"I love that she's so sweet and lovable and that she listens well," Madi says about her new horse, Gigi. Photo © Dakota Diamond Griffith

Novice Youth’s Medical Journey Unleashes Her Passion For Horses

The King family of Bellefontaine, Ohio is thankful to have had their entire family together this holiday season. Over the years, parents, Rea and Kaci King, have watched their two children, Madi and Austin, struggle through twenty-two surgeries as a result of them being born with two conditions, craniosynostosis and chiari malformation.

Craniosynostosis is a condition where the infant skull sutures (openings) fuse early and the secondary condition, chiari malformation, is caused by the growing brain pushing its way down the spinal column. Madi and Austin’s mother has written a book, Light Will Emerge, about her family’s medical journey through their first thirteen surgeries.

When Madi was younger, she developed a love of horses, and a few years ago, she was able to start competing on the AQHA circuit. She recently just purchased a new horse, Gozzip Girl (Gigi), from Pati Shaw who also owns her full brother, Gonna Wanna Watchit, who is currently standing at Gumz Farms in Morganfield, Kentucky.

“As parents, we just feel very fortunate to be able to support her goals and dreams,” says Madi’s mother, Kaci, who has been highly supportive of Kaci’s desire to show horses. “When she and her brother were little, life seemed so fragile. Actually, we almost lost him a couple of times. When she started with the same symptoms and lost consciousness, my heart broke. Life has truly been put in perspective for us. With them overcoming so much and doing so well now–thriving actually–life has gone from difficult in their early years, to just down right fun. It’s almost like we’re making up for lost time.”

Medically, by the time Madi started riding at nine years-old, she was doing very well from her surgeries. Though, her mother did find that her daughter turned to riding horses to help her heal in other ways.

“It was ‘someone’ that loved her unconditionally, outside of family, for who she was. It was something she formed a bond with and became a team,” Kaci explains. “Her hair covers most of the scars–but she has one about the size of a quarter on the top for intracranial pressure monitoring; another from ear to ear that’s zigzag like the black mark on Charlie Brown’s shirt; and another that most with the condition refer to as a ‘zipper’ that runs from roughly the middle of the back of her skull down her neck. In fact, I felt horrible at one point recently learning about how much she was still made fun of by other kids, but I never knew. She wrote a poem recently for a school project that says more than what I can put into words, yet, she says it so eloquently.”

By Madi King

Major brain surgery to test the pressure on my brain
And more surgery to open my skull in two places
Classmates giggle “Baldy” at me
Others hide and whisper and point
I take great offense
I was angry as a bull charging a matador
And my face felt as hot as the red cape it was charging
I am not the kind to whine
I did not tell
I found other ways to cope
I turn toward my warm, brown equine teammate with four legs
Who loves me unconditionally and carries me on her back faithfully
I prove to myself and others that I am okay and worth a million bucks
My mom told me without surgery I would have been mentally retarded, blind and deaf
I feel amazing and I am on top of the world now

Being involved with AQHA has also helped Madi feel on top of the world in the horse world too. Her family discovered AQHA through friend, Caroline Waters. They attended a camp at Victory Junction in North Carolina a few years back for her condition. Caroline was a camp counselor there that weekend and was a walker at the barn beside the kids that were riding. Madi rode Montgomery Petty’s AQHA World Champion horse, Mr Magnolia Zip (Ricky) and was just in awe.

“As she rode with Caroline as her side walker, she smiled and they talked,” her mother recalls. “It was the first time that she (and us) had been introduced to life outside of 4-H and open shows. Madi saw possibilities and what else existed and pressed on to do more.”

The fourteen year-old, who makes straight A’s at Ohio Connections Academy, loves showing because of the friendship and fellowship with others. Madi is currently under the guidance of KC Knoch, who the family says has developed a special connection with their daughter.

“He is awesome, very funny, patient, a great teacher and very supportive, kind, and caring,” Madi told GoHorseShow about her trainer. “I love horses because of their companionship–they like me; and I enjoy being teammates. I love their personalities. Well, some of them,” she says laughing. “I love the competitiveness; I can accomplish things and win things; the learning involved; the process of showing, making adjustments and going again, and I like making new friends.”

The eighth grader, who also loves showing cattle like her brother, says that she is looking forward to debuting with her new horse, Gigi, this year in the Novice Youth Western Pleasure.

“I love that she’s so sweet and lovable and that she listens well,” Madi says about her new horse, Gigi. “She’s super slow; she feels smooth and pretty; I love her color; and I love that she’s shorter, so, it’s easier for me to get on, especially with my chaps on!”

Kaci King finds that the AQHA family is very supportive and encouraging toward her daughter. King says her daughter’s future goals are to qualify for the Youth World and place at the Congress.

“She always loves a challenge and presses on to do more and better. It’s a real sense of accomplishment for her. She’s such a hard worker and never complains,” Kaci says. “My plans for the future as a mom is to keep things light and take things as they come. We try to enjoy every moment and support her in any way we can.”