Riding the Journey: A Tapestry of Triumphs, Trials and Tribulations in the World of Equine Passion

Equine Care, Rider

For the Love of Horses: Shared Stories of the Wonders of Horse Ownership


The bond between humans and horses transcends mere companionship – it’s a partnership of trust, resilience, and shared experiences. Today we’re delving into the personal stories of both horses and horse owners who’ve beaten the odds and found happiness and true companionship in this often offbeat, hectic world.


A Once in a Lifetime Horse

Many equestrians embark on their journey with a passion ignited by childhood dreams or chance encounters with these majestic creatures. Cathy Cleveland, a seasoned rider from California, vividly recalled her first encounter with her bay mare, a mustang from Washoe County, Nevada. “As far as I’m concerned, she was the most beautiful creature on four legs to ever walk the Earth,” she said. Cathy and her mother first set eyes on the lanky beauty when she was just fourteen years old. “Mother let me adopt a wild mustang from the Bureau of Land Management,” she explained. “We drove three and a half hours inland to the holding corrals in Susanville, California.”

Fifteen dollars and several well-fed years later, girl and mare became nearly inseparable.

“She was my best friend,” Cathy said. “I went to her when I was happy. I went to her when I was bored. I went to her crying my eyes out with teenage injustices. She was a good listener. She was perfect.”

Many years later, Cathy found herself pregnant with twins. The experience proved to be quite traumatic for her, however, due to being diagnosed with preeclampsia, a very dangerous condition.

Six months pregnant and bed-bound in the hospital, she reminisced about what got her through those harrowing days attempting to keep her blood pressure low enough to allow her little twins more time to mature in utero. “My blood pressure was hovering on the edge of an emergency cesarean to save my life,” she recalled.

When the nurse would return every two hours to check her blood pressure, Cathy would ask for time to calm down first. In those precious moments, she would imagine herself brushing her beautiful mare once more and her troubles would instantly melt away, allowing the nurse to take her blood pressure without incident.


Healed by a Horse’s Love

The healing power of a horse’s bond with its rider is nothing short of miraculous at times. For one retired racehorse rescuer, that tremendous healing energy came in the form of a former racehorse named Darcy Day and a thirteen-year-old girl named Sophie. “We were feeding, grooming and exercising the horses on our farm one hectic Saturday morning when a car pulled into the yard,” said Helen Yeadon, founder of the retired racehorse charity, Greatwood.  “A woman wound down the window to talk to my husband, Michael.”

Apparently the woman’s daughter, Sophie, had completely stopped speaking two years prior and nothing that the mother had tried over the years had worked. When the desperate mother eventually heard about how Helen and Michael’s farm brought in children with special needs on Saturdays to help with the horses, she immediately knew that she needed to take Sophie.

And one look at Sophie was all Helen needed.

“Something inside me knew exactly where to take her,” she said.

Poor Darcy was brand new to the farm and had been rescued from a negligent owner. She had arrived only a few days earlier in an absolutely terrible state. “Darcy’s coat was matted and discolored,” recalled Helen. “Her eyes were dull and streaming, her bones protruding through her coat, her hind legs swollen and oozing a dreadful yellow discharge.” To Helen, it seemed as if Darcy had lost the will to live.

Until the horse spotted Sophie.

“As Sophie walked into the barn, Darcy astonished me by going straight over to her and lowering her head to be petted.”

Sophie was immediately smitten with Darcy and in turn, the horse was completely over the moon for the young girl.

Every following Saturday, Sophie’s mother would drive her to the farm and Sophie would work with Darcy by grooming her, feeding her, and helping Helen change the horse’s dressings. “However much I chatted, she never spoke,” Helen recollected on young Sophie. “When her parents came to collect her, she didn’t even wave goodbye.”

That all changed one summer’s day.

“Michael put his finger to his ear, indicating that I should listen to something,” she said. “Sophie, who was around the corner from us, was speaking to someone on her mobile phone.”

Later on, Sophie’s mother telephoned Helen in utter jubilance. Sophie had begun talking again as if she’d never stopped in the first place. It was due to this remarkable transformation that both Helen and Michael were persuaded to found their charity. “We knew of a couple of organizations that used horses to help adults with mental health issues,” she said. “We wondered if we could offer the same kind of experience to children with emotional, social or behavioral issues.”


The Shenanigans of ‘Gabe the Wonder Horse’

It’s not often that you come across an animal with as much charm, charisma and guile as dear old Gabe. According to Dawn Diovera of horseandman.com, Gabe was an old thoroughbred that just happened to wander upon the property of (at the time) 64-year-old Jackie and her husband, Daniel. Despite trying to shoo away the old track horse many times, the tenacious senior would always come back, seemingly having chosen Jackie and her husband as his end of life careers.

Resigned to their new roles, Jackie and Daniel sought the help of the local vet to try and suss out more information about their new tenant. The vet discovered an old tattoo in the horse’s mouth signifying he used to run the tracks and estimated that dear Gabe was well on his way to 30!

Back on Jackie and Daniel’s Washington state property, Gabe was king of the kingdom. There were no fences anywhere on the property and he could come and go as he pleased – often to Jackie’s kitchen window for attention and snacks! “Jackie would feed him and Gabe would love the attention and the scratches,” wrote Dawn. “Gabe settled on their front lawn, looking at Jackie through all the windows of the house.”

Over time, the story of Gabe wound up on the old Friends of Barbaro online forum and the fans of the wayward gelding rallied together to get him dental care, buy him a new winter coat, and much more.

Eventually poor Gabe did need to be enclosed, though. He’d taken to wandering the neighborhood and visiting the neighbors, and could often be seen cavorting with the local deer herd, gallivanting with a particular male Jackie named “Bucky”.

As time passed, Gabe began to get moody when Jackie wasn’t around to entertain him, so Jackie and Daniel decided to get him a friend of his own. According to Dawn, a woman from Kindred Spirits Equine Rescue had the answer: Topper, the Shetland pony. “They are ponies with the most-est,” Dawn said. “They are bigger than life and full of prank.  If ever there was a pony who could stand up to a huge TB, it would be a Shetland.”

Gabe and little Topper become fast friends despite Topper’s over-the-top personality and his penchant for being antagonistic, and poor Daniel (despite never really wanting an equine friend, let alone two) found love and companionship in the awkward duo. “Gabe the Wonder Horse worked his way into the hearts of so many,” Dawn noted fondly. “It doesn’t get much better than that.”

From the slightly odd and unexpected, to the heroic and heart-warming, each and every journey is a unique narrative that contributes to the vibrant mosaic of the equestrian community. It really is quite beautiful that we, as two very different species, have managed to find such wonder and camaraderie together upon this lovely little blue and green orb.