How Losing My Dad Has Changed My Life With Horses

How Losing My Dad Has Changed My Life With Horses

Ten days before my last post was released, my dad passed away. I didn’t know what forever felt like until that day. I find that the only thing I want to write about is him so, here is my dedication to my Papa, who let me dream and taught me patience. The reason I can be brave and the only person in the world I want to make proud right now.

The morning I got the call, I was alone. It was five in the morning. It was German summer and the sun was beginning to peek out from behind the buildings across the courtyard. It was a Saturday morning, and I began to hastily pack a suitcase unsure for how long, unsure for what, unsure of why. I was five hours from my nearest family member. I got on the next train to be with my aunt and grandparents. During the whirlwind of packing my life together I had to tell my brother. I had to tell my aunt. I had to call my best friend in the bathroom of the train and listen to each person's sincere and utter shock over the phone...alone. 

It’s not something anyone had planned for, including my dad. He was 58.  

The first word that comes to mind when I think of my dad is patience. He never let anything get under his skin except maybe sometimes my oldest brother, Paul. Other than that, I never once saw him raise his voice at anyone or anything. I’ve seen that same trait in the best horse trainers in the world. 

My dad didn't start his career until he was in his 40's. He spent a lot of time figuring out what he was truly passionate about before he picked his thing. He always reminded me that through trust, patience, and if you pick your path and stick with it, you will succeed. I’ve really tried to keep that with me in the months after his passing. 

Having yet another life change of a major move makes me lose patience. It makes me want to rush ahead through my twenties to the point where I really have it all figured out. I am not naive enough to really think that that this will happen, but it’s worth the thought.

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It’s times like these that I try to gather that inspiration from my dad to give me the faith to stay true to my path. My dad taught me that through patience and faith you'll get where you want to go. It’s not through force or strength which parallels to how we handle horses. In that same vein, my father was persistent about his goals. He didn’t let his age, his money, or anything hold him back. He was a master at long-term goals (and a master at waiting on them).

This is straight out of my eulogy for my dad: 

“Ever since I’ve been able to remember a WiFi password, ours has been the same: DragonflyDF28. If you don’t know the significance of that, it was his dream sailboat. A Dragonfly 28. A trimaran and a racing boat. Finally, in 2019 he got one.”

That’s all we can do with horses. Not force, but move forward in a true manner. We have to trust that the right way will prevail. That the true way will bring the results we need. Even if those results are just relaxation and harmony, that’s the greatest result you can hope for! Everything else is unimportant. 

Two days after my father died, I was on a plane home with my brother, Henry. I entered an environment of pure support and protection. It was the exact thing I needed and the only thing I could imagine. So many people came together to help my family. We mourned and celebrated and laughed and sobbed. It seems crazy to say, but I miss that time. It was so fresh—  my grief never felt like a burden. Even now —10 months later — I worry about showing my sadness.

Even in front of my family. I never want to be the reason for shattering someone's fragile foundation of "okay-ness". So, sometimes I long for the first days, moments, and weeks after it happened. The funny thing though is that the horses never seem to mind. 

I stayed home with my family for two months. There was so much to sort out from the life he left behind. When I finally went back to Germany, I felt so far away and so lonely. I found that even though I was surrounded by people I loved, none of them knew him. I couldn’t be in the presence of people that felt my pain and that was really difficult. 

The last time I shared an update, I had just decided to go back to school with the goal of going to graduate school to further understand horses. This idea had come to me during a conversation with my dad. Before my dad died and several months after, my plan was to attend university full-time in Germany. I had been accepted and everything was in order. I was ready to be a “normal person”, and give up horses full-time. 

As life tends to do, I was working for an understanding employer when I got the news. I see now that it could have only happened the way it did and had I been at any other of my previous jobs, I would have lost relationships because of what I had to do to support my family. 

Two months later, I returned to that job where I was planning to stay until my start date for University in October.  

On my dad’s birthday, August 21st, I called my mom. She was at home, and friends were over. She said, “Oh, Grandmama, Sharon, and Ele are in the kitchen!” That was the exact moment I realized what I had to do. That day I decided to move back to the United States. I desperately wanted his community around me. 

I came to Wellington, Florida with the same person I worked for in Germany as her head groom. I am still attending school, and I am still pursuing my biology degree in the hopes of going to graduate school for Animal Behavior. I’m still spending every day with horses, back to the equilibrium I tend to fall back to, no matter what happens. 

It all ties back to horses. Maybe a week after my dad died, I went to the therapeutic riding center my mom works at, Charleston Area Therapeutic Riding, and spent some time with the horses. They had the summer off and I was lucky enough to work with a few. One of them was brand new to therapeutic riding and I helped him get acclimated. Without a doubt, horses moved me through that time. They were such good listeners and the best teachers of grief.

The patience my father had taught me, the horses were returning. I never feel pressure from them to perform or behave in a certain way. In my experience, grief ebbs and flows in no particular rhythm and horses are the only ones that don’t seem to mind.

The more I move through life, the more I know that horses are what my life is destined to revolve around. Even though my dad knew nothing about horses, he would be the first one to cheer me on further down this path. His kindness and patience were my first inspirations to delve into this world and they'll be the last. 

Even though he’s gone, I know he would want me to keep going. His perseverance and drive  will be what continues to inspire me day in and day out.

[LISTEN]: Creating Openness and Growth in the Trainer/Student Relationship (Part 1)

Written by Juliette Cain

Juliette Cain is a 23-year-old dressage rider who won NAYC Jr Team Gold in 2018. She's documenting her journey with horses involving moves across the world, from the USA to Germany, and back, on