By Jacqueline Golosinski
Cancer. A word no one should ever have to hear, especially when they are thirteen years old. A word that, when said, feels like a thousand rocks resting on your chest, a word with a distinct sting. I first heard this word on January 14, 2016. The new year had just begun, and I was just told the next six months of my life would be spent battling stage four Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Immediately after my diagnosis, I was admitted to Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago and spent two weeks on the eighteenth floor, where specialists ran biopsies, PET scans, and administered my first dose of chemotherapy.
Everything in my life was placed on a shelf that would have to be dusted off many months later: school, friends, and horseback riding. That was, until a representative from the Make-A-Wish Foundation illuminated the room as she told me I could wish for anything my heart desired. Most children asked for a trip to Disney, to the zoo, or a meet and greet with their favorite celebrity. I am always one to take everything a step further and push my limits, so I wished for my own horse. I had only been riding for four years and felt extremely underqualified when it came to basic horse maintenance. I figured, “Why not?” If this was my chance to have the horse of my dreams, and this be my silver lining in the midst of my struggles, I was going to take that opportunity and run with it. I searched high and low for the perfect pony: Dream Horse, EquineNow, and even created a Facebook account.
Just after being discharged from the hospital, I came across an advertisement listed by Tiffany van der Kooi of Black Pearl Friesians, in Rockton, Illinois. It was a mare named Ienja in the photos, but after exploring the comment section I learned Tiffany also had a coming four year old mare for sale: Marit van Black Pearl. She was just shy of 15hh and only recently introduced under saddle, but I had a strong feeling about her.
A few short days later, my mom, sister, and I drove up to Black Pearl Friesians, and as soon as I entered the first aisle in the barn I turned my head towards the stall to the right of the wash rack. My eyes must have opened twice as wide and my smile grew ear to ear. I begged Tiffany to get on her if I could sit up, so she and the farm hand, each on one side, led me around on Marit. Tiffany van der Kooi was on board after hearing my story. She would work closely with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and help my dreams come true.
Three months later Marit was officially mine, and we began our journey together. I couldn’t believe I was standing there with the horse of my dreams wrapped in my arms. I knew our future together was bright.
Our relationship developed quickly during our first few months together. Most days my worries slipped my mind, and my drive to finish the fight grew. In August of that same year, I was finally declared cancer free. I couldn’t wait to experience a life without cancer and with my heart horse by my side. Suddenly I was able to form long term goals with her, and could see the two of us together continuing to defy odds, this time in the sand box.
Over the years, our relationship has grown stronger than I could have ever imagined. She is definitely a pocket pony, and I truly feel that we have an incredible connection. Recently, I feel that I have developed a much deeper understanding of what she needs from me as her rider and caretaker, and our progress together has soared.
Our journey has been nothing short of difficult. Working with a Friesian in the sport of dressage has been a big learning opportunity. I have had to take multiple different approaches in training to find what works best for her. She has no issue telling me something is too difficult, or that she does not understand what I am asking. Riding a Friesian has really tested my abilities to become more forgiving and gain more patience. It has been an extremely humbling experience, to say the least. When that ice is finally broken and you rise above the plateaus, it becomes so rewarding.
We participated in quite a few shows together this past summer after a four year hiatus (due to COVID-19 and transitioning into college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison). We started out a little rough, with a lot of areas to grow. Our fifth and final show last season was an online entry, and this earned us a spot in the New Dressage Association of Wisconsin (NEWDA) End of Year Awards standings.
I am currently a working student at Paddock Hills Equestrian Center in Union, Illinois, and this opportunity allows me to spend more time with my girl than I ever have before. I continue to feel so incredibly blessed to walk into the barn each day and have Marit greet me with her nose peeking out of her stall door. Her presence still melts my heart today as much as it did seven years ago; how she rests her head on my shoulders when we have long periods of grooming, how she falls asleep when I braid her mane, how she makes sure to cover every inch of herself when she rolls in the arena, and how she lets out a soft, little knicker when evening grain is distributed.
Although we hope to show Training Level and qualify for the Great American Insurance Group/USDF Regional Championships this year, my expectations of us in the sport are much lower than they have been in previous years. I have learned to appreciate her simply for her being, and for what she has already given me. We beat cancer together, and are now considered cured after seven years, and I think that is one of the best achievements one can declare with their horse by their side.