My chestnut mare, Phoebe, and I have been together for 14 years, and we're always in a dialogue, whether we're taking a walk through the woods or riding in a show. Her soul has an energy that matches, and gives back to, mine. We can communicate through touch—if I scratch her itchy spot, she almost buckles with delight—or when I just shift my breath. When I'm in the saddle, I can almost always predict what movement she's about to make.

Five years ago, we were in a competition where nothing was going right: The weather was lousy, I'd forgotten my show jacket, and Phoebe had to rush through her warm-up. We'd been in about 40 shows by then, and she'd always managed to jump all the fences. This time, though, when she got to the wall jump, a nearly three-foot-tall box with a rail on top, she galloped up to it but flinched at the last second. I'd been leaning forward to prepare for her leap—and when she hesitated, I flew over the wall and landed on my back. That's when I saw what was coming: Phoebe's momentum was bringing her over the wall, too—and the only place to land was on me.

Her front foot struck my chest, and I felt the pressure of her hoof over my heart. I thought, This is how I'm going to die. I just closed my eyes and waited for the end. But the next thing I knew, she'd deflected all her weight in midair and rolled away, tumbling backward into the jump. Later, one of the judges told me she'd never seen anything like it. Phoebe defied gravity that day and saved my life.

The paramedics rushed over, but there wasn't a scratch on me—just a red hoofprint on my chest like a good-luck charm. I stood and went straight to Phoebe. She was shaking but somehow completely unharmed, except for a cut on her leg. I let her know I was all right—she'd done her job.

When you're riding, you're completely in sync with your horse. I never lost that oneness with Phoebe. If I'd died that day, I think part of her would have died, too. Instead, we have more years together, with plenty of time left to play.


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