Jumping Past Cancer: One year later

On Jan. 17, 2012, Susan Corwin was in a Kentucky hospital undergoing a double mastectomy. Today, exactly one year later, she’s overseas on a sidesaddle foxhunting excursion in Ireland.

Susan has promised us a full report and photos from her Irish adventure, but in the meantime we just wanted to send her some long-distance Horse Nation love. Thank you, Susan, for sharing your story with us. If life is a jump course, cancer is the bogey fence that terrifies us all. You kicked your way through chemo and never let it stop you from living your horsey dreams.

Today is a testimony to Susan’s unbelievable courage and strength. In her honor, we thought we would republish the “Jumping Past Cancer: A comeback story” three-part series that she wrote for us last year. Tally ho, Susan, and Go Riding!


Jumping Past Cancer: A comeback story, part I

In which Susan takes aim at her first mini-horse trial since undergoing months of chemotherapy. Originally published August 2, 2012.

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!


Jumping Past Cancer: A comeback story, part II

In which Susan Corwin has one last jumping lesson with Susan Harris before attempting her first mini-horse trials back since beating cancer. Originally published August 4, 2012.

From Susan:

Well, after my dressage schooling last night, I decided NOT to take a dressage lesson today. There were way too many things I was doing wrong to fix in one lesson. I opted for stadium jumping instead.

Let me take a moment to tell you a bit about my surroundings. Susan Harris (farm owner, rider, trainer, friend) is my instructor. Now, when I asked her how she wanted me to describe her, she wanted me to simply say that she is a Certified Instructor with the USEA and the U.S. Dressage Federation.

She didn’t want me to point out that she is a Grand Prix dressage rider or that she has done Rolex. She preferred that I didn’t mention that she has taken many riders to successfully competing at the upper levels. She also would prefer that I steer clear of pointing out that basically every competition Spring Run Farm goes to, the Spring Runners do a lot of competing against each other, and it is a rare day when the big van pulls in and there isn’t a ribbon in every hand. So I will respect her modesty and leave that all out.

So back to my stadium lesson. It was awesome, but I’m very glad I took it. Monty can get pretty strong over fences and is good at talking you into riding with your hands and not your legs. He has a fabulous “go” button… I just have to remember to push it. I was reminded that I need to be the driver and not just a passenger. And I love riding with Susan because she will send you down to that “little” oxer (that is actually huge). I always jump way higher than I would on my own. It’s such a confidence builder, especially to know that my horse can do some pretty big stuff with ease. I have never felt like I have come close to what he is capable of. Good feeling! I am so lucky.

I’ll end this submission with a Susan Harris quote: “It’s a really good thing he moves so well, because no one would look at that fat horse twice if he didn’t.”

For more information about Susan Harris and her amazing program, go to www.springrun.org.


Jumping Past Cancer: A comeback story, part III

The grand finale! Originally published August 7, 2012.

From Susan:

This morning I stumbled upon a list my husband started.  It simply reads:

Dec 10:  Lump found

Dec 13:  Dr. Jennings exam

Dec 14:  Mammogram and ultrasound

Dec 19:  Biopsy

Dec 23:  Dr. Deweese consultation (surgeon)

Dec 27:  MRI

Dec 29:  Genetic test

Jan 3:  Dr. Thornton (plastic surgeon)

That’s where the list ends, but there is one date I want to add:

Aug 5:  Successfully completed Open Novice at Spring Run Mini-Trial and came in a very respectable fourth place!

I had very low expectations for my dressage but was still pretty “deer in the headlights” tense, until, da da da… I messed up my test and went off course.  “Ding, ding,” word with the judge and all my tension melted away.  I guess messing up washed away all the pressure I had been telling myself not to feel.  With the two point error and losing points in one of our strongest moves, “the halt,” by not stopping on G, I still managed to pull of the best dressage score we have ever had: 37!  (Still trying not to do the math to see what it might have been.)

