“I bought a lame horse.”

The thing is, after looking at ten other horses and not finding the “one” – I knew instinctively he was the “one”.  I didn’t need to get on his back. I didn’t need to see him move.  I just needed to stand quietly with him by a rocky creek on gorgeous spring day. And somehow, I knew deeply and intuitively that he was the ONE.

He was my first horse.  I had just entered my 30’s and rediscovered my love for these amazing creatures.  It started like so many of these stories do – renting a horse, than leasing a horse and then fulfilling the ultimate dream of purchasing a horse.  And yes, he was lame.  And he was head shy.  And he didn’t like small spaces.  And he didn’t like men.  At that point in my equestrian journey, I had just enough knowledge to be dangerous.  Slowly and with much patience, Dunbar and I figured it out.  Not without error or mistake or occasional frustration.  I relied on the books of Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt, my monthly subscriptions to Western Horseman and Equus Magazine and the guidance of the most extraordinary and kind stable master and his wife.

Dunbar transformed my life.  My weekends in the city were quickly replaced by weekends at the barn with the best of friends and the best of adventures.  Casual Friday’s were an opportunity to wear my Dan Post boots to work making my office smell of manure and worn leather.  Baseball hats were replaced by cowboy hats.  Corporate Jena was replaced by Cowgirl Jena.  It’s not hyperbole to say that everything changed because it did.  North Wind Farm exists today because I promised Dunbar that he would have a pasture of his own to live out his days.

He was an extraordinary horse and he made me a better human in every way.  More patient. More adventurous. More courageous. More confident.  More compassionate.  More observant.  More knowledgeable. More responsible. More present. In those early days at the Bent Tree Stables, I earned the nickname Trail Boss.  Truth is, it was always him leading the way.  His steadfastness and kindness guided me through the deaths of my father, mother and nephew.  As Brene Brown says, “connection gives us purpose and meaning to our lives.”   Dunbar taught me that I was enough and that by being our authentic and imperfect selves we could create magic.

Love goes on even in sadness and grief.  Dunbar left this earth in 2017 at the age of 34 on a cold, February day.  I still feel his presence around here and swear that occasionally, I see him standing under his favorite cherry tree covered in pink petals. That chapter has ended but a new one was born.  It’s a story of a place called Paradise and a new Danish friend.  It’s a story of a big, beautiful warmblood in the United Kingdom named Dunbar.  But that is a tale for another day.

It is such an honor for this collection to be named after him and celebrate his ongoing legacy.  I was absolutely humbled when Mary approached me with this idea.  But here’s the thing.  This line celebrates the journey we all take with these four-legged wonders. So here’s to the horses that rode off with our hearts and altered the course of our lives. What’s not to love about the journey?

On a small farm way out in Goochland, VA a horse crazy, 15 yr old girl and her four horses reside. Hi, my name is Mia Valdez and this is the story of my equestrian adventures.

 It all started in the summer of 2016 when my best friend and I first decided to attend a riding camp. I was nervous, since I had never sat on a horse before, so my mother who had a horse when she was younger and I ventured out to take a lesson, the week before the camp. From there everything kind of snowballed. Before you know it we had adopted two nurse mare foals and my mother brought home an old fox hunting mare. 

My current string of horses are quite the quirky group. Rapunzel, a rescued mini who is living her days as a pasture puff, Bittersweet 14 aka Bitty who is my newest addition and current hunt horse. She is teaching me all about riding sensitive mares. Perfect Storm aka Tempe, the 15.3 saddlebred/trakhener cross who flunked out of driving school but has since gone on to compete in the 1.15 m jumpers and modified eventing with me. Then there is Kismet. Kismet and I have been acquainted with each other since 2015. At just three months old and a by-product of nurse mare farms, Kismet caused quite the havoc. From jumping out of stalls and pastures alike, to hiding in the garage, he has done it all. Kismet has what I like to call a “big personality”. Kismet and I are now two peas in a pod, but it wasn’t always that way. For the first 4 years of Kismet’s life, I wanted nothing to do with him, I had my other nurse mare foal at the time and Tempe. Both horses were much more appealing than what I had dubbed “the little devil”. It wasn’t until Tempe had a mystery injury and was out of commission for some time that I had no choice but to work with him. At seven years of age now, Kismet has become my most trusted little hunt pony and a true fan favorite. Kismet has caught the eyes of many, even going as far to have articles written about him! He has taken me to win the Junior North American Field Hunter Championship and has shined at each hunt outing. Kismet is still the same troubled pony he was seven years ago, only now he’s found something he truly loves, fox hunting. Kismet and I found something we both love dearly and it changed the way we saw each other completely. 

