Wednesday, Apr. 17, 2024

Cassandra Kahle’s Return To The Show Ring Was Exactly As She Pictured

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Cassandra Kahle had a very clear idea of what her return to the show ring was going to look like.

“It’s gonna sound crazy, actually,” she said with a laugh. “Since my fall I’ve been dreaming of the day I could get back in the show ring. [In November] I had this vision—I’ve never had this happen before; I swear it wasn’t a dream, I was totally conscious—but I laid down in bed, and I closed my eyes. And as clear as if I was actually there and doing it, I saw this vision of me being led up to the ring on ‘Pyro’ and jumping around—in my vision, it was a 1.0-meter course—and I jumped clear, and I knew what a big deal that was because I got toned into the jump-off, and I just put my hand up saying, ‘No, I’m good,’ and excused myself.

“The feeling and the emotion that came over me was so strong, I knew I had to do it. It was just a clear moment where I was like, this is gonna happen,” she continued. “I knew from that moment. I was like, OK, that’s my new goal. In March, I am going to jump this class.”

And on March 24, the last day of the 10-week HITS Ocala (Florida) circuit, in the grand prix ring where she’d had her accident two years prior, she did.

It wasn’t a 1.0-meter class as she’d envisioned but a .65-meter course that the HITS organizers set just for her. But it was indeed aboard Pyrenes De Louzes, the grand prix jumper who played a pivotal role in her recovery.

Cassandra Kahle celebrates returning to the show ring at HITS Ocala with her longtime grand prix mount Pyrenes De Louzes. ESI Photography Photos

“I was wondering how I would feel walking into the ring, but I didn’t have any nerves in the days leading up to it,” she said. “Since [I had] this idea, this goal, I have not had one moment of hesitation or nervousness or doubt or questioning. So I was wondering, when I’m actually walking to the gate, what will the feeling be? And honestly, I was just so comfortable and so confident that I was on my horse, everything felt at peace, in a way. It was just a great feeling; I wasn’t nervous at all.”

When Kahle envisioned the round, she was focused on herself and her horse, but when it came to executing on the day, there was an added element that Kahle hadn’t imagined—the throngs of her fellow competitors and spectators that gathered around the ring and let out a chorus of whoops when she cantered through the timers.

“That’s what made it even more special than I thought it would be. When I originally thought of this goal and this moment, I pictured it as more of like a normal class,” Kahle said. What she had envisioned as a private victory instead became a public celebration and moment of healing.

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Kahle cited a Facebook post by judge Matt Brayman describing his perspective on the day. He was judging the ring when she had her fall and again when she returned on Sunday.

“Sometimes we get to remember why we do what we do,” Brayman wrote. “I remember judging a class a couple years ago when Cass had her accident. I remember thinking nothing but ‘get up, Cassie. Get up.’ That moment will never leave me. I quit judging for a month or two after that, but never stopped following her story.

“I don’t mean to compare my struggle with hers. I’m a millionth, at best, of the struggle and the fight she’s endured. I’m not sure there’s anyone I admire more following the road back. And the courage this lady showed coming back in the ring where it all happened. And here I was judging it again.”

Watch video of Kahle’s return to the show ring, courtesy of Sarah Barge:

“I don’t have any memory of the week leading up to the fall or the actual day of the fall, nothing. So when [Matt] said he was the one in the booth judging, it was almost surprising to hear,” Kahle recalled. “I try not to think about the whole scene [of the accident] and everything, but I’m sure it must have been really hard. And just hearing his story and how it affected him, and being able to do the full circle back with me, from the day of fall to the other day of showing in that ring again, I’m sure it was also a big thing for him too. So in a way it was a personal goal, but yeah, it was a big moment and a big way to move forward for a lot of people who witnessed it and were there for it.”

It was also a momentous day for her beloved mount Pyro, on whom she won the 2021 $100,000 Forrester Farm Equipment Grand Prix De Penn National (Pennsylvania). The Selle Français gelding (Kannan—Europe Ibarra), owned by Redfield Farm, is now 21.

“When I had the accident in 2022, I didn’t question recovering. I was sure I was going to be jumping a grand prix in 2023. I was sure it would just be a year, and I’d be back riding and showing and jumping at the level I was at,” Kahle said.

Cassandra Kahle and Pyrenes De Louzes

“Originally we planned to retire [Pyro] after the ’22 season, then with the accident, I was like, ‘OK, you’ve got to stay in work and help me recover, and then we’ll jump a grand prix in ’23, and then you can retire after that.’ Well, OK, clearly that didn’t happen!” Kahle said with a laugh. “So then I thought, OK, I’m not jumping a grand prix, but let’s do one last farewell. He can help me get back in the show ring, let me do my first class on him, and then it would be a nice way for him to just retire and let him finish his career with that.”

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Kahle has been very candid in social media posts about her recovery and the hard work and frustration involved in trying to regain all her riding skills.

“Honestly, it’s been hard. I’ve had some lessons with dressage trainers, people that don’t know me, and what I’ve done, and who I used to be; they just see me as I am today,” she said. “I had one lesson in particular where I really wanted to speak up and defend the rider I used to be and say, ‘I know all this stuff.’ But at the same time, I was like, ‘Cass, you need to humble yourself and realize you’re not that rider anymore, and she is telling you what she sees today. And if that’s what she sees today, you need to hear it.’

“So I listened, and I would say it’s the most beneficial lesson I’ve had since the accident. It helped me so much in my position, and actually it helped me with the jumping, and it really resonated with me,” she continued. “So it was just going back to those very basic, very beginner exercises and things to think about. I was like, ‘Oh, this is really basic.’ And I as much I want to be like, ‘Agh! I used to do this kind of stuff!’ It’s not where I am now. So I need to hear all the every little piece of advice, every little basic piece of information to relearn every step of it if I want to come back as a proper rider.”

Kahle moved to the Netherlands in April 2023 as part of an effort to reinvigorate her recovery. “I was planning to just work and ride and work on my recovery, just in a different setting. I needed a change of scenery,” she said. “I was ready to stay committed and work really hard in the industry and on my riding. A couple months in, I was feeling myself get a little bit burned out. I was just frustrated with myself for not making the riding recovery as quickly as I was wanting it, so I needed to step back and take a moment and give myself my body time to recover and come back when it was ready to come back.”

So, having always been a lover of travel, she turned her time abroad into a tourist adventure, visiting 20 different European countries.

“To be honest, it was the best thing that could have happened,” she said. “I got to experience so much and different cultures and see different things. I feel like I’ve grown as a person so much over the past year, just from doing things totally different like that and going out and experiencing and traveling. I did a bit of travel on my own, a bit of traveling with friends. I learned so much; I don’t even know how to put it into words.”

Kahle said she’ll soon be moving back home to Canada to spend time with her family and continue working on her riding and her recovery.

“I haven’t lived at home in over 10 years,” she said. “My brother has kids that I want to spend some time with, so I’m going to move home, just kind of put my feet on the ground to figure out what I want to do. And then maybe I’ll end up back in Europe. I’m not totally sure yet.”

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