In July of 2013, Kristen accompanied Leslie, the owner of Jacob's Ladder Therapeutic Riding program to check out a little roan pony. There was nothing spectacular about him that day--he tried out well, but the next day Kristen just couldn't get him out of her head. After agreeing that he was a good fit for the program, the decision was made to bring Roanin to live at Jacob's Ladder. After a few weeks, it was evident he was a different horse than Kristen and Leslie had previously observed. He became shy and difficult to catch. There was just something about the pony that tugged at Kristen's heartstrings, and she volunteered to work with him. She would stand for sometimes an hour in the south Georgia heat just waiting to lead him in. She faced challenges with Roanin that forced her to grow as a horsewoman and learn about natural horsemanship. Kristen learned Roanin could not be rushed. He could read a person and their energy before they even got close to him. After a brief trial and appearance in the program, it was decided Roanin was not a good fit and his temperament just wasn't a good match for children. Knowing the bond they had developed, Leslie offered him to Kristen. She had dreamed of owning her own horse since she was a little girl, and he finally came home to live with her in the spring of 2016.
In August, I remember Kristen calling to tell me Roanin had developed a severe condition called Laminitis. This is a condition in which the tissues in the hoof that bond the hoof wall to a bone become inflamed. It causes severe pain and is incredibly debilitating. In Roanin's case, after lying down, he could barely stand. He was unable to walk and would stand still in the pasture shifting his weight. He was given a 10% chance of recovery because of the severity of his condition. Kristen refused to give up on him. 10% was enough for her to pray, fight and do everything she could to save the little roan pony who had stolen her heart. She had piles of sand brought in for him to stand on, and gave him round the clock care and medication. One dark day, Kristen told Roanin that if he was done, to let her know and she would let him go. She desperately wanted him to live to see her wedding day, because, in Kristen's words,
"God brought him to me at a unique time in my life. It was three months before I left my ex-husband. Roanin helped me find who I was again. He showed me love and together we learned how to trust someone again. God used him to help me see who I was in the Father's eyes. He gave me a safe place to run when part of my life was in shambles. When we are connected, we speak a language that exists without words. He helped me find my confidence and self-worth."
As Kristen's best friend, I can attest to God's use of this horse to help her through one of the darkest times of her life. I knew how special they were to one another. After lots of prayers, Roanin began to improve. It gave her a reason to hope. Her prayers were being answered.
I was prepared to receive a phone call from her, and make a four hour trip to Valdosta just to take some special photos of them together. One day she called--but it was to tell me he had improved. Instead of a somber drive, I made an excited drive--a trip to capture her bridal portraits and include this special little horse who had defied all odds. This picture says it all--you can tell how much they love one another, and it was my favorite from the shoot.
Today, Roanin is healthy and is even able to be lightly ridden! Kristen said one of her favorite things about the bridal portrait shoot was watching Roanin interact with me. I was pretty surprised after knowing his history that he walked right up to me to check out my camera. He stood still while I stroked his nose and scratched him behind the ear--and he even nuzzled my hands looking for a treat. It was an all-around special trip, and he is a special horse! Kristen may have rescued Roanin and given him unconditional love and a forever home--but I know he rescued her in a time that she needed unconditional love, and for that, I'll always be grateful to him.
You can check out the Jacob's Ladder Program in Valdosta, or donate to this non-profit organization at this link: