Many of you may have already heard my story, the one that ultimately culminated in beginning Trinity Rescue in 2012. But there is another side to the story as well…one that perhaps even I didn’t fully appreciate until now. In reflecting over the past few days, it was clear to me that the other side of the story needed to be told as well.

The other side began five days before my story….or in all fairness, probably years before. But this is what I know to be fact, so we will begin here. The love of horses has been in my family for multiple generations, so my oldest sister, Mindy, was no exception. It was she who went to horse camp at Little Hope Ranch in Conyers, Georgia when she was 13 years old. My parents had saved for months to afford to send her to the five day overnight camp where she would learn all about horsemanship and riding. At the end of the week, all the camper’s families would come up to watch the campers show off the skills they learned. As far as horses go, that was where Mindy’s story ended and where my story began….being placed on the back of my sister’s horse from camp. At three years old, I found my life’s passion, and within 4 years, I was taking lessons and riding full time. By the time I got Greyson when I was 13, Mindy had already graduated college and was working on starting her career.

One would think that she would have been jealous of the opportunity for me to ride, show and even have my own horse. Quite the contrary, Mindy was a driving force in ensuring my parents sent me to lessons, and eventually bought Greyson for me. She was in attendance at many of my shows, videotaping my classes and jumping rounds in all manner of weather. In fact, she nearly had a concussion at a show at Wills Park when the board being used to prop open the announcer’s window fell from the 2nd floor and hit her in the head while she was filming. True to form, she never once moved the camera off me…..she just kept filming my jumping round while a knot formed on the back of her head.

Due to the 10 year age difference, Mindy was more like a second mother to me. I never once even thought about how she must have wanted to have a horse of her own to love and grow up with. Then as we got older, married, started families and focused on careers, the closeness we had when I was young seemed to fade away. Over the years, we had our ups and downs like most sisters, but the loss of our mom was pretty devastating to both of us, and we drifted apart for a while. But I know better than anyone the healing power of horses, and their infinite ability to soothe wounds of the heart.

When the idea for Trinity became a reality, Mindy was very encouraging and excited for us. She came out to visit the farm and volunteered her time in those first few months when the farm was going through renovations. But everything changed on November 10, 2012. I received a message from a woman desperate to find homes for a group of starving Tennessee Walking Horses. One filly in particular was in critical condition, and would likely not survive if she wasn’t rescued soon. She sent along a picture of a pitiful, emaciated black filly with a broken blaze…..that picture alone was enough to absolutely break your heart. We agreed to pick her up the next day. It was late in the evening, and I was going to need some extra help at the barn while we went to pick her up, so I called Mindy and asked her if she would mind helping out with feeding and cleaning the following day. I told her what we planned to do, and she readily agreed to help. She asked me to send her the picture that I had received, as she always had a fondness for Tennessee Walking Horses. Within 30 seconds of sending her that picture, my phone began ringing. Mindy sounded almost frantic….”What time are you picking her up? What time will you be home with her?? I have to be there when she comes off the trailer!” I had no idea that this was beginning the next chapter of Mindy’s story…..a story that was partially written 37 years ago, and never completed.

When we arrived the next day back at the farm, Mindy was waiting, video camera in hand, to capture the sweet little filly’s arrival. She was a body score of 1, and was so weak from dehydration and starvation that she quite literally fell while trying to get off the trailer. Her mane was falling out in chunks from malnutrition, her hooves so broken that she barely had any left, she was covered in muck, and she was little more than a walking skeleton with hair. But she had a light in her eyes that showed us she had a strong will to live. We had decided that she was going to be quite the regal beauty when she rehabilitated, so we named her Cleopatra (Cleo for short). Mindy walked her into the barn, and led her into the quarantine area. By the time she made the walk, Cleo was exhausted; however, she kept walking toward Mindy and throwing her head in the air towards Mindy over and over again. It took a few minutes to determine what she was trying to communicate. Cleo needed someone to lean on, and to rest her weary head after her ordeal. Mindy stopped moving away when Cleo walked forward and Cleo hooked her head over Mindy’s shoulder. Within moments, Cleo let the weight of her head lie on Mindy’s back as Mindy wrapped her arms around Cleo’s neck. You could see all the tension leave Cleo’s body as she closed her eyes to rest….it was clear she finally felt safe…..she was home.

Over the next several months, we had some setbacks with Cleo’s rehab. Her musculature was so eroded she was unable to pick herself up if she laid down to rest. We spent six weeks picking her up with a makeshift sling until she was strong enough to do it for herself. Mindy was there every time…day or night. I watched Cleo’s metamorphosis into a beautiful, loving, healthy girl. Her wild eyes began to soften, and her personality blossomed. I also saw the love grow between horse and human…..that special relationship that only comes from connecting to an equine soul mate. Mindy once pondered out loud that she wondered if Cleo loved her as much as she loved Cleo. That question was answered just a few short weeks ago when Mindy accidentally fell backwards and hit her head on the concrete floor of the barn hallway while walking Cleo to her stall. In general, even small, sudden movements cause Cleo to become very jumpy. However, Cleo didn’t move a muscle until Mindy came to and was able to alert someone she needed help. That is when it became clear to me that yes, Cleo loved Mindy just as much and Mindy loved her. They both were drawn to each other from the start…..and were destined to live life together through all its bumps and bruises. It was then that I realized my part in Mindy’s story…..to make sure that she received the same gift that I was blessed with as a child; a gift she herself quietly desired, but never begrudged me.

 

On Saturday, June 29th, 2013, the morning of her 50th birthday, Mindy got a horse of her own to love and grow old with. From the start, Mindy never saw Cleo as she was the day she fell off the trailer………she only saw the horse from her dreams….the horse Cleo was destined to be. Now I see Mindy in a different light too……she is now the girl she was meant to be….the girl who is delighted at the low, throaty greeting she receives when she enters the barn…..the girl who drinks in the musky scents of leather, hay and manure……the girl whose soul is set free in the presence of her heart-horse.