As a child, my parents bought me a Shetland Pony named Molly Brown, who was stubborn and feisty like every pony should be. I learned all my basic horsemanship through trial and error with Molly Brown. I made mistakes, she made mistakes, but together we learned how to be tough and never quit just because the trail became rocky. I grew up in a barn with horses, cows, dogs, cats, chickens and goats. I can recall almost every critter’s name that has ever been in my life and how they touched my heart. I always knew I would find a life helping animals and riding horses. I was fortunate enough to ride many different styles of riding from Western Plea- sure, to Trail Riding, to Hunter Jumpers and even Saddle Seat aboard a blue roan Tennessee Walking Horse named Blue Solitude. I was given a choice at 16-years- old, by my parents, to have a new car or a leggy 16-hand steel grey Thoroughbred named Lore. Without hesitation, I chose the horse.
In 2001, I was blessed with a beautiful baby girl, but my bliss was quickly extinguished when doctors diagnosed me with Melanoma. The doctor was very matter of a fact and told me that people with Melanoma do not have a very good prognosis. I was in total disbelief and that afternoon, I hopped on Lore bareback and rode through the woods trying to digest my news. Several medical procedure’s later and one major surgery, my prognosis was improving and doctors were optimistic. I would be under the very close eye of dermatologists and medical testing for the rest of my life, but I was okay with that as long as I could see my daughter grow and ride a few horses. The start of 2008 was perfect! I had a great job as a Veterinary As- sistant, my daughter was critter crazy and I had just purchased a beautiful black American Warmblood named Snicklefritz. As spring approached, I was busy grooming horses, cleaning tack and preparing Snik to accept a saddle. He was young and big, but he was so docile and goofy that his size was not intimidating. One Sunday in June, I put my daughter up on Lore and climbed aboard Snik for the first time and we took a nice leisurely ride around the pasture. The ride was marvelous and gave me great hope for Snik’s future as an all-round family horse.
That Monday, right after my wonderful ride on Snik, my life changed forever. My husband and I decided to take our motorcycles out for a quick spin since the weather was pleas- ant. About one mile from my home, I wrecked my motorcycle and was rushed to the hospital with many life threatening injuries. Several days following the accident, I woke in a hospital room completely unaware of what had happened to me. Doctors explained to me that I had damaged my spinal cord when my T-12 vertebra had been crushed. They basically told me I would never walk again. I spent one month in a rehabilitation center becoming acquainted with my new life as a paraplegic using a wheelchair to get around. The staff was great to teach me how to adapt to my life, but I could have cared less about their attempt to teach me how to dress and cook from my chair. I wanted out of the hell I was living in called Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy. After being discharged from the hospital, I spent the next three years searching for anything to help fill the emptiness I felt deep down in my core. I had continued my physical therapy, I had returned to work as a reception- ist at a veterinary hospital, I was crowned Ms. Wheelchair North Carolina 2011 and of course, I was working hard to be a good mom despite sporting a wheel- chair. Things were improving and life was for the most part good, but something was missing. With tears streaming down my face after looking at all my old horse photos, I knew I had to ride again.
Deciding to ride again, I knew it had to be aboard Snik. For almost two years, I searched for local trainers to help me achieve my goal of getting back in the saddle. Most trainers thought I was insane, some never returned my call and one told me at the age of eight, Snik could not be trained. One so called trainer came along and took an abusive hand with Snik which set us back and almost shattered my plans. Then we met Trent Benton of Star’s Peak Valley Ranch in Jonesville, North Carolina. Trent did not tell me I was crazy, nor did he promise me victory, but he did promise me he would give it his best. He took Snik and gave him sixty days of attention and professional training that consisted of communication, trust and respect.
It was through Trent’s vision and exceptional foundation training that he taught Snik to lie down so that I could mount him directly from my wheelchair. I will never forget that muggy September day, when I clambered out of my wheelchair and into the saddle of an enormous horse patiently waiting in a very unchar acteristic down position.
I was trembling with uncertainty and excitement, but Snik was steady and gave me the most meaningful ride I could ever dream. I knew then, it was meant to be. Snik and I are both green and learning this style of training and riding together under the careful guidance of Trent Benton.
And while Snik and I have no plans to enter a show ring, that’s just fine with us, because we have so much more in a round pen at Star’s Peak Valley.
Elizabeth Lentz Elizabeth Lentz is an inspirational horsewoman who lives near Jonesville, NC