Horses and Healing After 9/11

After losing her sister, a dressage rider finds a special horse that helps her to heal.
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It seems like yesterday that the sky was crystal clear, a perfect day, until American Airlines Flight 11 hit the first tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. My sister and best friend, Judy Larocque, was on that plane in 2001. That day changed me forever. 

The first year I really hit bottom. Lost in a fog, I ended up selling my 4-year-old Hanoverian and thought about giving up horses entirely. But I remembered how Judy, a 50-year-old CEO of her own data research company, was a fighter all her life. She never gave up and taught me to do the same. I knew she would not have wanted me to stop riding.

Credit: Courtesy, Diane Marshall Diane (left) and her sister, Judy Larocque, a few months before 9/11.

Credit: Courtesy, Diane Marshall Diane (left) and her sister, Judy Larocque, a few months before 9/11.

So the search for a new dressage horse began, but none were a good fit and each left the same hole in my heart. I finally purchased a young Dutch horse that was perfectly lovely except he had a spook that kept putting me on the ground. I sold him and once again went through the motions of looking at other horses, but not many sparked my interest.

In February 2004, I was going to Florida with some friends and scheduled an appointment to look at a horse while we were there. As we pulled into the farm, there was a Friesian in the paddock and I immediately said, “I think that is the horse.” I got out of the car and went toward the paddock and he turned and came toward me. It was a bit like “Gone With The Wind,” and I was smitten. 

This was Pharaoh, the 6-year-old Friesian I had come to look at. I got on and magic happened. I loved riding him so much that my friends had to pull me off because they wanted to leave. I went back the next day and the magic happened again, and the rest is now history.

Credit: Terri Miller Diane rides Pharaoh.

Credit: Terri Miller Diane rides Pharaoh.

Pharaoh is my healer, and I believe Judy sent him to me. I have never felt so much joy riding a horse. I had promised that one day I would ride a freestyle to Beatles music in honor of my sister and, in 2006, I did just that. My intro to this First Level freestyle was “Hey Jude”—a fitting tribute I thought. Later, in 2007, I began showing Third Level with Pharaoh in hopes of getting my U.S. Dressage Federation bronze medal, which we achieved that same year. 

Then in February 2008, while participating in a clinic, Pharaoh tore the meniscus in his stifle. We had the surgery performed from which he recovered completely. But in 2010, he tore his meniscus again and had to have a second surgery. I really did not know if he would recover this time. But now, a year later Pharaoh is sound. We are still in the end stages of rehabbing, but he will be OK.

I am no longer going to show Pharaoh, but I will enjoy him and do whatever he is able. He came into my life to help me heal after 9/11 and opened doors that I thought had closed forever. Pharaoh brought me out of my depression and gave me back the joy of riding. He makes me smile and has shown me that if you believe, and your intent is pure, that your achievements can happen.

I have made many changes in my life and believe that Judy is showing me the path to follow. I learned how to have patience and how to believe and have faith that my horse would recover. I learned that it is OK to take a different path while still achieving and growing in my riding. Today I am able to share my knowledge with others and feel joy in helping them find harmony in their riding. 

I wish I still had my sister. I miss her every day. But I do believe that she is with me and, moreover, that she is showing me how to grow and make a difference in my life.

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