Being a junior member at Keswick Hunt Club has also allowed me to pursue something else I am very passionate about, land conservation. Next month I will have the honor of attending the MFHA Annual Meeting and Hunt Ball in NYC. I am so excited! I am a little bit of an English nerd and submitted an application on behalf of the hunt club on the topic of land conservation. Well, who would have guessed that the submission would win!!

Besides fox hunting and eventing I have been active in the jumper ring and also barrel raced in the past. I find that enjoying several different disciplines teaches you to be a flexible rider and shows you many different aspects of the equestrian world.

Riding plays a huge role in my life and I homeschooled for a while so that I could freely pursue my equestrian interests but since I started high school I have returned to public school. I was admitted to a dual enrollment program that I can unfortunately only attend if I am in school.

I have been incredibly fortunate to have many people in my life that have supported my dreams and aspirations. I am often humbled by how many people have helped me along the way.

This past year I started an Etsy business to learn about small business and be able to contribute to the expense of my sport. I often have to chuckle when I show up with my rescue horse competing against horses that cost upwards of six figures. Being able to compete requires many sacrifices for my entire family. 

I have learned so much through my equestrian adventures and having the responsibility of caring for my horses has definitely made me mature and responsible for my age. 

This coming year I will pursue my B rating in Pony Club and am giving back through teaching younger pony clubbers. I have dreams of being able to participate in the international fox hunting exchange through pony club.

I love all things horses and when I met Mary from MareGoods in Kentucky I was immediately attracted to her foxy pattern! Little did I know at the time that we would become partners in creating stock ties.

As a Hispanic/German equestrian I feel that I have a responsibility to be a positive force in making the horse world more diverse and accepting. Currently we sorely lack diversity and I wish that each equestrian discipline would make it a priority to change that. I recently was the beneficiary of a grant through Strides for Equality and wish that more disciplines would support the organization.  It could be as simple as each discipline, show series or hunt club having a diversity statement so that everyone could see that there is a desire to be welcoming to all. Perhaps I can inspire some of the organizations to create and adopt a diversity statement, it would be a step in the right direction of our equine industry.

I would love to hear from you so follow me and my business on social media @mvhoundsandco and @mv_eventing1 

GG, registered name Graf’s Girl, came to Harmony Grove Farm in February of 2017. I remember the day as clearly as if it was yesterday. It was pouring down with rain, and I felt bad having to put her in a stall when she much would have preferred some paddock time after making the long trek down from Canada. She came off the trailer like a fireball and I remember thinking that she was one of the most beautiful horses that I had ever seen. Her owner had lovingly nicknamed her Black Beauty and there was no question as to why.

The Journey South

GG was born in Canada on a Hanoverian farm that specialized in show jumpers. After a brief career as a show jumper in California, it was obvious that while she was athletic enough she wasn’t mentally thriving in the jumper ring and wanted to do something else. She was lovely on the flat so the decision was made to see how she would fare as a dressage horse. She excelled in her dressage training showing talent for the upper levels and made her debut in the dressage ring in Wellington. All the buttons were there but again the mental game got the better of her and her rider was forced to retire in the middle of her test. Her season cut short; she went back to Canada for a break. Her break coming to an end, a decision had to be made on what the next step for GG was going to be. Her owner happened to be old friends with none other than Leslie Olsen, my dressage trainer. So, with a promising reference GG began her journey to Georgia to Harmony Grove Farm to train with me and be sold.

