For the first six years of my daughter’s life, we struggled to find out what was wrong with her. Ashton’s chronic allergy symptoms were so severe they sometimes threatened her breathing. Not even steroids, which she began getting when she was just 9 months old, seemed to help.
As she grew, she became timid and withdrawn around strangers, never knowing who would be sticking needles in her next.
At the age of 6, she underwent extensive testing. It took six adults to hold her down to draw 15 vials of blood. Ashton, who couldn’t understand why this was necessary, struggled and screamed and begged me to make them stop. There’s no way to describe the agony of a mother in a situation like that.
The results said Ashton had a blood disorder that compromises her ability to fight off bacterial infections. This explained why her colds often bloomed into sinus infections or pneumonia. Further testing told us she also had chronic rhinitis, sinusitis, and bronchitis, as well as asthma, acid reflux, and a severe dust allergy.
It was a daunting list, but at least now we knew what we were dealing with. The doctors took her off steroids. By this time, the steroid shots had put some unwanted pounds on her, which heightened her self-consciousness.
She was now 7, and though she’d continued to progress in her daily activities, in and out of school, she remained withdrawn and unsure of herself. When other little girls were having playdates, she’d usually been too sick to go, or had opted not to because of the need to avoid this or that foodstuff when we thought allergies were the problem.
Over the next year, though, she began to feel better. In June of 2004, three months shy of her 8th birthday, she asked for riding lessons. I myself had ridden as a child. I picked up the phone and scheduled a lesson for the very next week. After three lessons, Ashton asked for two lessons a week. She seemed happy on the lesson horses, but her grandfather, whom Ashton calls “Papa,” thought she should have a horse of her own. So in early November, our family trouped to the Michigan State University Pavilion to attend the Tom Moore Quarter and Paint Horse Sale. I’d studied the sale catalog and had a list of horses I thought might work for Ashton. One of them, Lot 41, was a handsome Quarter Horse gelding. When my dad entered his stall, the horse looked him in the eye, stepped toward him, then gently placed his nose in my dad’s outstretched hand. The gelding didn’t push, nudge, nibble, or lick; he just let out a sigh and stood there, lightly touching Papa’s palm.
Impressed, we asked his owner a few questions, then moved on. As sale time approached, we took our place in the stands. We weren’t sure which horse we wanted to buy, but we couldn’t get number 41 out of our minds.
When at last he stepped into the ring, his rider removed his bridle, then continued to walk, jog, and lope him in both directions. Eventually, the bidding came down to two individuals, and one of them was my dad.
When the gavel came down, the gelding was ours. The seller, who called the horse “Brownie,” told us he’d bought him for his son but had to sell because of divorce. Ashton fell in love with the horse immediately, but didn’t like his name.
“He just doesn’t seem like a ‘Brownie,’” she said. His registered name is A Blazing Image (he’s by Blazing Hot and out of a Zippo Pat Bars mare). I told Ashton a name would come to her as she got to know him better.
We brought him home, and he proceeded to take care of my daughter. Though he’d never been ridden by a child, from the first time she mounted him, he walked slower, stepped lighter, essentially became her babysitter. Over time, he taught her to trust in him—and in herself. Before our eyes, she blossomed into a determined, self-confident young equestrian.
It’s been almost a year now. Ashton recently took her gelding to an open show. They placed first in Western pleasure, English pleasure, and showmanship, and second in two other classes. Ashton now has set goals of showing at Congress and the World.
And what did we wind up calling the horse? “Miracle.” No, not because he helped bring about nearly miraculous changes in my daughter, although that’s surely true. It’s because the day we bought him, we received an e-mail from a woman who’d owned him earlier.
“I’m so glad Miracle has found such a good home,” her message began. “Let me tell you how he earned his barn name....”
She explained Miracle’s dam had been injured late in her pregnancy, but had hung on long enough to deliver her foal prematurely before dying. The foal, who was put with a Belgian nurse mare, struggled to survive, won his battle, and was christened accordingly.
He’s now become Ashton’s Miracle, and I have to think it was meant to be.