Jumping Past Cancer: A comeback story

If life is a jump course, cancer is the bogey fence that terrifies us all. Susan Corwin kicked her way through chemo and is preparing to tackle her first horse trial back this weekend.

From Susan:

Just before Christmas this last December I received a very unwanted gift.  Now as children we are told that if we are bad we will get a lump of coal.  Well, I must have been really bad because I didn’t get a lump of coal, I got a lump of cancer in my breast.

As you can imagine most of the next several months were spent in hospitals: double mastectomy (glad those are gone, sitting the trot looks way neater) and chemo, chemo, chemo.  I went to chemo every two weeks.  I would recover for one week and ride my horse, Monty, the second.  But as my blood levels dropped, it made breathing a bit of a problem.

Now this is where one of my biggest blessings came in: Lindsay Tucker.  After trying and failing several times to find someone to keep my horse going, not only did she pick up the enormous slack I was leaving, but she actually fell madly in love with my horse.  What more could a mother ask for?  And through her soft, patient, gentle and consistent approach, I woke from my chemo coma with a much improved horse!  How’s that for luck?

If you have ever seen the movie Sylvester, you will remember how the old man taught the horse dressage in the middle of the night.  Well, after years of secretly praying this would happen to me… IT DID!

There was one day I will never forget.  Lindsay was learning how to jump Monty and I followed them around the cross country course until I was exhausted.  Lindsay, being the sweatheart she is, put me on my horse and led him to my house to drop me off.

So now that I am done with chemo and getting my strength and energy back, I am doing our first mini trial this Sunday.  I am so pleased with my horse.  His new strength makes up for my weakness and I can’t wait until Sunday, but first I guess I should try jumping…

First Cross Country School:

We finally got a break in the horrible heat wave we have been suffering through, or as I like to refer to it as “a very long hot flash,” and I got the chance to school cross country.  It was a pretty short trip since the course goes around my house, but I haven’t jumped since last fall.

It was the first jumping lesson I have ever had with the amazing Rachel Zoller Sketo and I’m not sure if she has ever seen me jump.  So I really felt like I had to bring my “A” game.  Now, because my game has been hovering around “F” since December, I may have been overreaching.

We warmed up in the jump ring.  My warm up included jumping a cross rail three times and one four stride combo.  I really had no idea how many jumps I had in me.  Luckily I was sent down to hop over a small brush while Rachel arranged the jumps and caught Susan Harris’ super star dressage horse.  Trust me… nobody wanted a problem with Ulysses.. Susan would not have been at all pleased if we hurt him, to say the least!  As it turned out, he couldn’t care less about us jumping through his turnout.

Jumping over fence #2, the eyes and pressure were on.  Monty flew over it with ease.  Well, with the ease of a much bigger fence to my surprise.  Then down a hill to a two stride.  After easily thwamping the first two fences he was “on course” and without my knowledge the jumps somehow magically were raised and the two stride shortened… oh and the bit just stopped working.  This is where I fell apart a little, and I say “a little” because Rachel was too far away holding Ulysses to see what really happened.

A bit rattled over Monty’s enthusiasm about the last jump, when he launched over “A” I leapt up on my toes like a beginner (actually a habit I have had well after that, but thought I was over).  This indicated to my very sensitive horse that not only were the jumps bigger than they looked, but MUCH bigger!  So the two stride became a one-and-a-half and the 2’ 11” (if) jump became 3’ 6”.  After almost peeing my pants and trying to play it cool, a very bewildered Rachel came and strided it, concluding it was a legitimate two stride.

Okay, that’s when I strapped my brain back into my head… GAME ON!   Over the “house”, down a steep hill to the ditch (“No Monty, not the coop!”).  Up the hill, up and down what used to be an evil bank, big roll top and to the water jump.  Nice jump into the water and (“No Monty!  It’s a run through, not up the training bank!”) and we were done and I felt strong and ready.

Novice goes first and I am praying to the gods of weather: “Please, not too hot!”

And with a bit of luck and begging, I am actually going first. So next step will be my dressage lesson on Friday (not my strong phase) and then the endless cleaning, finding, fixing, test learning and everything else that comes before the most exciting few hours of your life.  Feels so good to be back!

Stay tuned to Horse Nation for more updates from Susan!!

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