Very glad that was behind me, I put Monty away and having 2 ½ hours before X-C, I chilled out in my air conditioned house.  God, it’s great to live here.  I eventually walked stadium (in my back yard).  It was a challenging course with lots of questions, but I felt totally confident.  I had “walked” X-C (well, drove my car around X-C) the day before and I felt confident there as well.

X-C ride time at 10:36 and by then I had three full-time grooms.  Now I know how Karen O’Connor feels.  My always wonderful husband Bruce, the amazing aforementioned Lindsey Tucker and my great friend Patti Naiser all at my call.  I guess now that I think about it, that may have been excessive for one horse and rider LOL.  So when it came time for X-C I changed out of my shorts and tee (I got out of dressage stuff moments after I left the ring) and put on my X-C costume.

Now let me pause here to point out another huge benefit to living here.  My garage turns into my very own personal wash stall with hot water, tack room, tack cleaning station, staging and mounting area.  So when I casually strolled out of the A/C to my driveway, my wonderful, magical elves had my beautiful horse coiffed, shiny and all dressed for X-C.  (Now, please don’t hate me for this.  Trust me, this isn’t usually how it goes, but my elves love me and wanted me to save all energy for the jumps!)

I decided that warm up would consist of a vigorous trot to start and warm up jumps would be on-course jumps #1, #2… and #3 if necessary.  Now, Monty isn’t exactly a total packer by far and one of the drawbacks of being at home are all the new, scary decorations.  So for at least a few jumps, he would suck back, I would boot him and he would fly at and over the jump.  Not the smooth technical ride that I was hoping for, but bless Monty when I say “go” he GOES!

The jumps were no joke Novice.  They were max I’m sure, especially jump #12 called “the brush”, but mostly referred to as “the steeplechase” fence.  Heading into that, Ice Cube was playing loudly in my mind:  “You can do it, put your back in to it… You can do it, put your a$$ in to it!”) while simultaneously my own voice was screaming in my head, “And don’t look at it woman!”

With a huge leap we cleared #12.  (He doesn’t know about brushing through brush yet.)  The rest of the course rode great.  Seventeen jumps in all, up hills, down hills, water and me huffing and puffing with a huge smile on my face at the end!

Next was stadium.  I was supposed to go right after X-C, but decided for some more A/C instead and into outfit #3.  #1 and #2 lay drenched on my bedroom floor.

Up to stadium and I told myself it was like every other jumping lesson and I was going first as usual.  Warm up over one cross rail and two halts made my brow furrow.  He didn’t seem at all as tired as I was after X-C.  He seemed stronger… “eeeks!”  Oh well, came this far, can’t let my legions of grooms and Ice Cube down now.

Jumps #1, #2 and #3 were somewhat harrowing and I was distracted a bit, so I way missed my line to #4.  But in the immortal words of Tim Gunn on Project Runway; “Make it work people!”  So we took it at an impressive angle and finally Monty got interested.  The course got smoother and smoother and by jump #10 we looked like we knew what we were doing… and we were DONE with a huge round of applause from my wonderful Spring Run family!  We might all be competitive, but when it comes to family we always pull for each other.

Divisions ranged from Baby Starter to Open Novice and the event was a resounding success:  completely full with others scratching at the door.  My husband, who is the safety officer, was never called and although there were lots of green horses and no end to the entertaining antics, everyone stayed firmly attached to their tack.

Fun and lots of learning were had by all!  Thank you to the Harrises, Nina Bryant, Debbie Hinkle and all the countless volunteers and the best working students on the planet for making it all happen.

Later that day it occurred to me that the X-C schooling session I had with Rachel Zoller Sketo last Saturday, about which I made my first post, had been the first time I have jumped in almost a year.  Gulp, maybe Beginner Novice would have been smarter.

To learn more about Spring Run Farm, please visit www.springrun.org.


Thank you for sharing, Susan. Have fun in Ireland–we’ll look forward to hearing all about it when you return!

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