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Further Proof That Horses Are the Best Medicine

If you’ll pardon the expression, I’ve been chomping at the bit to get back to you.

I’m writing this on my first day back to MyHorse Daily after being gone for five months on health leave. There’s nothing like a little cancer to put a damper on your horse plans and life in general.

Reader’s Digest version: My new colt Freddie arrived this past spring about six weeks before my breast cancer diagnosis, and it seemed like the colt and I had barely gotten to know each other before suddenly all my horse time was replaced by doctor visits. Then it was usurped by surgery…followed by chemotherapy,  followed by hospital stays caused by complications of chemo.

Armed with lots of pictures of Freddie on my phone, I stared out the window and thought about him during the sting of all those needles, making plans and many promises about the horsewoman I would become.

If I learned anything from the past few months, it’s that life is a process, and sometimes there’s just no way to fast-track your journey. You have to settle in and breathe and do the best in each moment you have–and as we all know, horses are the best teachers for that.

So on the days I became frustrated because I was too sick to make it to the barn, let alone ride, I would console myself in other horsey ways, such as re-reading Julie Goodnight’s new trail riding book or watching Buck Brannaman videos.

And I thought about all of you, and wondered where you were in your riding goals, or whether you had gotten a new horse, or finally found the perfect saddle you’d been wanting.

On the rare days I felt good enough to ride, my colt Freddie was always ready for me, in large part because horse trainer Larry Fleming made sure of it. Larry would do groundwork with Freddie, saddle him for me and even ride him first if it appeared the colt needed it (he is only four, after all). He also helped me train Freddie to step so close to the giant dirt-filled tire we use as a mounting block that the colt’s legs would scrape against its sides, just so I wouldn’t have to use any energy hoisting myself onto his tall back. On those days, Freddie and I would simply walk around, and I was content with that.

riding a colt

Riding my colt Freddie, even if meant only walking around, became an important part of my recovery from breast cancer. | Photos courtesy of Amy Herdy

Then last month another stint in the hospital left me weak all over and saddled with an unhealthy dose of the blues.  Winter was setting in, and I had missed the best riding weather! I hadn’t seen Freddie in weeks–he probably wouldn’t even remember me! The thought of even grooming him–picking out those enormous hooves–made me tired!

Thank goodness a horse friend of mine called and gently suggested–insisted, really–that she drive me to see my horse. So out we went, and when I walked up to Freddie’s paddock, he was lying on his side, enjoying the morning sun in that blissful way that only horses do.

“Hey, buddy,” I called to him as I unlatched the gate, fully expecting him to scramble to his feet. But he didn’t. Instead, the colt simply watched calmly as I slowly approached, and then, oh happy day, he allowed me to first pet him, then lean on his side while he napped.

colt lying down

I took this picture with my phone of me on the ground with Freddie the colt at the end of his recent nap.

In that moment, feeling the warmth from Freddie’s coat and smelling the sweet smell of hay and horse, the misery of the previous five months evaporated, and all I felt was peace.

So when you tell me that your best life is one that has a horse in it–well, I get it. And I’m incredibly happy to be back and sharing it with you.

Categories: MyHorse Daily.

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24 Responses

  1. Knowing you are probably about to be inundated with welcome back’s here’s mine:
    I am so glad to see you up and at ‘em again. Been praying for a good recovery. I love reading all I get sent daily. Your buddies that have carefully been at your post while you have been taking care of yourself have done a phenomenal job. I contiue to learn and laugh from your daily messages and re-teaching us seniors can be quite the job! Happy Holidays.

    shirley wright-coltartDecember 10, 2012 @ 12:14 pm
  2. Thank you so much, Shirley! I’m so glad you enjoy our work.

    Happy holidays to you, too!

    Amy

  3. WELCOME BACK!! I’ve been looking forward to seeing an email from you again! I know your back to work and all, but be prepared for the long road ahead in recovering from what you’ve gone through on an emotional level. There is nothing like the scare of cancer to force you to look at your priorities in life. Enjoy every day and when spring comes around, it will be all the more sweet because of the long year you’ve had!! In the meantime, spoil yourself in every way you can, YOU DESERVE IT!!

  4. Amy,
    WELCOME BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I have wondered how you were doing!!! So glad you are feeling better and are back!!!!!!!!!!!! I know how good it must feel to be able to see Freddie again!!!!!!!!

