Although this is a blog and personal pronouns are okay, my inner grammar nazi says that this blog needs proper introduction. However, despite the fact that this story's been told a thousand times, I could never find the right words to start us off. How does one summarize half a decade of pure love, aspirations, gruesome battling, achievement, discovering, and uncovering your soulmate in one sentence? I’ve never been one to be found at a loss for words, but there's one soul in particular that can simply take the breath out of me, and maybe even put it in too.
This is the story of a little pony who saved my life.
About 5 years ago, I went through the typical teenage struggles. I was having a really hard time, in and out of school, finding myself. I wasn’t the best runner on the cross country team, I rode any horses I could get my hands on, I didn’t have many friends in school, and I found myself creating a deep insecurity for little things like this. I absolutely hated myself and wished I could be more. I wanted to be like the pretty riders at the barn and the Varsity runners on the team, and the popular girls in school.
One cold January night, my trainer had me lesson on one of the new rescue ponies at the barn. This pony was a black and white pinto mare previously named #393 at the Camelot Horse Auction and now named As It Fits, aka Puzzle. Puzzle was a scrawny, typical mare with a huge attitude and a whole lot of sass. At first, I wanted absolutely nothing to do with her and as a few lessons went on with Puzz, other people started feeling the same. After she had scared off a few people, I had decided that having something of my own was pretty cool and I didn’t care what it was- it was mine.
With that, I decided to take Puzzle on. We spent a year butting heads and learning all about each other. In this year, I had started to find myself. A lot of the depressing nights and insecurities had disappeared when Puzz entered my life. She showed me the light that I had failed to see for quite some time. I took Puzzle in and completely loved her like one of our own. We had gone to some local show but we were rarely in the ribbons. We spent that entire year trying to make her into the hunter pony we had wanted.
After about a year of trying, we decided that it wasn’t her calling so for laughs and giggles, we threw her in the jumper ring at a local show and she took 6th out of 26! We decided that she was happier in the jumper ring so we switched gears and worked at the 2’9 puddle jumpers. We ended up Reserve Champion for the year through NHHJA in the Puddle Jumpers. Around this time, I had heard of the USEF Pony Jumper Finals and instantly fell in love with the idea of taking Puzz. I approached the idea with a few friends and my trainer, but the goal wasn’t as ideal to them as it was in my eyes. As far of a long shot as it was, I pushed and pushed and pushed to have a chance, so we spent the winter working our way up from the 2’9 jumpers to the 1.10m pony jumpers.
As spring approached, we attempted our first USEF show with the Pony Jumpers and left with a thousand things to work on. It was a difficult journey to have a trainer who had never really worked with USEF or Pony Jumpers, a kid who had never competed through USEF, and a pony in the same boat; it was an inexperienced team taking on the national circuit. We received a ton of hate, doubt, and negative feedback along the way and before Puzz, I would have instantly returned to my old, insecure habits, but having her allowed me confide in myself and to look past everything thrown my way. It was almost like tunnel vision from the world; it had to be one of the most powerful and decisive feelings I've ever felt in my life.
We had a bit of a set back at the 2nd show of the year. Puzzle flipped over after an oxer and lost all of her confidence. We were both so shaken up. I felt embarrassed, aghast, upset, and humiliated. I can still picture her on the ground and I can still feel the exact horror I felt in that instant, watching her helplessly in disbelief. The next day, we tried again and this one day of 17 years alive, still stands out like no other. I couldn’t even get her around 2’9 fences- she would just crash through them. She got to the point where she wouldn’t even go near the jumps and in that very moment, I’ve never felt pain in such a great amount. I felt like everything I had put into this pony for the past three years, was all ripped out over one bad distance to a big oxer. Everything I had worked for was gone. She didn’t trust me to guide her, she didn’t trust herself to do it, and I have never felt so empty. We made the heart breaking decision to let Pony Finals go for the year and to just decided to work on finding my pony again.
Turns out, taking that year off was the best decision we’ve ever been encouraged to do. I won several year end awards with NHHJA that year and took 7th place in Zone One for USHJA and USEF. I found my pony that year and our bond was stronger than ever. I’ve never had the pleasure to work with an animal so devoted to my happiness. Puzzle reminded me every single ride why I had started in the first place; she engraved a permanent mark of happiness in my heart that I truly believe I will hold until the day I die.
We started the next year taking champion at all 3 shows we did and Reserve at the 4th. We had shows almost every weekend trying to qualify and she took champion or reserve at every single one of them for the 2014 PJ calendar. That spring I had hinted around at the idea of applying to go to Devon so my mom secretly sent in an application. About 4 weeks later, I wound up in the hospital with a broken foot from running. As we sat in the waiting room, my mom got the confirmation that we were heading to Devon 2014! However, I needed to be able to continue to train so I begged the doctor for an air cast and nothing permanent (to avoid scratching my saddle!) and went on my way. Arriving at Devon weeks later, I was amazed by all the top riders and horses. We had a great first day that left me leaving the ring in tears of joy from just making it around! The second day, a man came down to us as we were warming up and wished me luck. He told me that he just had a strong feeling that he was looking at the winners. I hope he played the lottery that day because after 22 long rounds, Puzzle had won and I- well I was higher than cloud 9. We took home Reserve Champion from the week and did a few more shows before Pony Finals.
After 4 years of intense training and so many hurdles, my dream came true- I set out for Pony Finals with my best friend, my pony, and my entire team behind me. We had an incredibly successful week staying in the top 3 all week and making it into the championship round as one of only 7 rounds that went clean after day 2. We had 2 cheap rails on the last day, landing us in 7th but I couldn’t be happier. Although all of my dreams came true that week, I now had a big decision ahead of me and just as I had finally gotten everything I had ever wanted, I knew it was time to say goodbye. It was time for me to move up and for Puzzle to teach her next kid the ropes. To this day, this was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Nothing with Puzzle ever came free or easy. I worked for every ounce of accomplishment I had with that pony and what an honor it was! She changed my life entirely and made me who I am today. Just short of 5 years, I had fallen madly and deeply in love with the pony who had changed my life forever. I took every lesson she taught me and applied it every single day but more importantly, she remained to be the first and last thing on my mind before bed.
Although many look at our story and think that it was I, who rescued her- it was her who rescued me. She pulled me out of my dark and quiet hole and created a name for me. She helped me find a love for myself and an absolute passion to make this the most successful and positive life possible. It still blows my mind that she was garbage in someone's eyes, so much so that she was heading for a meat shop. However, I believe everything happens for a reason and it was no coincidence that she landed in my arms. As Marilyn Monroe said, “I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they’re right, you believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.” Puzz taught me this each day and as I sent her on her way, I could only pray that she would be loved even half as much by her new kids as I loved her. I'd found my one in a million and set out in search of my next one however there wasn't a day in all of my new journeys where I haven't looked back on the one in whom I owe all of my new successes too; I will never forget the little pinto mare that changed my life forever. #teamAsItFits