One Horse’s Lesson in Trust, Respect, and Overcoming the Odds

Megan Haagsma and her family of Byron Center,  adopted Cloud Nine, the OTTB from CANTER, a non-profit organization which works to relocate off the track thoroughbreds, which is where the OTTB comes from in Cloud Nine’s name.  Haagsma and Cloud Nine, or Cloud for short, were brought together four years ago. Little did they know at the time how much they would need and learn from each other.

At first, Haagsma wasn’t sure Cloud would be a match for her.  Following in her big sister’s footsteps, or perhaps as a means to keep up with her, Megan began riding lessons as soon as she could.  She has loved horses since she was a child, dating back to drawing unicorns everyday during preschool. Prior to Cloud, her experience was mainly with quarter horses riding western style.  She wasn’t eager to try out a high-strung, high energy riding partner being used to a “low and slow” approach.

Shortly after beginning to ride Cloud, Haagsma realized she enjoyed going fast, feeling the energy being given off by her horse.  And after trying out jumping, she discovered a love for that too. Cloud had introduced her to something she didn’t know she’d enjoy, having provided her with the opportunity to make this discovery.       

Racing Injury
Shortly after Cloud Nine was rescued by the Haagsmas, they noticed an issue with his right eye, coming to the conclusion that it was an injury obtained while in the starting gate during one of his races.  It wouldn’t become an issue until fall 2015, when his eye started watering and causing pain. Painkillers and other treatments were used as a vet tried to determine what was causing the issue.

Whatever was wrong seemed to be getting worse and he was eventually diagnosed with Uveitis in addition to having buildup in his eye.  During an initial surgery, the buildup was removed to see if that would alleviate the problem. Unfortunately after a week or two the issues returned.  A subsequent surgery would remove Cloud’s right eye.

Haasgma has been participating in the Kent County Youth Fair (KCYF) for the last eight years.  When Cloud lost his eye, she decided not to give up on him to find another horse. She would continue to train and ride with him, participating in jumping events, among others, at the KCYF.  The decision would be one which would start a lasting bond and mutual understanding between the two.

Megan and Cloud Nine Jumping

Not Giving Up
Haasgma says she decided to keep riding Cloud because he needed her.  And she needed him. “Cloud is a very active thinker, and he needed something to think about other than going to a pasture and back to his stall every day.” she says.  “Cloud has so much spirit, and energy, and I loved riding him, I honestly think it would have driven him crazy to have nothing to do.” Haagsma understood being restless when there’s nothing to do, as someone who was diagnosed with ADHD in 8th grade, shortly before being introduced to Cloud.

It was in part due to this mutual understanding that the two were able to continue working on jumping, which is Haagsma’s favorite event, in spite of Cloud’s limited vision.  There was a learning curve at first as Cloud had to learn to trust he wouldn’t be run into anything on his right side. “Any horse won’t trust you until they respect you, so it took a lot of groundwork training before our riding was anywhere near how it is now.” says Haagsma.  The pair continued to work together, both needing something to keep their smart, active minds focused. And with time and mutual respect, the pair learned their love of going fast and jumping would be exciting as they build off each other’s energy. Haagsma typically does showmanship, jumping, contesting, dressage, and hunt seat classes during the KCYF.

An Inspiration
It’s easy to say that Cloud Nine is a special horse.  Haagsma has seen this first-hand numerous times. She recalls a barn helper named Lori, who was going through a situation where her arm would need to be removed, during the same time Cloud was dealing with recovering from the loss of an eye.  Lori turned out to be one of Cloud’s favorite people as if he knew she needed to know she would be okay after her surgery.

Last year at fair, Haagsma found herself in a conversation with someone else who had a horse who would be having surgery to remove an eye.  She was able to, through Cloud’s example, show that a horse can and will recover while leading a full life.

There are certainly other instances where Megan and Cloud Nine have inspired others in one way or another.  The two did not set out to be an example of not giving up, overcoming a serious injury, or learning through trust and respect you can make anything happen, but that’s what they’ve done.    

Megan won’t be riding Cloud Nine at fair this year as he bumped the right side of his face a few weeks ago and is healing.  Megan says he’s doing well and should be ready to ride during fair week but he’s not ready to participate in events.  She will still be participating in three different showmanship classes, hunt seat equitation, pleasure, and pattern, western equitation, pleasure and pattern, dressage, and trail.

All photos courtesy of Megan Haagsma and used with permission.

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