Grumpy Jean was a key part in helping me cope after I lost my husband to a three year battle with kidney cancer. Grumpy Jean and I met at the Riding for the Disabled (RDA), where I was then working as a funding officer. When Bhakti died I was devastated and an emotional mess. But by chance at this time, through my job, I had the privilege of learning how to care for, groom and ride a horse. Grumpy Jean had formally been a pacer and after her glory days racing she came to the RDA to serve the local community of disabled children. However when I met her, she was over it; her notes said “hates wriggly riders and do not leave in a paddock on her own .”
She worked for the RDA for many years, but was not happy in herself; picking on other horses in the paddock and biting anyone who tried to tack her up. Unusable to the inexperienced, by chance she was the horse I learnt to ride on. At first I was terrified of doing up her girth as she would go to bite my bum every time. But Kat, (friend and manager) an expert horse rider, had no fear and came to my rescue.
After a few months it was decided she had to go. Unsellable due to her grumpyness, I felt merciful to her plight and said I would take her as I lived in the countryside. This is where the spirit and essence of equestrian therapy revealed it self. Grumpy Jean and I started to develop a strong bond. Going on daily rides and taking out the local kids, I had a friend I could reveal all to. Although she did not say anything back, her excitement to see me grew and she would rub her head up and down my body. I even enjoyed just hanging out in the paddock with her picking up poo; time to appreciate the simple pleasures of life, soak up the magnificent views that surrounded me and breathe in the air.
The power of equestrian therapy is subtle but effective in times of stress, bereavement or life crisis. The bond between horse and man is reciprocal. Together we got through our inner sadness, gained a friendship and now reap the benefits of long rides in the most beautiful places. Jean has helped me gain a great sense of achievement, enabled me to conquer some fears, gain confidence. More than anything, she has helped me heal my heart by giving me an outlet, a focus to put my lost love into another being.
As a treat, I would ride her up the road to see a local horse Pippa. After a short time both would regularly break out of their paddocks to go see each other. Grumpy Jean was re-nicknamed Hujeany. Jean is no longer grumpy, no more bottom biting, no more ears back, no more kicking other horses, no more absconding. She is now happy and so am I.
I currently work as a members liaisons coordinator for CanTeen, helping young people living with cancer. We have already brought one group through the Therapeutic Care Programme at the RDA with great results and have just gained funding through the Lion Foundation to take a new group. Thanks to Jean I continue to regularly benefit from equestrian therapy and I have developed new friendships with Pippa’s owners Don and Sandra who kindly look after Jean on their farm and often come riding.