After a day to settle in, I decided to take her out for a lunge. I quickly realized that the fireball personality that I had witnessed when she arrived was not a fluke and for the first time in my life I lunged a horse with a helmet on. To say the start of our journey was rocky was an understatement but I was ready for the challenge. GG was a bit if a hot mess. She had a reputation in the barn for being spooky and extra care was always taken when leading her in and out for this reason. She was a wide eyed, high alert girl that just never seemed to fully relax. She had earned the name of “Princess” and we were all her staff to attend to her every need to try to make her happy. After months of hard work, we felt had checked enough boxes to enter the local dressage show competing at First Level and see how it went. GG shined from the moment she stepped off the trailer and gave me two wonderful rides that day. I was on Cloud 9 and the confidence we came away from that event with was immeasurable. There is a saying of “never let the highs be too high or the lows too low.” Our sport is humbling, and the humble train was quickly heading our way.



There is a saying of “never let the highs be too high or the lows too low.” Our sport is humbling, and the humble train was quickly heading our way.



The Highs and Lows in the Show Ring

For the next two years I figured out that our first show was a total fluke and that GG didn’t really find the whole show experience to be much fun. She was also very good at expressing herself and making sure that everyone around her also knew that she was displeased with what we were doing. Warm up was particularly offensive to her. Another horse within 20 feet was guaranteed to set her off and she would launch to the sky. I had quickly become “that person” in warm up. At home the workouts were not much better. If she was spooky off the property, then she was 100 times spookier at home. While all this was going on, GG’s owner had made the decision that something needed to be done with her. Selling had proved difficult. At 15.2 GG was an amateur’s dream size horse but had the attitude of a mare that most professionals simply didn’t want to deal with. The decision had been made to turn her out give her another break while they figured out what they wanted to do. It was hard to see all the hard work that we had done come to an end and to say I was sad to know she was leaving was an understatement. As much as a challenge as she was, I had grown to love her as if she was my own. A risk when riding a horse you do not own as a professional.  That was when the unthinkable happened and I received a call from my mother that would change both our lives forever. Negotiations were made and in the fall of 2019 GG became mine. I entered our first competition as her new owner shortly after. We had come up with a new plan for keeping GG happy at shows. Workouts at home were going well enough and we were ready to see if our new plan would work to our benefit. Saturday, we had an amazing show and all our hard work was proving to have paid off. The scores were getting better and the mistakes were getting smaller. But this sport is humbling and Sunday GG came up lame and we had to scratch. The mare that hadn’t taken a lame step since I had been riding her was lame. So, we scratched and went home and luckily after a week a beautiful abscess blew and we started back to work to get ready for the Spring season in 2020.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Bishop

One pandemic later, our show season had been cancelled and the workouts at home were just not where they needed to be. I made the decision to let her have a light summer. She never loved our Georgia heat and I thought the easy workout routine would do us both some good. In August of that year we took our first lesson with Michael Pollard as a last minute decision when a spot had opened up in a clinic I was organizing. In true GG fashion, she showed off all her impressive feral moves for everyone to see. It is a lesson that we can laugh about now but at the time I was honestly just happy to survive. This lesson jump started a new program for us though riding with Michael and seeing if he could help me work through these mental blocks that we had. I will never forget that first winter after a particularly wonderful lesson and having Michael look at GG and expressing how excited he felt. Like he was a part of something special with my journey with GG. That Spring we entered our first show of the season at Second Level and improved our scores greatly. Things were looking up. It wasn’t always perfect, and we still had some things to work through but we were heading in the right direction. We went into winter training with the goal of moving up to Third Level the following Spring and got to work.

The Transformation

We were all noticing a change in GG during this time. She had gone from a wide eyed high alert mare to a soft eyed lazy walking mare when leading around the farm. You could walk up to the fence and call her name and she was guaranteed to look your way and walk over. If you walked in to the field she was the first one to walk your way and see what you were doing. She was the horse that you wanted to talk to and she wanted you to talk to her. We had always known she was a sweet horse but her kind and cuddly disposition had really come out. She was a mare that you couldn’t help but love. She became a traveling pro, easily hauling for lessons and was content to spend hours hanging out at the trailer with her hay net. There was no drama. There was no stress. We had become a team and we were having so much fun together.

