Amy Novacek, a beloved APHA exhibitor and wife of Jay Novacek, is easily recognizable at the Paint shows with her two therapy dogs, Hank and Buddy. This year in January she had open heart surgery, and in her blog, she tells the incredible story of her first ride back at this year’s NSBA World Championship Show.
She says that if her trainer, Mike Hachtel, had hair, it would be grey after that week – all of it!
That Saturday, she says, her only ride this year, was what dreams are made of – the feeling of normal and using her horse’s legs in place of her own for the short time was the best feeling EVER!! “I don’t know if there will ever be proper words to describe that feeling!”
If you’re looking for inspiration, you’ve found it. Read the rest:
LIVE YOUR Fairytale, every single moment you can!
An EC Blog by Amy Novacek
It’s taken me a while to work up to post this most magnificent moment! Why? I’m not sure…maybe the overwhelming sense of anxiety or maybe I feel like I betrayed my body somewhat or maybe I’ve gone back into healing mode.
After open heart surgery in January I never expected to ride this year, I was ok with that, I was just thankful to be alive (when I share the story it will make sense). Once the healing began, I went to a very dark and painful place mentally and physically but always remaining thankful, despite.
I asked my brilliant surgeon if there would be any way possible I could show my horse, once, later in the year. Reluctantly, he said he would be ok with it as long as I didn’t use my arms to pull because my sternum and ribs are still healing from being sawed open. Maybe he thought I wouldn’t. Then add the Addisons Disease/Adrenal Insufficiency which complicates everything. I respectfully explained to my brilliant doc that my trainer would have my horse perfect, all I would have to do was sit up there, if and only if I was strong enough in that moment. Lots of “if’s” were going to take place between then and the targeted show.
The next hurdle was convincing my trainer, Mike Hachtel, to let me ride. During the healing process my body would have severe tremors making it difficult to walk when in pain or fatigued. Mike told Jay and I when I gained some strength to come out to his place, he’d put me on Bucky and we would see. July 25 we made the trip to Collinsville, I got to ride Bucky for the first time EVER…it WAS amazing. Mike said I was tricking him because I sat up there like nothing was wrong, no tremors. Little did he know what a HUGE compliment that was..at this point I’d take anything (I’ll get into what this kind of surgery and recovery can do to one’s self esteem at a later date)!
Next, Mike said I had to make it around in an English saddle, a whole different beast than the comforts and support of a western saddle. Of course, I was game for any opportunity to ride, even if it was potentially going to be ugly….I’ve spent the last 7 months with all kinds of ugly. The downside, there were no workouts, no getting in shape because my body had to preserve every ounce of energy to ride in the truck to Mikes, ride Bucky and the drive back home…it would take me 3 days to recover each time…it would be worth a month of recovery just to ride my Bucky!!! I got the thumbs up I could show but Mike wanted to come up with a strategic plan for my safety.
There was a pre show in Tulsa, OK leading up and into the world show. Mike wanted me to show a class in this show just to see how I could manage showing my horse for the first time and to see how I/my body could handle it. The Problem….my body probably wouldn’t tolerate two big rides so we had to choose, we just had to go for the big one, the NSBA World Championship.
The next challenge, driving 6 hours to Tulsa, Ok on August 16. Not a big deal right? Shouldn’t be but we knew it could be and it was. I don’t know if it was because I was so incredibly excited or the bumpy ride or both but when we pulled in to the show grounds guess who showed up…my friend, Tommy Tremors! I wanted to ride so bad when we got there but my body and everyone else was not going to let that happen. It’s STILL WORTH IT!!
Revived a little on Wednesday, Mike got my horse out, rode him first then put me up there. Again, ugly! Jay told Mike I had to get off. I was maybe on for 5-10 minutes, just wasn’t going to work for me that day…fair enough, I’d try again tomorrow. Jay encouraged me telling me I’d be better after a good night’s sleep. It’s STILL WORTH IT!
The next day was here….Ice vest on my body, medicines on board I was ready to try again, Jay and I drove to the warm up pen where Mike was riding Bucky. I can’t begin to tell you the excitement I had watching Bucky and Mike go round and round, my turn was next!! Once in the saddle of my beautiful boy, I made it around maybe twice until I was so overwhelmed with emotion, I had to pull to the middle until I could control the tears of happiness. I DONT CRY, clearly I did a lot that week!! Once I reeled in my emotions I had a much better ride , still needed more energy/strength!!! Seriously…how dang empowering, OMG! Best feeling ever on so many levels…a feeling of normalcy for the first time since last November, I could feel THAT again!
Remember the 3 day recovery after riding/travel? Well I had my good ride on Thursday but needed to ride again the next day, there would be no 3 day recovery – so how do I navigate this?!
