A Journey Together

I first saw Jasmine in a drought-affected paddock in 2003, a 3month old Arab foal with her mother, sister and a number of very skinny cows and a handful of brood mares. Their owner had sold his property, the stallion, most of his good breeding stock and appeared to have just left the rest to fend for themselves, at the foot of Browns Mountain, just outside Nowra. Both the foals looked in reasonable condition considering their environment but the mare was very poor and after some negotiation I was able to purchase all three. It took a while but after some good tucker, worming, and some TLC, all three started to thrive.
 I chose to keep Jasmine for myself as a project and found good homes for both the mare and Jasmine’s sister. Fortunately this happened just before my personal world turned upside down. My husband and I separated at this time which started a three year long messy divorce and then, not long after that followed my diagnosis of breast cancer.
Jasmine was broken in as a 2 year old just before E.I. and proved to be a sharp, sensitive, strong willed filly and I soon knew she would be a handful. After E.I. I asked a young guy, Ryan Mitchell, who worked with horses, to take her for a few weeks. His programme was to ride Jasmine to work every day through the streets of Albion Park, where they would often drop into the McDonalds Drive Through for a feed. It’s amazing, to this day Jasmine doesn’t bat an eyelid in traffic, but if a branch comes down in the bush you would swear there was a tiger behind it, go figure?
When she came back from Ryan I was in full swing, building my business, running my 7 acre property, trying to re-gain my financial stability whilst eagerly planning her training and endurance campaign. Then in 2009 the bombshell of breast cancer dropped. No one can prepare you for a “positive” biopsy result, the turmoil of emotions and the fear that follows. All I can say is, thank goodness for the amazing support that is now available, the un-forgettable support of friends and family and from somewhere, an innerstrength that just gets you through.  
The four year roller-coaster journey with many ups and downs was shared with Jasmine who also had her own issues to come to terms with. For me my personal journey with breast cancer started with a lumpectomy in 2010, a spell of reassurance in 2012 followed by a mastectomy in Nov 2012, and reconstruction in June 2013. During this time I was able to still run my beauty and massage business with the amazing support of my staff and the property was kept up to scratch with the wonderful efforts and encouragement of house-mate and dear friend Lynette Elfick.
Tough as it was, I do believe it was my passion for riding and the firm belief that one day I’d ride in Endurance again that gave me the strength to keep going.
Jasmine, I later learnt, was suffering from the effects of poor nutrition in her early days and now understand that mares have a higher requirement for minerals such as calcium, a bit like us women really.  As a result was prone to mood swings, nervous in most environments, tended to over react and became virtually impossible to catch. She had sore feet, plus had muscle tension from becoming over-stressed and was always anxious whilst away at rides.  I noticed she didn’t cope well with growing grass and locked her off it, which created more health problems but at the time I didn’t know what else to do. Training her was a total frustration that would often have me at my wits end and forced to make desperate calls to my sister Amanda Hocking (pictured left with her dressage horse Northern Isaiah), an EA NCAS Level 2 coach (HRCAV member) and a very accomplished horse women and competitive dressage rider.  Through Amanda’s knowledge and coaching Jasmine started to respond positively in negative situations and I began to gain confidence in my ability to ride her through her problems.  
Slowly I started to see her ability and potential for endurance. Though we were still having problems with her muscle tension and being caught, Brad Innes, my farrier and equine massage therapist was improving her movement, soundness and muscular flexibility. But it was when Amanda introduced me onto Lucy Prior at Gotcha Equine and I started Jasmine on her excellent vitamin and mineral supplements, created to assist many problems with horses and took her advice on grazing and diet that I started to see real improvement in Jasmine’s moods, emotions, health and wellbeing.
With Lucy’s help I designed a feeding and training programme to help Jasmine and I get started, that has evolved into the two programmes I use for Jasmine today. One for full work and campaigning (Oxalate/High Demand Vit & Min) and the other for light work and spelling (On Grass Vit & Min). I believe it was a combination of controlling the time Jasmine was allowed on grass, her hard feed, Gotcha’s vitamin & mineral supplements, and the training programme that has given us the success we are experiencing today.
The last hurdle was her over-achieving and stress at rides and it was Bruce Carter and his lovely mare Zara who came to the rescue. We started to train together and Bruce said he would ride with us to help me get Jasmine through her next few rides.
As I started to heal with the help from my Breast Care team, cancer support groups, friends and family, so it seemed Jasmine was healing too, with the help and knowledge from Amanda, Brad, and Lucy and of course the  support of Bruce & Zara.
Then in September this year, it all came together I got the all clear from my oncologist and Jasmine successfully completed the 80k ride at Woodstock. You can also imagine how moved I was to be presented, along with my buckle, the LERC encouragement award by the Woodstock ride committee, the acknowledgment meant so much to me.
Well, the encouragement award must have worked, as at our very next ride, the 80k at Brookvale, Jasmine and I won first Light weight and Bruce and Zara first middle weight.
Jasmine her first ride out of Novice went on to win fittest horse and the Allen Blundell memorial Trophy for first horse over line with all straight A’s vet check.
To every cloud, even cancer, there is a silver lining and to every challenge a chance to learn and grow.
Jasmine has taught me so much about tolerance, courage and persistence.
My journey with cancer has had me realise that life is about living not dying, and that every day is a blessing.
I am so lucky to have two amazing animals, Jasmine and my old endurance horse Sandalwood, gracing my paddocks today, so very different and yet so very much alike and I’m sure I’m not the first person, or will be the last, who found strength & courage through their horses.
Wendy Jesson - Nowra, NSW Australia

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