Spring of 2022 arrived and we were close but not quite ready to compete. Instead, we made our debut at Third Level in May at Chattahoochee Hills. We finished the weekend scoring 65% and finished the requirements for my Bronze medal. She tried her heart out for me. There was room for improvement on both our parts but the pieces were finally coming together. For the first time in years the dream of riding at an FEI level was coming into view. Our goal of earning a Bronze medal was now looking small and we were making new and bigger goals for the coming year. In September we had what I would call the best lesson we had ever had together. The lateral work was strong. The changes were getting better. We were both getting stronger. Fourth Level was looking very possible and Prix St George would not be far behind that. I dared to dream and did so with confidence.

The following week we entered what would be our last competition at Third Level. I had been satisfied with her performance at the previous show but needed a few more scores for year end awards and I was eager to use that opportunity to see if we could improve on what we had already done. We had fantastic rides leading up to the weekend. We were ready. The day was not to be ours though and I was reminded how humbling this sport really is. GG seemed to be lacking something in all her tests and I chalked it up to her being tired after just a long summer working. We went home not feeling defeated but with the plan to take a break and continue with our training and get ready for the next season. GG seemed to enjoy her break. Eating carrots and Bemer sessions were how she spent her days….as a true Princess should. She got to roll in the field and be dirty and enjoy all the perks of being a horse.

A Turn for the Worse

As the time approached to start back into work, GG seemed to have taken a decline in her comfort level. I quickly scheduled for her to have a check up with our local vet where she was diagnosed with ulcers. We immediately started treatment with the plan to extend her break and then have a lighter training season through the winter. We enjoyed cross training with trail rides and ground work and this seemed like the right option for her moving forward for the time. I brought her home on the Friday from the clinic and she seemed somber but happy. Her appetite was good and she was her usual snuggly self. The next morning I received a call that GG had collapsed when she was caught to come in out of the field for breakfast. I rushed to the farm and hauled her quickly back to the vet clinic where we were promptly referred to Auburn due to GG experiencing internal bleeding. I hauled to Auburn as quickly as I could where a team was waiting for our arrival. The wait in the parking lot while they worked on her was torture. When the doctor finally came out to talk to me, I knew it was not good news by the look on her face. During the exam it was discovered that GG had cancer. We were waiting on pathology to come back to confirm but the ultrasound showed that the cancer had spread from her spleen to her liver and a tumor had ruptured. There was no decision to make. The diagnosis made the decision for me. I spent the next two hours loving my horse that had made my dreams come true. We grazed in the sun and I told her how special she was. I stayed with her until the end. I was the only one down there with her and I will hold those final moments alone with her close to my heart forever.

We later learned that the type of cancer was hemangiosarcoma which is very rare in horses. It is more common in dogs and to see it in a horse was described as just very bad luck. It is very aggressive and there was no treatment option.

I have been very lucky in my life to have ridden and owned some wonderful horses. Anyone that knows me knows that I have a soft spot for mares. A good mare will challenge you but they will also fight for you if they deem you worthy. I was lucky have GG come into my life. She challenged me in ways that I never knew a horse could. She not only made me better. She made me want to be better for her. I wanted to be the rider that she deserved. As a kid I would watch Black Beauty over and over again falling in love with the story of finding a horse that touched your heart so deeply. Little did I know that I was destined to have my own Black Beauty. GG may be gone but she will always have a special place in my heart. I will always be grateful for the rides that we shared, the good and the bad. Thank you for making my dreams come true sweet girl. You are missed….



Cari Worley and I (Jen Ely) Grew up with a passion for horses. As young girls, we took riding lessons in an English barn nearby with Cari continuing to compete for the equestrian team in college. As it does for so many, we both got married and had kids, forcing our love for riding to pause outside of the occasional ride through the years.

Then, in April 2012, there was a herd of 56 horses rescued by The Arabian Rescue mission from a breeding farm in West Virginia. I was approached with the opportunity to home one of the geldings, so I adopted my very first horse at 40. He was 9 years old without a name, so I decided to call him Chance. That decision ended up being the beginning of our new life with horses. My sister purchased a horse soon after with the rest of our family joining in. Soon, we had a herd of 9 horses and 3 minis.

