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From Pastures to Podiums: How My Love for Horses Inspired My Life as an Athlete and Beyond

Growing up in rural Indiana as the fourth of five children, my early life was marked by our parents’ divorce when I was just four. This period, while tumultuous, unknowingly steered me towards a profound source of love and connection: horses.

After the divorce, my mother remarried, and we moved to a remote part of Indiana. To me, it felt like paradise with its vast lands, rivers, and streams that became our playground—places where my siblings and I roamed free without the watchful eyes of our parents. During one of our explorations, my sister and I stumbled upon what I would call Nirvana: a sprawling horse complex with four barns housing about 40 horses. Already a horse-crazed child who decorated my room with cut-out magazine photos of horses, finding this place was a dream come true.

Living two miles from the complex, I began running there daily, driven by a newfound love for a pony named Buttercup. My frequent visits didn’t go unnoticed by the owner, Doc Garrish. After watching my dedication—reading to Buttercup, brushing her, and decorating her stall—he offered me the chance to ride. My enthusiastic “yes” echoed across the fields, marking the beginning of a transformative journey.

Riding Buttercup daily, I participated in Western Pleasure, Barrel Racing, and various 4-H events, often sweeping competitions. More importantly, Buttercup helped transform me from a timid, shy child into someone who could connect with nature, animals, and eventually, people. This relationship didn’t just change my life; it was a form of therapy that healed me from the scars of my parents’ divorce, grounding me and teaching me to thrive despite life’s upheavals.

This absolute love for horses turned me into a passionate long-distance runner—necessity being the mother of invention as I had no other way to reach the barns. My life, in many ways, mirrored Forrest Gump’s—guided by the flow of what felt good and freeing. My bond with horses programmed me to trust deeply in life’s process.

However, life threw another curveball with my mother’s second divorce, forcing my brother and me to move to Alabama to live with our father. Leaving behind my beloved horses, dogs, friends, and sister was heart-wrenching. Yet, in Alabama, another horse, Zhivago, entered my life, rekindling that familiar joy. The nearest boarding stable was 11 miles away, which led me to refurbish my brother’s old bike and begin daily rides to see Zhivago, inadvertently setting the stage for my future in triathlon.

While swimming might seem unrelated to my equestrian pursuits, it was a natural part of my summer routine, further enhancing my abilities as a triathlete. Horses, however, were the cornerstone of my physical and emotional development. Hours spent grooming, feeding, and simply being with the horses provided a therapy that profoundly shaped my life.

I didn’t know it then, but this is how horses heal. They calm your nervous system, allow you to breathe deeply, and help you find peace in the present moment. My journey from the pastures of Indiana to the podiums of triathlon competitions is a testament to the healing power of horses and the strength of the human spirit.