    I was very ill for about 5 weeks myself. I always felt better when I was at the barn and with my horse :) I don’t want a life without a horse in it either!!!

    So happy you are recovering!!!! And I’m thrilled you are back to writing!!
    Karen Wilk

  5. Welcome back to your writing!! You will be a tremendous inspiration to all who read your articles. I’m very glad you are winning the battle!!!

  6. I’m glad you are on the road to recovery and to being back in the saddle again!
    Your story today came at the perfect time for me. I am disabled with various issues, my back problems are the worst at keeping me out of the saddle. Post two surgeries and physical therapy and I’m out of the wheelchair now and walking again. Stupidly I often overdo it and end up in great pain and have difficulty walking.

    The reason this story is so important for me, is that I also just got a youngster who I hope is my forever horse. But I stupidly did stuff at the barn last week, like rake the aisles and help move pallets to make a shavings bay, among other things and at home too. Now my back is so painful I am having trouble walking and am afraid I won’t get to work with my youngster for awhile. I want to bond with him and do most of his training myself, but my stupidity is keeping me from doing that.

    Your story helps me to remember that even doing little things with our horses can make a world of difference in us and them! Thank goodness also for great friends that help us be able to have that special horse in our lives. For me its my BFF Wyndi. She has my new boy at her barn and is coming and getting me 3 days a week so I can go spend time there. I just need to stop trying to be the great barn mate and NOT do “stuff” around there that I KNOW I shouldn’t do. It’s really hard to not help out and do stuff that I used to do. Pacing and taking each day as it comes is something I am still learning!

    Anyway, thanks for helping to keep me in the moment with my new boy, Odin.

    Laura Pajot, OregonDecember 10, 2012 @ 1:49 pm
  7. Welcome back, Amy. I’ve missed you and thought about you often. It’s wonderful that Freddie is there for you.

  8. Welcome back to the land of actively living and loving horses! A good friend of mine recently “got back” from where you were and she says that nothing got her through the whole thing like knowing her horse was waiting for her. You come back and they KNOW. Horses are the most amazing animals, just when you think that you’re going to have to watch yourself carefully because of xyz they become the gentlest creatures there are. 1000 lbs of love and understanding no matter what age. Best of luck to you as you get stronger, feel better and Freddie and you become the team you were meant to be.

  9. Thank you all for the wonderful messages!!

    And Laura, you are very welcome. I totally understand–it’s hard to slow down when we’re used to doing so much.

    The best of luck to you and your continued recovery. You know, Dr. Allan Hamilton, who wrote, “Zen Mind, Zen Horse” said during a webinar once that riding a horse at a slow walk can actually help warm up a stiff and painful back. I’m sure your doctor knows best, but I thought I’d pass that along.

    Congrats on your new boy!

    -Amy

  10. You’re back! Halleluia! Welcome back! You have been such an inspiration to so many with stories of your horses, trials and tribulations, and now your fight against cancer. Kudos to your team members who filled in for you…they did an excellent job, but we missed you.

    My most recent accomplishment hasn’t been with a new horse, but with my 5 yr old, home bred, 17.2 hand warmblood. Everyone said he was too much horse for me and I needed to sell him to an intermediate or advanced rider due to his size and behaviour issues. Unfortunately he has been diagnosed with EPSM and I’ve been unable to find a partner who is willing to take him to his full potential. So, in desperation to keep him in exercise, I recently started taking lessons on him. I’ve found that he’s much easier and smoother to ride than my smaller horse and my trainer thinks we have a great partnership in the making! I’m so relieved I don’t have to worry about what to do with him any longer. He’ll stay right here at home with me and we’ll be learning together. Amazingly, his behavior issues have also disappeared and he’s become a very calm, sweet horse.

  11. Thank you, Diane!

    And that’s a terrific success story. Good for you for getting the EPSM diagnosed, and how great that he’s now your lesson horse!

    Thanks for sharing.

    -Amy

  12. I have been clicking on the links daily waiting for your little face to pop up in the square.

    And today, there you are reins in hand! So glad to read you have trotted past the first big stages of cancer and are here to lope on out. You have NOT been put to pasture just yet.