We were asked to bring a horse to VetsPlace, a local organization that offers temporary housing to homeless vets. It was after spending the afternoon watching the interaction between Shadow (the paint pictured) and the vets that Cari and I decided we needed to find a way to share the power of the horse and human bond. We attended an EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth & Learning Association) certification and founded In Stable Hands. Our primary focus with our nonprofit is providing equine-assisted growth and learning on the farm with also the goal to go mobile in order to reach high risk populations that would not traditionally have the ability to access our program. Since we founded, we have worked with schools, senior centers, veteran organizations, law enforcement, youth organizations, and Easter Seals.

You can find them on Instagram, Facebook and here: https://instablehands.org

For as long as I can remember I have loved horses. They are in my blood courtesy of my maternal family, so it isn’t a surprise that after my first lesson at age 4, I would do anything to ride. Unfortunately, we lived on a boat. My parents were avid sailors and built a 45′ sailboat to circumnavigate the world. My first pony, “Finally”, was a $60/month lease. . . IF I could catch him. At 4 I had to learn to think like a Pony. Finally had an affinity to grass and dumped me on a regular basis. I competed him in gymkana, trail, English, western. . . If it was open to a child and half wild pony, I was in it! By age 6 I was racing him bareback at the fairgrounds track when no one was watching. My favorite book was “The Girl Who Loved wild Horses”, by Tom Goble. I dreamt that if I spent enough time with the horses, I could become one.

Eventually I outgrew Finally and my parents bought me a 5 year old Arabian mare named Miya. I was 7. It was a terrible idea, but we didn’t have a lot of money and it seemed logical to have me paired with something that I could “grow up” with. [Insert “don’t try this at home message here.] Miya taught me a lot and looking back, I wish I had the knowledge now that I lacked then. We joined 4-H and did literally ALL the things. I built my own jumps, rode everywhere in a halter and lead, tried my hand at teaching her to go bridleless. . . I went from being afraid of the semi-feral broodmare to winning everything. Our partnership lasted for 4 years before my father bought me my first Thoroughbred by Bold Ruler. This was a turning point in my life.

For my 11th birthday my Dad, Steve, bought me a book by Hillary Clayton on conditioning the event horse, a stud kit, over girth, and heart rate monitor (before they were cool). It was 1992 and I had dreams of being a Grand Prix show jumper and representing the US in the Olympics. My aunt took me to Gladstone to watch the Olympic trials. Norman Dello Joio and Irish were my favorite. I didn’t want to event,  but Dad had other plans. It was later that year I competed in my first horse trial. No, things didn’t go well, but I was hooked.

What followed was a series of throw away horses that either threw people, ran away, or were deemed “useless” for one reason or another. These horses occurred at the same time I discovered Pony Club, which may have saved my life AND set me on the path I’m on today as an advocate not just for me, but for my horses. My father took over as course designer and builder of our Pony Club Horse Trials that ran recognized through training. It was those hot summer days that I was introduced to how important officials are to our sport and lit a fire that one day, I would join them in keeping a safe and level playing field for our sport.

Fast forward 10 years. I graduated from Western Washington University with a Bachelor’s in Political Science and minor in Psychology. I met my [now] husband and he offered me a wedding ring or second horse. I wound up with a Storm Cat grandson who changed my life. “Cantilator” was feral and wild- even after racing for 2 years. He forced me to expand my comfort zone of education and think outside the box, because he was determined to LIVE outside the box. From Washington state to California, and eventually Aiken, SC, Tilly became a successful Intermediate horse, opening the door for his full sibling to join us and unbeknownst to me at the time, making my dream of becoming a licensed official a reality.

In 2013, I acquired my ‘r’ Technical Delegate license through USEF. Unfortunately neither Tilly nor my father were alive to see the culmination of years of work. My father had passed in 2011 and Tilly joined him just 9 months later at the age of 9. I continued to ride difficult horses. Some I bought from sketchy auctions or feedlots, while others were once again deemed “useless”. Every single horse found a purpose. . . And most became successful event horses.

Throughout my life I have run. I was the “fat kid” and to this day relate to a story about a child who ran away from “Plumpkin”, their childhood nickname. They became a Boston Qualifying marathoner and semi-elite athlete, but always ran from Plumpkin. While I ran, I also love food. At 19 I ran my first marathon. Similar to my first horse trials, it was an epic disaster, but misery loves company and I was HOOKED! I raced in triathlons through 70.3/ half Ironman distance, Ultra marathons of 50k-100k, and found my place pacing people to their first finishes in marathons.

