- Associated Press - Sunday, July 12, 2020

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - She fell in love with him when they first began riding.

Mary Ann Hope, 73, has been riding Flash for more than eight years now. He’s a 28-year-old pony who lives at Ellington Stables. At first, Flash would run away from her whenever he saw her at the pasture. He was difficult to ride because he didn’t respond well to the reins and kept stopping.

“The more time I spent with him, the closer we got,” Hope said. “The more we rode, the closer we got. He’s so willing to do what I want to do so it’s really nice.”

They started off trail riding before taking dressage lessons. She used to commute from Kansas City to Bloomington but all her family is here, so she sold her townhome and moved closer to Flash.

Hope and Flash were honored for their combined age of more than 100 by The Dressage Foundation’s Century Club.

Hope first learned about the club when they started taking dressage lessons. Due to their already combined old age, they made it their goal.

“Flash loved (dressage training) instantly,” Hope said. “I realized that he loves learning. He wanted to learn something new and he went through a process of trying to figure out what I wanted him to do. Once he figured it out, he was just so good and wouldn’t forget anything.”

Hope and Flash participated in a charity horse show called Octoberfest put on by the Indiana Horse Council. While there, they rode in a dressage task and participated in a costume contest.

She dressed them up as hippies; giving him tie-dyed bell bottoms, a multicolored mane, a peace symbol necklace and different colored duct tape on his hoofs. Flash didn’t mind, he was just happy to be with Hope.

“We’re best friends,” Hope said. “Horses have super powers; vision, sight, smell, hearing, and they’re also very empathetic.”

Ten days after that late October show, Hope was in Indianapolis at IU Health University Hospital for a kidney transplant. If it wasn’t for the transplant, she’d be on dialysis slowly dying.

Hope was diagnosed with lupus nephritis when she was 20. It’s an autoimmune disease where she creates antibodies against her own tissue. It led to a lot of joint pain and with the age she is now, her kidneys were ready to be done. She got on the transplant list roughly three years ago.

Hope continued to ride Flash while sick and he could tell when she would be more tired than normal some days. Flash would always slow down and let her catch her breath.

“He has this sense of like he needs to take care of her all the time,” trainer Brittany Wilson said.

While she was sick, Hope would always tell Flash they needed to survive to make the Century Club. They only needed to make it to the following year.

“He’d listen to me and be like, ‘I don’t know what that means,’” Hope said. “It felt like it was keeping me alive because I really wanted to get there.”

After the successful kidney transplant, it was discovered that Hope had a blood clot. She had a stent put in, but the blood flow never returned to her left foot. Her left foot and part of her leg had to be amputated.

“Other than that, I’m healthy as a horse,” Hope said.

Hope left the hospital on New Year’s Eve but she couldn’t ride Flash for months. Each time she talked to him over the phone, he’d look around the barn for her. Flash became a little off after not seeing Hope for such a long period of time.

In March, two of Hope’s friends came up with a plan to bring the two together. They brought Flash to her house and he stood on the porch. Flash was confused about where he was but he knew Hope was there. She said Flash licked his lips a lot while there to show he was happy.

Seeing him gave her motivation to set another goal. Hope wanted to get stronger so she could drive herself to visit him at the barn. Once she was capable, Hope would sit in her wheelchair and spend as much time as possible with him. She’d pet him and kiss his nose. He’d return the affection by putting his nose on her.

Hope would also read some of the children books laying around the barn to him. But most of the time, she’d sit in silence because he understood her body language.

“He’s back to his old self now,” Hope said. “As soon as I come into the barn, he’s watching for me.”

By the end of May, Hope was back riding Flash. The first time she rode him, there was one person on the side and another leading him. Hope said it was the best feeling to be riding him again.

It’s been a few months since then, and she’s now waiting to get a prosthetic leg. But she’s been riding him more often in anticipation of the show today. It’s the first show of the season and it won’t be their last.

Despite their combined age of 101, there’s nothing slowing them down. Hope believes she’ll be riding with him forever.

“Everything has changed so much,” Hope said. “This was back to normal. It was normal for me to be on him and it didn’t matter how many legs we had. We’re five-legged now. We don’t care.”


Source: The Herald Times

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