    Best wishes for you in the coming year. Merry Christmas from Cathy and Jim Gaar

  13. Amy it is so good to see that you are back, you have been to hell and back, and I am so sorry that you had to experience all that misery. I thank God each day that my breast cancer did not require chemo. It will take time to get your strength back, but push forward, lots of horses to ride and fun to be had. Hang in there, next year this time it will be so far in the past. It has been a year for me. There is nothing like the horse to heal the mind, body and soul. Sincerely, Janet Keller (from Julie Goodnight clinic in May in Colorado)

  14. Glad to see you are on line! Sorry to hear about your ordeal and hope you are riding soon. It’s amazing how the horse will ease your mind and soul. Looking forward to your postings. Welcome back!

  15. Welcome back – we did miss you.
    Sorry it’s been so tough on you. I’ve been through the chemo and rad twice since 2001 and an operation so I have a pretty good idea of what it does to you.
    And yeah – I would have had a much harder time without my horses around. Even on the worst days they were there for me. I still ride at least two every day (except Sunday of course – they need the day off).
    Hang in there – it does get better. Nice you and that friend to help you out.

  16. So happy to see that you are back! Our best to you and Freddie. We look forward to your adventures together. We wish you all things good!
    Glynis and Spirit

  17. Yea!! I’m so happy to see you “back on the trail”. I missed seeing your friendly face in my email. I will continue to keep you in prayer. I know from experience when I lost my son, that horses are a God-given a blessing of comfort for our hard times. And friends, even cyber friends care so much for you.
    Joan Walker

  18. Welcome back Amy!
    Sometimes life must throw us a few rough punches in order for us to slow down and really appreciate what we have within our grasp. I am glad that you are on the road to recovery. All too often we must stumble and fall before we can pick ourselves up and dust off our bitches and saddle up. My favorite saying says it all “Life is a journey, so enjoy the ride! ” God bless and hope to hear from ya soon! Hassy

  19. Welcome back! So glad you have returned, I always enjoy your columns. You are so right about horses in our lives – they are like angels on the ground. And Freddie letting you join him in his rest – what a fabulous gift! Keep on! Rebecca and my “angels” Magic, Vinnie, and Chino

  20. WOW!! I am so glad you are back Amy…. I didn’t know there had been a replacement for you!! I enjoyed Tiffany’s messages. I haven’t been getting the newsletters for real long, so Tiffany is the only one I knew of. She did a fine job in your absence! A powerful mind over such an illness, does prove to help recovery…. There isn’t as strong a drive as knowing you want to be with a horse and isn’t it funny how their scent is so special. Even the “re-processed hay”, smell is all part of it!! I hope each day is getting better for you. Walking on a horse is great… who needs to go fast? That just makes all the colors blur together anyway!! LOL My 21 yr. old grandson found his niche about 6 mos ago when he moved in with his grand father and his wife in Laguna Beach, CA. She had been volunteering at a Therapeutic Riding Center near there and she insisted he “get into the volunteer program” which he didn’t mind, after all this G-ma had horses so he had been around them since he was little. He said it is the most rewarding job anyone could do and is almost a certified riding instructor! He said many adults and children, come there in wheel chairs and when they get up on the horse of the day…. they just smile from ear to ear! Because the movement of the “walking” horse, it does emulate a human walk and makes muscles move. If you or Laura (above) do/or can with Doctor’s approval… ride at the walk, it does do you good, physically… we already know what it does emotionally!! Looking forward to your horsey input Amy and bless you and your strength for moving forward with your work, and Freddie is a lucky boy!! from: Connie in Central Calif. with 6 Paint horses!!

  21. So glad you are back Amy; I missed you!
    I am sure that Freddie will continue to be a big part of your recovery!

    Clara Y. SchroederDecember 12, 2012 @ 9:19 am
  22. Thank you all so much. I love reading these messages and hearing from all of you.

    I’m so lucky to be a part of this horse community!

    -Amy

  23. Welcome back Amy! I was so surprised to view this page and see you there!!!!!! God bless you and I’m so happy to hear your back and that Freddie gets his mom back! Your article was beautiful of course. I love yur writing and stories. Everyone did a great job in your absence but we still missed you!!! Sherry & Herd<3

  24. It is so wonderful to hear from you – I have been wondering how you are doing, as I’m sure all your readers have. I will continue to pray for your complete recovery and I’m so glad that you have Freddie! Loved hearing how the two of you are coming along and it was fun to see pics of you and him – welcome back!

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MyHorse Daily Freemium Building Horse Barns

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