July 14, 2019 life changed forever. While visiting my husband deployed to Germany, we took a family trip to Berlin. We rode bikes to see the Wall and were headed back for lunch at Marine Platz. There were trolley tracks and I knew I needed to stop before negotiating them. My timing was off by a second and before I could do anything, I was flying through the air to the middle of the street. Two women jumped up from a table at a Cafe across the street and ran to help me. As they pulled me to my feet, I placed my left foot on the ground and my foot detached from my body. A closed, committed, displaced fracture. I learned later this is the worst type of fracture. 2 weeks and 2 surgeries in Charíte hospital and I was pieced back together with hope of a full recovery.

While walking cross country at the Virginia Horse Trials CCI at the end of October, I was stuck in a lightning storm. I couldn’t run from pain in my ankle. I couldn’t get to safety. Something was very wrong. So began the next 18 months of seeing the best specialists in the US, including psychiatrists, in a hope for answers and eventually to have my leg amputated. It also started my quest to return to school for a Masters in Orthotics and Prosthetics.

As COVID shut the world down, I returned to school- at age 39- to begin prerequisites. Classes included statistics, chemistry, geometry, algebra, physics, more psychology, and all the anatomy and physiology one can stomach. (Pun intended) I managed to keep straight A’s, even through surgery to amputate my left leg below the knee in February 2021. I only missed one day of class- the day after surgery.

With COVID in full swing, finding any practitioners to shadow and intern was next to impossible. One day I heard a podcast with Josh Southard, Director of Amputee Blade Runners (ABR). It was September 2020 and I was desperately trying to find people who had made the choice to amputate due to trauma as well as talk to people who rode and ran after losing their leg. ABR was founded in Nashville, TN by two proathetists- one who is an amputee, paralympic gold medalist and WR holder in track events. He attributes his life and opportunities to the blade he was given, so the organization was born to give the gift of running to others. I emailed ABR on a whim and received a phone call from Josh two days later, asking how close I was to Savannah, GA and would I drive down to meet with the paralympic medalist and co-founder. I spent the next few weeks full of more hope than I had in over a year!

Ryan Fann walked into the room with a warm smile and the presence of an Olympian. We chatted for a while, went to lunch, then I asked if I could stay and shadow him. He kindly allowed me to, so at the end of the day, I asked if I could come back and again he said yes. Every day for the next months and now almost 2 years, I have kept going back. The 2.5 hour drive each way is worth it for the patients I meet, the skills I have learned, and the family I have gained through Ryan. I have completed all the tasks needed to apply for a blade from Amputee Blade Runners,  but my biological leg has taken a beating from overuse. I was told it was the worst ankle arthritis the orthopedist has ever seen. I may not be able to join the ABR family as an athlete, but they have given me my life back and I’m proud to represent the little known/unknown work they do with riders through their co-founder, Ryan Fann, at Reform Prosthetics in Savannah, GA.

So where is life now? Having completed all prerequisites in May 2021, I took the GRE in October, applied to Masters programs, and even had a CHOICE of which program I wanted to attend! The standout was California State University in Dominguez Hills- between Long Beach and LA. Classes have already begun and I will leave my family in Aiken, SC, my precious horse, Lucy, with Jessica Schultz at Fairplay Farm to continue her education, and I’m headed West to make the world a better place. Lucy is my only going horse right now, having just finished our first training level horse trial [back] and 2nd level dressage with qualifying scores for Regionals AND my Bronze medal. I still officiate, but am taking a break while school is super intense.

And so, to anyone struggling with life changes, identity, or disability, I share with you words of wisdom from Marcus Aurelius:
“Think of yourself as dead.
You have lived your life.
Now, take what’s left and live it properly.
What doesn’t transmit light creates its own darkness.”

Your heart knows what is best for your future, even if it isn’t clear to you now. When the universe presents an opportunity, if it makes your heart race with excitement, seize the chance. Don’t be afraid to reach out to strangers you admire for advice. The worst they can do is say no. You have to fight for your life, but I can guarantee you’re worth it. Your bravery lights the way for others to follow and change the world. #thecomebackisgreaterthanthesetback
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