Do you have an inspirational story of how horses have helped you through difficult times? We'd love to hear it. Photo © Abigail Hardy

We Ask the Industry: How have Horses Helped You Through Tough Times?

Trying to navigate life in general is a challenge and oftentimes, that’s where our beloved horses come into play. In our industry, there may be some people who consider the horse business just a business. But, for most of us, horses are our lifetime loves that see us through hard times.

They are the ones that help us through injuries, deaths, emotional pain, professional and personal failures and they never judge us along the way. Showing horses is one of the few activities that a family can do together, creating lasting memories and bonds through the years.

We  asked several top exhibitors and trainers to share stories of how horses have helped them through trying times.

Nicole Barnes – One of the most underrated horses I have ever shown was Obsessive Impulse. “Tuley”, as we knew him around the barn, was there for me after the untimely passing of my old show gelding, Zippos Ace of Spades. “Ace” was fighting a battle with laminitis that took a turn for the worse and we were faced with the difficult decision to euthanize him. We laid him to rest on a Friday afternoon. I am forever grateful that the next day, Saturday morning, I forced myself to walk into the barn and to step on to Tuley. That day, he and I begin a short but impactful show career together.

Tuley had been my grandmother’s horse, the last one she was able to ride before her fight with Alzheimer’s escalated and she was unable to ride any longer. He was quite green when we purchased him to become a show horse for me and he had his quirky, challenging moments. But as we have seen time and time again in a horse, sometimes they just know when to protect their rider. Tuley was that for my YiaYia.

I showed Tuley only for a year before he was sold. I qualified him for the AQHA World Show in horsemanship and showmanship, placing seventh in the horsemanship. With just a few months of experience under our belts, it felt like winning. I still have my ribbon hanging proudly in my house today.

When it came to Tuley (pictured right), I never have cried so many tears on the back of a horse, loved him with all my heart and resented him for not being my Ace. But I am grateful for him being there to catch me as I floundered that first year. I am pleased that he instilled the love of a green horse and taught me so many lessons. He gave me the opportunity to heal and continue to ride and show, fulfilling and fueling my passion for the horse.

Tiina Volmer – I have one horse that has helped me through a difficult time of my life. First of all, my mom passed away this past May. My mom loved being a horse show mom. A few years ago, I contacted Lindsay Sodenburg in Alberta, to see if she had any all-around prospects. After a few conversations, she sent me a video of a big, pretty, bay horse. When I spoke with Lindsey again to finalize our trip plans, she told me they could not sell this horse. Unfortunately, her dad had passed away with cancer, and this horse, called Rainman, was his favorite. Lindsey told me she was emotionally not ready to sell him.

A few months later, I contacted her again to make sure she did not want to sell him. I reassured her that our animals are spoiled and total ‘amateur ‘ horses. Lindsey told me that helped her make the decision but what sealed the deal was that Lindsey knew her dad would have wanted her to sell Rainman to me. We never made the family trip to Alberta but just bought Rainman off a video. I always thought it was crazy when someone buys a horse off of a video, who does that?

When he arrived in Texas, he did not seem like the same horse, not as pretty, odd shaped body, a little thin, wanted to be a giraffe with his head up so high, even though his neck did not come out of his body like that. I honestly could not find anything I ‘loved’ about him. My mom, on the other hand, loved him.

Long story short, after showing at six circuits last year, we decided to show at the Congress and World show. Why not? He should be way broker after those two events. The first class I showed in at the Congress was the Limited Non-Pro Maturity. He was better than I expected, I had no idea how he would be in the Celeste Arena with the noise and crowds. My mom and Sheldon Sodenburg were watching every stride. After the individual cards were placed, I knew Rainman and I won the class. There were tears, and they were not because we won the class at the Congress, but they were because I know and felt how proud my mom and Sheldon were of Rainman and me. Mothers know best, and my mom was a believer in Rainman right from the beginning before anyone else saw his potential. My mom is my sister’s and my inspiration to keep doing what we love with our horses because she is with us every step of the way.