IV infusions, they always would give me such a boost so why not try! I got my tank filled up and was able to have another good practice, better this time, stronger!! We had until noon on Friday to make my entry. Friday’s practice was epic (well, considering, epic to me)! Jay quit videoing, walked out to the center of the practice pen to meet with Mike. Mike asked Jay, “Aren’t you nervous to let her ride?” Jay said, “No, the IVs sure helped a bunch!”
Jay got to the office and entered me. That was it, though, tank empty again! Another round of IVs on Friday hoping this would get me rejuvenated and able to show Saturday morning. Not getting the boost I had prior. Mr Tremors was grabbing ahold and determined to control my body and mind… what if I couldn’t show?? I had come to a place in my mind, it would be ok because I was at the NSBA Championship riding for the first time ever, I was already a champion, showing or no showing!
It’s STILL WORTH IT!!
I asked Mike to please take his trainer’s hat off, to let me show despite his professional feeling of sending a what would usually be prepared rider and horse team into the biggest show of their career, I know big ask!! I explained to him if I walk in to the show pen and turn around and walk out I was already a winner… the goal was just to step into the show pen, anything else was a bonus, just being there was everything!! Mike agreed and we would reevaluate in the morning.
Jay took me back to get to bed early just to prepare. I was sure, that night, I’d start feeling better. Nope, just the opposite, I started feeling fluish! Ugggg!!! No, just NO!! I laid there envisioning riding into that show, even if it was just one step, I had to walk through that gate!!
We had spent the week watching Brian Isbell Garcia pilot VSDOUBLESHOT aka Bucky, around the show pen with such elegance and style, I wanted to ride Bucky after Brian, I knew he’d be ready! I just kept seeing and thinking about riding through that gate!!! I was NOT going to let the physical state of how my body was feeling settle in my brain. I just kept saying, “have faith the IVs will work.” It’s STILL WORTH IT!
I got up that morning I had strength enough to try….we have to give it our all, every single day like it’s our last, right!?!
Brian would ride Bucky in the class right before mine. Mike said Bucky would be prepared for Brian’s class, a whole different gear, a more forward gear. Since this was Bucky’s second show ever, he didn’t have the experience of a veteran horse, knowing the gears of different riders in the show pen.
We were in the holding pen, waiting for the gate person to direct us in one horse/rider at a time. I thought to myself I would go in last, that would give me a bit more energy to get around the pen, I had a plan! Trainers can’t be in the holding pen, but Mike was right there on the outside, telling me an adjustment here or there, but mostly just reassuring me that I looked good, did I really? Maybe, maybe not, I’ll never know, but that’s OK, I felt like I was on top of the world!
At this point, the announcer, at the holding pen, told everybody to get ready and start entering the gate, again, I was going in last! We all started our extended trot and preparing for the entry, I believe one horse, or maybe two had already entered, I was midway across the path that would take you into the pen when I heard Mike say, “Go in now!” Before I could think I was in the pen, good thing I reacted, and didn’t think! At this point, you couldn’t slap a smile off my face if you wanted, I made it through the gate and was in the show pen, remember, everything else is a bonus!!
My horse went in like a veteran (he’s 3), it was the first time we’ve ever shown together, but he packed me around, all I had to do was sit up there. Bucky floated like he was on top of clouds, he never bobbled, refused, or anticipated any command, he did his job like a champion show horse! Mike had this horse ready and Brian had him show pen ready!!
Mike, Brian, Jay and Kollin were strategically placed around the arena, in the stands, to help me navigate my ride, or maybe hop the fence if I fell off and face planted. No, I’m kidding, that was never an option, for me anyways! I don’t know if it ever entered anyone else’s head but there was no room in my brain for these kind of thoughts.
This big old 17.1 hand, gentle giant of mine, was cruising around the pen like he’s been there 1 million times before, and I was loving every single stride until it seemed like we’ve been trotting for 15 minutes (it was maybe 3). I felt the fatigue take over my body, like the Grim Reaper, I became fearful. When my body starts crashing any and every one can see it on my face like a neon sign. We were at one of the arena and I just thought to myself I can’t make it around to where Jay and Mike are because if they see the color of my face, they will surely stop the class and get me off my horse…. I’m sure I was a better part of pea green with a slight reddish tint (again, ugly) at this point.
I felt like I was going to pass out, I kept thinking to myself, What am I going to do, do I just go to the center of the arena, what do I do, I have to reverse and go the other direction…three gaits, walk, trot, canter. What, just what?! All I need to do at this point was start praying! Yes, instead of thinking about my seat or the movement of my horse or any kind of traffic. All of this other nonsense is going through my head, but it was true, it was real and center front of what I had to deal with at that moment.
Praying was THE answer!!
