through the worst of my grieving, but those were dark years for me without her. I picked up archery and got my master's degree to fill the space that used to be hers, chasing the stillness and sunshine that my heart associates with Grace. In my professional life, I found meaning in supporting others, working with individuals with disabilities, and finding them targeted support so they can engage and succeed in the employment of their choosing. I was able to continue what Grace had started with me, and I was accepting of the fact that though I always knew I wanted horses in my future, I may not ever see her again.3

 

Grace did move back to Colorado three years later, but when she arrived her owner texted me to tell me that Grace was depressed, not eating, and had lost the sparkle in her eye. I asked if I could come to see her, her owner agreed it might help. When I got to the AFA she was in quarantine and standing completely still and despondent. Her whole body looked sad. I was so scared she wouldn’t recognize me and that I would let her down and not be able to cheer her up. As humans, it is easy for us to overestimate our importance in other’s lives. At that moment though, I just wanted to pay her back for the gift of healing and comfort that she had given me years before: I just wanted her to be happy, and “Amazing Grace”, again. I braced myself for my heart to break if she didn’t remember me. I told myself I would be okay as long as she pulled through, even if it didn’t involve me.

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When I said her name, she picked her head up, spun around, squealed, and ran over to me at the fence. She spent about 5 minutes smelling me and licking me and then, once I sat down on the fence next to her to show her I wasn’t leaving, started eating her hay. I guess she had kept me in her heart, too. She told me in her own way that she’d be okay now that she knew she had friends here. We could figure it out together. And she was telling the truth: we have. She’s been at the AFA ever since and has bloomed into an even bigger, brighter version of herself than before. We’ve made new human and horse friends, shared so many adventures, learned new training together, and still have picnics together at the lake. Our family has grown in around us, and we have grown a lot ourselves, just look at the pictures.

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It’s hard to answer “what makes her special” because she’s just a little short cow horse. But she is ferociously brave in a polo match, independent on the trail, loves to run, is loving and quiet when you need it, and more patient and kind than I will ever be. She loves giggles from little kids and kisses on the nose, and her low nicker, when she spots me from across the pen, warms my insides as they have never known grief. Her first priority is being a team and she works to be a good partner. I am irrevocably changed because of her love, and the last ten years of my life with her have been immeasurably blessed. She carries my heart in her heart, and I carry hers in mine.

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Her owner has moved to San Antonio and has generously left Grace with me for the last year. I have an idea of how badly she must miss her. I still hope to keep her here, because I know Grace is happy at the AFA. She has some good friends in her herd and her life is full of meaning and joy. I have lots of time to play with her since I have gone back to school yet again, and we make new friends in the arena hitting the polo ball around with our friends and exploring together on the beautiful trails (her favorite thing). One day I think we would both like to jump back into another polo game together, but most of all I think Grace really enjoys the work she’s gotten to do with Horseboy and the Remount Foundation. She adores children and is extremely gentle with them. She likes her hair being braided and the glitter we dress her up in and charges bravely into sword fights and pool-noodle jousting. She’s gifted in this work and I’d be honored to keep her and help her continue to be part of it. Personally, when I hop on her bareback and tell her to find us a pretty view of the mountains, I look out at the Rockies and feel her warmth and strength underneath me, and am in awe at the beautiful world that we share. I feel such love knowing that the God that made this world, the God that made my Amazing Grace, made me too, and made me for these moments with her. I think she can sense that love too, and that the work that she does with me and with others is important, that what we have built for the two of us is forever. I know she loves the kisses and hugs and cookies from the kids, me, my friends, and our family. Just like when we were playing polo together, she considers them all not just her teammates but also her responsibility, and I think that makes her perfect for this. I don’t actually know her real papered name, but for those who know us, she is “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me, I once was lost but now I am found, was blind but now I see.”

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