Cana Martin shares the story of a special mare who carried her through stage 3 breast cancer.
Top: This is Janey and I, 6 months post op and six weeks after my last chemo treatment competing at a local obstacle course challenge. April 2007.
The advertisement read, “M.J., A 1992 Appendix mare, 16.2 hands, blood bay with chrome. Great trail horse for an experienced rider.” I was looking for a special horse that would have the size of a Thoroughbred, and the quiet brain of a Quarter Horse. An athletic, sensible mare that would work hard as a pony horse to the OTTBs ( Off track Thoroughbreds) I was finding at the local auction. Her job would be to instill confidence in these youngsters ponying them across the sandy riverbed, and through the equestrian trail system in our horsey town.
Within the first 10 minutes of our initial meeting I knew this mare wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. She jumped three feet sideways when the seller brought the saddle pad up over her withers. Which was a mild reaction compared to when she bridled her. All 16.2 hands, 1,300-lbs. of her pulled back and she stretched her head as high as she possibly could. Thus making it near impossible to get the bit in her mouth and bridle on. Regardless of the mares shenanigans, I had to have her. She had the most expressive eyes! I felt an instant connection. Renaming her Janey, she was my Mothers Day 2006 gift.
That summer Janey and I had plenty of great adventures! I became accustomed to her “quirks” about tacking up, and she proved herself to be an amazing pony horse. She helped both mares and geldings make the transition from race track life to trail life. In September of that year I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. First priority was a modified radical mastectomy. My right breast and all 22 lymph nodes in my underarm were removed. Knowing chemotherapy was scheduled soon after I wanted to get as many rides in as possible. So tubes, drains, sutures and all I was determined to get out on the trail.
Unlike my caring, nurturing family though Janey would not cut me any slack. She did her usual song and dance when it came time to tack up. Which meant I had to reach and stretch with my right arm. But the ride was always worth it!
At each of my post operative appointments my surgeon was amazed at my progress, she was astonished at the range of motion and strength I had in my right arm. My mares quirks and naughtiness turned out to be the best rehab and physical therapy I could ever ask for, thanks Janey!
Next was chemo. I lost my hair, appetite and sense of humor. So getting out on the trail with my mare was what got me from one round to the next. I despised the itchy wigs and chose to wear beanies instead. But out on the trail with Janey I could take those off and feel the sun and air on my head. Just being down in the riverbed made me feel alive and free. My sweet but reactive mare never felt sorry for me, she never pitied me. She still expected and required complete patience and respect from me. Playing the “cancer card” was not an option with her. In return in a very unique way she healed me physically, mentally, and emotionally. She helped me through a rough time in my life.
Now seven cancer free years later, Janey is still my herd leader. She has helped rescue and rehab over 20 horses. After much effort I was able to get a look at her tattoo, it turns out my mare is a OTTB herself, a 1984 model at that! Happy 30th birthday mare, and thanks Janey!
Here at Horse Nation, we believe that the best therapists are our own horses. We love sharing the stories of special equines — email yours to [email protected] to be featured in an upcoming edition of Back on Track “Horse Therapy.” Go Back on Track, and Go Riding!