The words, “walk your horse” couldn’t have come at a better time, thank God, I thought…Mike and Jay are still at the other end of the pen, another thankful moment! I’ll have a few steps to catch my breath and pray more. The announcer asked us to reverse, just like that, I got my strength back, was it that easy?!?! God can do anything when asked! We walked a few strides then the announcer, asked us to canter, I was telling myself, “you are not going to cry!” Once again, I was overwhelmed with so much emotion because my energy came back and I knew I was going to be able to finish this ride. I just kept telling myself the whole way down the rail, “ you are not going to cry, you are not going to cry, you are not going to cry”, until I rounded the one end and I saw Brian tell me to “sit up” and “put your shoulders back”, then I snapped back into the class and was able to show my horse with focus and not as much emotion. I could hear Mike talking to me from the top of the stands as he paced back-and-forth, I could hear Jay telling me to “breathe”, and I was doing fantastic and I could hear Kollin tell me to “use my leg” a little more.
The announcer asked us all to come to the center of the pen once we were done, I had to start telling myself not to cry again, or at least, until we were done backing up, which is when the class would be officially over, or the judges turned in their cards, actually. The judges, along with their ring stewards would come to each horse, have them walk forward, and then back up, then onto the next contestant, I was somewhere in the middle. As the judges made their way to me, I think I held my breath until I was done backing and they were onto the next contestant. The tears started leaking down my face, but I was still trying to control it until we were dismissed to the rail to wait for the final placings. That was it! I just started crying and crying and crying, remember, I don’t cry! The fact that I got to walk into the pen, show my horse and COMPLETE the class, just WOW!! I never thought I would or at least would this year, the WHOLE ENTIRE experience, was such an amazing feat!!
The empowerment of being on that big ole gentle giant of mine was the most amazing feeling. I’ve been blessed to ride some nice horses and win some neat awards, but there will never be anything as special or as rewarding and gratifying as riding that morning of August 19th, I felt alive and so incredibly grateful.
That Saturday was what dreams are made of – the feeling of normal and using his legs in place of my own for the short time was the best feeling EVER!! I don’t know if there will ever be proper words to describe that feeling!
This was never about a trophy but an accomplishment, a goal, a goal and accomplishment, doing something I felt was so broken in me!
It took a whole village to achieve this very one, brief moment! I know I would’ve never made it without the help of my very special village, and you all know who you are, each one of you! My family, my trainers, my friends, the judges, the NSBA staff, and my friends watching online, we were all a very crucial and special part of this very special moment in my life, and I am so thankful that I got to share this small window with each and every one of you.
JJ, you are my road warrior, my best friend, and my love, I wouldn’t want to ever do any of this without you, assuming I even could. Knowing you are up in those stands, in that waiting room, at the other end, just outside that door, or wherever, always gives me the courage to fight and keep fighting, I will be forever thankful for having you right beside me!
Side note: I think if Mike had hair it would be grey, after that week, all of it!🥰
Mike, I know with your recent knee surgery, everything was difficult at best! My friend, you are the captain of your ship and what a mighty crew you put together to make it all work so perfectly and so smoothly. I’m so proud of you!!
Thank you for keeping your word! We had fun!!
Kollin, BIG respect for crawling up in my little saddle to get Bucky ready for me at home! You did a great job keeping Bucky good until Mike could get back on (and always), Kollin, THANK YOU!
Nolan, thank you for keeping my boy exercised, fed, polished and in tip top shape, you ARE appreciated!
Tami, thank you for all of your encouragement, love, support and videoing!! Looking forward to our journeys next year!!
I won’t ride again until next year…my body still has a lot of healing to do. I got to live in a fairytale for a few days before we had to get back to reality.
It took me a while to heal after that perfect week. Not long after that (two weeks ago exactly) I had to have another heart procedure. We may have found out what was causing Tommy Tremors! I also brought home COVID from the hospital landing me back in the hospital this last Monday. Point to all of this…instead of focusing on the yuk and the yuk dragging me down, I choose to focus on my fairytale moment and the next time I get to adventure out on that most perfect beautiful animal, VSDOUBLESHOT aka Bucky!
It’s STILL WORTH IT!
Know this, when we open our eyes in the morning we have an opportunity to make a difference, serve, be the best we can be, WE. HAVE. ANOTHER. OPPORTUNITY!!!
When you look in the mirror, see ONE thing….you ARE alive and ALIVE is beautiful!!
(When I’m not liking what’s looking back at me on some days, all I say is, “alive is beautiful!” Makes it all better!)💪
Bruce, our boy did good!!!
(VSGoodride x Hoo Dat Jeannie)
Thank you, Christi for always doing what you do!❤️
Hank and Buddy, you two also make it happen, I’m furever thankful!