At 33 years old, Amanda Bostian was a little embarrassed to find herself trotting around the show ring with 8-year-olds who’d already mastered the 2′ fences she was just learning to jump.
But riding in a horse show at all was a huge accomplishment for Bostian since she’d taken a nine-year break from competition after a fall left her confidence shaken.
Luckily, she never lost her sense of humor.
“It’s still a learning curve though, because sometimes I’ll see pictures from the first year I was showing and say, ‘Wow, that’s not cute,’ ” Bostian joked. “I just didn’t know what I was doing. You learn to laugh at yourself and just not care if people wondered what you were doing there. We all had to learn at some point. I was just doing it at a later stage in life than most people.”
Bostian, now 35, grew up riding saddle seat aboard Tennessee Walkers, but her show career ground to an abrupt halt when a horse she was showing bolted in a busy warm-up ring. She ended up underneath the horse, and it stepped on her, crushing the left side of her face.
The emotional scars lasted much longer than the physical injuries. When Bostian turned 30, she decided she was ready to be around horses again, as long as she could stay on the ground. She answered an ad for barn help and watched quietly while trainer Lesley Jenks gave lessons at her Finally Farm in Raleigh, North Carolina.
“She pushed you to get better, but she didn’t push you to do anything you couldn’t safely do,” said Bostian. “I told her, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing with hunters, but I’d like to try it.’ We started at the walk and the trot and worked our way up.”
The transition from saddle seat to hunt seat was challenging. For the first year, Bostian stayed on the flat, retraining her muscle memory for a different position. She mostly practiced on older school horses, so in order to preserve their legs, she spent many of her lessons going over poles. When she did jump, she found her sense of distance and timing was significantly better as a result.
Bostian hit a roadblock in her transition to hunters when she had to ride in the busy warm-up arena at shows. The hectic traffic brought on flashbacks from her accident. Even several years into her hunter career, her comeback from trauma hasn’t been linear.
“Some days I can go to the horse show, and there can be 20 people in there jumping, and I think, ‘OK. Cool.’ But sometimes I’ve had a really bad week at work, and I’m stressed out, and then there’s a kid careening around on their pony, and I think, ‘I don’t need to do this,’ ” Bostian said. “I don’t know that I’ll ever get completely over it. I think that’s like most adults, or probably kids too, to have some degree of anxiety.
“You read about all these superstars who are Olympians and go through something and say, ‘Yeah this happened, but I talked to the sports psychologist, and I’m fine now.’ Well, I’m not fine,” she continued. “And I’m OK with that. I’m a lot further along with it than I was a couple of years ago, because I found the right trainer and the right horse, and that fixed a lot of it.”
Soon after her transition to the hunters, Jenks suggested she take a look at a Paint gelding named Cruisin Tux (Black Tux—Holly Norfleet) who had been showing on their local circuit.
Bostian didn’t immediately hit it off with “Spinner.” The first day she rode him, she struggled to canter.
Bostian, Clayton, North Carolina, soon realized Spinner wasn’t a difficult ride; he was a veteran instructor. If she asked him for something the wrong way, he would politely refuse and give her another chance.
“I finally figured out that he was just trying to keep me safe,” she said. “He was saying, ‘You know, you seem really nervous up there. I’m just going to stop until you figure out what you’re doing.’ ”
As Bostian’s confidence grew, so did her success. Spinner has taken Bostian from double adding down the lines in the long stirrup division to the low adults in AA rated shows. In 2016, the pair picked up year-end awards from their local show associations and from the American Paint Horse Association.
In the barn, Spinner is less a Steady Eddie and more of a challenge. He likes things a certain way and isn’t afraid to express his disappointment if people don’t adhere to his routines.
“He freaks out about the fly spray system even though he has been in the same barn for four years,” Bostian said. “You have to cross-tie him to blanket him because he can’t stand the static. He’s weird about little things. He can be pretty bad if you don’t cater to his whims. We’ve chosen to just deal with it because he’s so good.”
As a clinical specialist for a women’s healthcare company that specializes in infertility, about 75 percent of Bostian’s job is travel. That means scheduling lessons week by week and shows at the beginning of the season. She also depends on students at the barn to help keep Spinner in shape. On horse show weekends, Bostian sets up with her laptop and hotspot on her tack trunk and works outside Spinner’s stall. She deals primarily with laboratories in her work and says her customers are always asking for horse pictures.
After a “magical” first season together in 2016, Bostian and Spinner experienced some setbacks. A weepy eye turned into fungal keratitis, and Spinner needed a corneal graft and 2 1/2 weeks at North Carolina State to save his vision. He can now see as well as he did before the ordeal, but it took six months of coaxing eye medications into the reluctant gelding.
Then, he developed a core lesion to his left deep digital flexor tendon, which required patience and two rounds of stem cell treatment. He came sound and then had a small flare-up this fall—just before Bostian was scheduled to have knee surgery.
“The first time he got hurt I had a really bad attitude about it, like poor pitiful me, why is this happening?” she said. “And then I realized it’s not about me. It’s part of horse ownership and riding. My attitude is a lot different about it than it was the first time.”
Bostian is cautiously optimistic they can return to showing next year, and she has her eye on a new goal: the over fences classes at the APHA World Show.
If Spinner can’t return to jumping, Bostian says she might try dressage or even competitive ranch work. But if it’s time for him to retire, she feels he’s more than earned it.
“The horse likes to have a job, so we’ll find something for him,” she said. “He owes nothing to anybody. He taught so many people the ropes, and he’s given me so much confidence that even if they tell me he needs to retire he can go eat grass for the rest of his life, and that’s fine.”
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