It is not that I grew up in a bad family. I had a very loving mother and two grandparents that always supported me. I never went without, emotionally or financially. However, I have struggled with mental illness since I was six- and not like in the movies, obsessed or crazy, but more bipolar depression and anxiety. This resulted in withdrawing myself from childhood friends and even family, because I felt ashamed and different. It was easier to push people away than communicate with them about how I was feeling, which in turn caused problems at home. And then I met seven other people who would exploit my disability and act like they understood.
In March of 2013, seven other people and I committed a string of car fires that resulted in my incarceration. I was given the most time due to the court’s opinion that the crime could only have originated from someone with mental illness, and of course my co-defendants took advantage of this. Afterwards, I went to a very dark place emotionally and mentally. For four long years, I took my problems with the guilt and shame I felt out on others by writing complaints against prison staff. It was my escape, my vice. It felt good to put the spotlight on other people’s problems and misconduct so I could ignore my own. It wasn’t until this vice consumed my life that I met Case Manager Jon Scramlin. Not only did he strive to show me how to cope with my problems, he recommended I go to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF) program at Second Chances Farm in Sykesville, MD.
Upon arrival at Second Chances Farm, I was paired with the horse Greek Ruler, (Greek), a 16 hands high dark bay retired thoroughbred. Little did I know he would change my life, and so would the TRF program. During my nine months at the farm, I was paired with one horse each month and worked under Sarah Stein, an amazingly brilliant equine tech who is TRF’s barn manager/teacher for the Second Chances Program.
During my first month I worked with Greek and he showed me how to trust again- you have to have trust when working with a stubborn 1100 lb thoroughbred, (I got my foot stepped on a reminder). I also learned a deeper understanding of boundaries and communication. My second and third horses were Don’t Quit Dreaming (Dreamer) and Liang’s Dancer (Dancer). I learned how to cope with my anxiety from Dreamer as he has the same issues. Trying to help him with his anxiety taught me how to openly deal with mine. The patience and awareness I learned working with Dancer helped me work on my patience in daily life. My fourth and fifth horses were Two Rivers (Niles), and Judge Luci (Luci). Niles taught me love and empathy, and no matter what, he always stayed mellow. Luci was temperamental and sometimes showed signs of past abuse, but with that, she taught me not to be judgmental, and have an understanding of others’ pain and hurt. She also taught me that you can always combat fear with love, and to stop being so cynical. My last horse, number six, was Quite Rightly, (Poppa). He taught me self-awareness, problem solving, and how to stay positive. Whether he was struggling with warm hooves, allergies or lameness, Poppa always greeted me with warm eyes and a soft nuzzle. He just lives in the moment, a true gentleman.
Then finally, I got to work with Greek again, the heart-warming moment I had been waiting six months for. Everyday I worked with Greek, whether it was grooming, in-hand training, or a lesson with Sarah, I always felt the connection, and the release of stress.
Greek made my grey days clear, and with that, I know I made the right decision to pursue a career in equine science. Since graduating from the Second Chances Program, I completed two courses from New Horizons Equine Education Center, (Equine First Aid and Stable Management). I am currently enrolled at the College of Central Florida to obtain my Equine Tech certification. I am also a member of the Arabian Horse Association and the Maryland Horse Council.
I no longer struggle with mental illness, and my communication skills have improved. My family and I are closer than ever. Thanks to Jon Scramlin, Sarah Stein, and the TRF horses, I am no longer ashamed of myself and my past. Some retired thoroughbred horses can be retrained for other disciplines such as hunting, jumping, dressage, western or pleasure, but TRF provided us with horses to be teachers to change the lives of people like me.
These horses are my heroes with hooves.