Note: This post was originally published on 4/27/13 on my old blog, “A Blond, Brunette, and a Redhead”.
It all started back when…
I think I was about 13 or 14 years old, living in my home state of Washington, when I firmly decided that Haflingers were my favorite horse breed. Thus began my obsession – I spent hours online, reading and dreaming about these delightful, adorable, gorgeous horses. That’s what led me to Deer Haven Farm. When I found the website, I quickly listed it as one of my favorites, and revisited it often.
Fast-forward a few years. There I was, ready to graduate from Pierce College with an Associate’s degree and looking to transfer to Midway College in Kentucky, somewhere around 3,000 miles from home. In April of 2007, my mom and I made the trip to visit the school. It was while I was there that I picked up the phone and called Rachel King at Deer Haven Farm. I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to do more than visit her farm and truly get up close and personal with a Haflinger for the first time.
Although she was out of town, Rachel welcomed me and my mom to the farm for a visit. I had never seen a more peaceful, beautiful, place. I’m still not sure that there is any sight better than rolling green fields filled with golden ponies.
Adult Life Approaches
After two years at Midway, I was approaching graduation with a Bachelor’s degree in Equitation Instruction. I had my heart set on moving home to Washington, but reality struck pretty hard, and I realized that it required money to move back – money I didn’t have. It was an abrupt introduction to life as a real adult. Since planning ahead has always been my M.O., I needed to know I had a job lined up well enough in advance. I realized that if I was going to stay in Kentucky, I could only be satisfied working at Deer Haven. As soon as I could, I sent Rachel an email, re-introducing myself, and asking for a job.
While the interview itself was pretty straightforward, I can’t write this story without relating the events that transpired to get me to said interview. It was Rolex weekend in 2009. Since I didn’t have a car (yet), I needed to borrow a friend’s car to get me out to Deer Haven. My friend, being an avid eventer, didn’t want to miss cross country day at the Kentucky Horse Park. Our plan was to get to the park, have a few minutes to walk around and hang out, and then I would take the car, go to my interview, and come back to spend the rest of the day with my friend. Deer Haven was only 10 minutes away, so I had plenty of time.
Best Laid Plans
Of course, the Horse Park crew had decided that this would be an excellent time to do a traffic pattern practice run in preparation for the World Equestrian Games coming in 2010. As a result, they weren’t letting anyone out of the park – only incoming traffic was allowed through.
Clearly, I panicked.
Rachel was gracious and understanding – the first time I called her. The second, third and fourth times…she was still professional, but anyone who knew her would tell you that patience was not exactly her strong suit. I would call her to let her know my progress (i.e. None), she would tell me to keep her posted, and I would hang up and cry my eyes out and beg the parking crew to get me the heck out of the stupid park.
Three hours later on that fateful weekend in April, I made it to Deer Haven. I had never been so late to anything in my life, but for some reason, Rachel had waited for me. I got a tour of the farm, talked with the former trainer, and told Rachel my training philosophy (I didn’t know I really had one until she asked me, having never done a job like this before!). The first Haflingers I rode at the farm were Teddy the Wonder Horse (All-Tell RVM, our dressage star who now is loved and spoiled in Colorado) and Arie (Arizona DHFK, who is now loved and spoiled in Ohio).
On June 1st, I started work as the head trainer. That view of the rolling green fields filled with golden ponies was now mine, too.
From Acquaintance to Family
My first impression of Rachel was that she was serious about her love for the horses to the point of being a little crazy (aren’t we all?!), was full of integrity, always put the horse first, knew her business inside and out, and was not one to easily mix that business with her personal life. My lasting impression of Rachel will always be that she was kind, smart, absolutely hysterical, and one of the most generous people I have known. I remember her every time I look at Abercrombie and think about the day she said he was mine. I remember her when I think of Avanti, and I remember how much happiness it gave her to see me hanging out with him – my best friend.
She was my employer first, but in the end she was infinitely more than that. She was the one I went to for advice. I can’t even list the times I cried to her about my worries and fears – she comforted me in her own, tough love kinda way ;). She was the reason I stopped being homesick, because she adopted me as a part of her family and loved me like her own.
Sometimes she pushed me to the point where I thought I’d never be able to handle it – other times, I watched as she became an over-protective mama bear, just for me. When I messed up (which I did, more than I would like to admit), she never beat around the bush, but told me exactly what I needed to do to make things right…which usually involved her saying, “Stop crying; leave the emotional side out of this, and fix it.”
And Never, Ever, Forgotten
Eventually, it was my turn to comfort her and help wipe her tears away. And even through all of that, I often ended up feeling like I was the one being comforted. She was my favorite person to hug, hands down. In these last four years, there was no place I felt safer. Nothing made me happier than when I heard her say, “I’m proud of you, Em – really proud of what you’re doing with your life.”
On April 11th, 2013, I lost my best friend to cancer. The last thing she said to me was, “I love you.” And I plan to hang on to that forever.
Rachel – I love you back bunches. Always.