Anne Shafer – In 1992 I had just started my own business in the horse world. I had trained under Ronnie Sharpe, Rick Skelly, Cindy Reddish and Gary Knaus and was only two weeks into starting up my horse training operation. I was young, healthy, had a vast clientele with beautiful horses and I was eager to be the best trainer I could be. But on a rainy afternoon in May, I was on my way to have lunch with a client, and my world was turned upside down and inside out. I was broadsided by a car while driving my dually and skidded across the intersection and down a ravine taking 160 foot of guardrail with me. Long story short, I had permanent damage to C2, C3 and C4 vertebra in my neck and no longer had feeling in my fingers. The next year was spent in physical therapy, rehab and with a massage therapist.

I was told that I would never be able to jump horses ever again and riding was a long way down the road. But the horses were not only my livelihood, they were my life. I was lost in the thought of maybe never being able to ride again. I went to the barn every day just to be around my horses and stayed as long as I could bear the pain. Just being with the horses made things seem a little better. I was determined to ride again and I worked on learning to live with limited movement in my neck and no feeling in my hands. As time passed, I was given the okay to ride again if I could deal with the pain. It ended up being precisely nine months to the day of the accident that I stepped back on a horse and rode around the arena. And for the first time in months, I felt alive again. My horses gave me the inspiration to work hard and get my body physically active, so I could not only get back to doing my job but doing what I love. And for that, I am genuinely grateful for my horses.

Sunni Hecht – My barn has always been my sanctuary and safe place. When I was upset with friends, family, boyfriends or whoever, I’d go there. My horses were much more than just horses. They never talked back; they were my therapists. One horse in particular, I could count on to make me feel better and smile after tears just stained my face. He was a 2002 model chestnut gelding that stood at 16.2 hands. His name was Girls Dig Me or “Nate.” I liked to call him, Nathaniel, especially when he was being naughty, which was like all the time. I would walk right into his stall and hug his chest. Not only was he sweet to let me do this, but he would also wrap his head around my body as if he was hugging me back.


Kathy Snodgrass –  In February of 2010, we were blessed with a beautiful halter filly. My dad loved foaling time here and always had suggestions for barn names for our babies. When he saw this filly, with her long legs, beautiful face and big eyes, he said she looked like a supermodel. He wanted to name her “Twiggy” which I vetoed. He then settled on Giselle (pictured left). Little did I know that day that she would be the last foal he named as we lost my dad the following month. Giselle became my last connection with my dad, and she went on to be our first AQHA World Champion. I know my dad was with me in that ring, smiling, so proud of his girls. Giselle is still with us now raising her babies.

Then, in January 2012, I lost my mom, the driving force behind me having horses. In March of 2012, Giselle’s dam gave us a gorgeous colt we named Parker. Parker (pictured right) went on to become our second AQHA World Champion. God blessed me with the perfect foal both years that I lost a parent. He knew I needed comfort and a foal to fill my heart. The dam for both foals, Sedona, will always be here with us, in fact, I have her head tattooed on my wrist. She is my heart horse, and I thank God for what she has given to us and the inspiration our horses have given me.

Debbie Orban Kelly – For 2018, I have a fantastic gelding as a new show partner. I retired my other gelding to an intellectual disability facility equine program. My deceased daughter’s mare is in foal to The Sugar Daddy as she had always dreamed of raising a foal. When your beloved daughter cannot live out her dreams, someone has to do it.





Karen Evans Mundy –  I️ would have to say, Ask Me For Details (Houston) was a blessing to have when Don (her husband) passed away three years ago. He was always my once-in-a-lifetime horse, and the only one I️ kept of all my all-around horses. Don and I always promised to keep him until he died, and unfortunately, he passed away on October 26th, 2017.






Linda Coakley – My horses are my escape; when I ride the rest of the world disappears no matter what is going on. I don’t think about anything else except the horse and the ride. I don’t have one trying time; life overall is challenging enough, thank God for horses.






Do you have an inspirational story of how horses have helped you through difficult times? We’d love to hear it.