Written by Alice MacGillivray, PhD.

In my work world, managers often believe you can plan everything.  And if things don’t go as planned, then you didn’t do a good enough job planning.  Of course we know there are so many possibilities, it is usually impossible to plan anything in detail accurately.  That is certainly true in one’s life with horses.  This is a story of friendship, tragedy and legacy.

If you have read my book “Riding Horseback in Purple” you know that I was injured in my early horse days (late 50s with my first horse).  I couldn’t do much for several weeks and was not allowed to ride for several months.  I had moved to Gabriola Island on Canada’s west coast where we could afford to have a horse close by.  Another woman around my age, Bonnie Tarchuk, had also recently moved to the same area.  As a young adult, Bonnie had spent a lot of time at a camp where she rode and led trail rides.  I really liked and trusted Bonnie, and asked her if she’d like to lease my Fjord horse, Bocina, part time, but she didn’t want to.  At the time, I thought that meant she was no longer interested in horses.  Looking back, I think she just hadn’t absorbed the idea of horses being part of her life on the island.

Not long after that came my injury and the next few weeks was a fog. Somehow, Bonnie stepped in to help care for Bocina and to ride her.  I later learned from friends and relatives that she was thrilled about this.  Perhaps helping a friend was a catalyst to rekindle her love of being out on the trails.  Bocina’s background was more dressage than trails, and Bonnie loved to introduce Bocina to new trail challenges and helped her build confidence.  

As I write this post, it has been five months since a tragic twist in this story. Bonnie passed away suddenly and unexpectedly.  Over the years, we had grown close.  Bocina was essentially “our” horse, and we had started to learn more about other aspects of each other’s lives and interests.  Fortunately I realized how much I treasured our friendship before she passed.  I miss her every day.  

The final chapter to this story wouldn’t make sense without a bit of background about Bonnie.  She was the most resilient person I’ve ever met.  She had experienced several major health issues in her life.  A long stay in an ICU and related surgeries for necrotizing fasciitis left one leg without key muscles.  But if our riding coach asked: “Which one is your weak leg?” she’d reply: “It doesn’t matter.”  When Bonnie was badly injured (arena footing issue) she pushed through more surgeries and pain.  When she was back home, I didn’t mention riding.  But she started to comment on conversations with doctors about when she could ride and her plans for riding.  When Bonnie decided to do something, there was no stopping her.  So the day came when she eased herself back onto Bocina’s back.  She had been going to physiotherapists and a personal trainer.  But she quickly realized the position in the saddle highlighted a very tight area with scar tissue.  She wondered if riding were even possible, then realized it was probably the ideal form of therapy if she gradually increased time in the saddle.  She had been riding to rekindle the joy of horses and nature, and now she was also riding to heal.

When Bonnie passed away, Marlana—a mutual friend on the island—came up with the idea of a legacy in Bonnie’s name, with the Cowichan Therapeutic Riding Association (CTRA).  Several of us brainstormed options, and decided on an annual award for a CTRA rider who exemplified a spirit of positivity and optimism in the face of adversity.  The first recipient, CTRA staff and volunteers are delighted to celebrate therapeutic riding in this way.

Bocina and Bonnie’s lives have intertwined with mine in so many unpredictable ways.  Amidst the sadness, I am so pleased that their amazing energies will live on to support and inspire other riders as they work to overcome their own challenges.  This photo, which is featured on the plaque for Bonnie’s award, shows a lot about her energy and love of horses.  

Alice MacGillivray, PhD, is author of “Riding Horseback in Purple” written for “women of age” who maybe considering horse ownership – first timers and re-riders alike.  Alice guides readers through scenarios that help dissect the reality of horse ownership from our childhood fantasies. An expert in adult learning, Alice explores ways we connect with horses as leaders, care givers and riding partners. A great read for casual and professional WARHorses who want to make their horse purchase the start of a long, fulfilled partnership.