By Mike Avery

For our daughter Gianna’s fourth birthday, her mother Gina and I surprised her with a miniature pony visit, from a local party company. The real surprise ended up being that Gianna was totally petrified of the little pony, and hid in the house until it was trailered away, back to the farm.

Sadly, two years later, her mother Gina was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer.

Gina had her own horse as a teenager and, a year into her battle with cancer, received a gift certificate for a family trail ride at a local therapeutic riding center.  With the center’s riding instructor leading the way, Gina rode ahead, close behind the instructor and wanting to canter, but restricted by the center’s trail rule of walking only. Gianna was next in the line, and I took up the rear, thankful to be on a horse trained for “auto-pilot.”

That ride eventually became one of the most impacting moments on all three of our lives. Many special things came from that ride. Though she was only allowed to walk with her horse, Gina relished in the ride, which brought her back to happier times. I hoped that, for that entire hour, she was not reminded once of her terminal prognosis.  Then there was Gianna. Feeling safe, surrounded by her parents, a new love blossomed that day, and has only grown since…horses.

I was merely a spectator, watching as the two most important people in my life had their special moment.

Gina passed away on August 31, 2009, which was the first day of first grade for Gianna. The shared love of horses between Gianna and Gina carried on after her passing, with the unending support of family and friends, and the talents of stable staff, trainers, and clinicians.

Gianna and first pony, Misty.

Starting at six years old, with a beautiful white pony named Misty, Gianna joined an incredible, introductory, local, after-school riding program, for three years. Then, aspiring to Third Level with her Quarter Horse mare Reba, she started seriously training with her trainer. Now, at 14 years old, working with her trainer of almost nine years, Gianna started training with her 11-year-old Thoroughbred named Tie. She started out in eventing, but now primarily trains and shows in dressage.  However, it’s rare that a month of lessons go by without sneaking in some jumping!  The majority of her training, clinics, and shows take place in Maine, yet she has traveled to New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York for events, too.  Gianna is a Dressage 4 Kids attendee, a USDF Participating and Group Member, and a USEF member, as well as having received her US Equestrian High School Athlete Letter.

Taking a lesson

Gianna is on a passionate mission to be the best rider she can be. Her bedroom walls and ceiling are streamed with awards and ribbons, many blue, and her horse scrapbook is overflowing.  She’s an incredible young lady, who trains and shows with intensity, yet equally enjoys just being at her stable, grooming her horse, or simply trading horse treats for horse kisses. From minis, to ponies, to horses, she loves them all.  On the wall in Gianna’s bedroom, above pictures of her jumping with her then pony Misty, are the words:  “Because when I ride, I always feel free.”

Gianna today with Tie

In Gianna’s words, “Horses are my life.” Any optional reading in school consists of horse books, her ever-improving drawing talents are honed in on horses, and the majority of play-date activities, when she was younger, were horse-related. She’s been a working student at her stable for the past three summers, as well.  For her 11th birthday, Gianna hosted a huge party for her friends; in lieu of birthday gifts, she asked that attendees donate $5 to the local horse rescue’s “Buy a Bale of Hay” program.  The rescue’s director was in attendance, and with tears in her eyes, thanked Gianna and her guests for their kindness and unselfishness.  For her last birthday, she organized a similar event for the local nonprofit mustang rescue.  

As a single parent, with no horse background, I know our lives have been blessed. Gianna was given a gift filled with love, responsibility, and opportunity, all because of her mother, her love for horses, and the incredible people that surround them.

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