Kristi & Kona | Cavesson Corners | The Second Chances Project

Kristi riding Kona as the sun sets

Meet Kristi & Kona, the next gorgeous pair from The Second Chances Project! Kristi’s horse Kona is a beautiful example of a rescue horse finally finding a loving forever home. I photographed Kristi & Kona at the beautiful Cavesson Corners in Manalapan, NJ, where Kona has finally found much-deserved happiness and security.

Since this shoot/interview, Kona has been retired, and continues to live the good life as Kristi’s beloved companion.

Kristi & Kona | Cavesson Corners, Manalapan, NJ

Horse: Miss Mandy Mae barn name “Kona”, 20 years old, standardbred, photographed at Cavesson Corners in Manalapan, NJ

Discipline: low level dressage and equitation

How it all started…

I adopted Kona from the Standardbred Retirement Foundation on October 15, 2019. I wrote my first check to purchase her myself. I had always told my parents that my first “big girl” purchase was going to be a horse! [She] is my first horse! I’ve ridden most of my life but took a break during college. I was (and still am) a nervous first-time horse owner. [I] call the vet for many silly reasons, but I’m learning every day and trying to do right by her! She’ll forever be my first love.

Kona was 17 when I adopted her. She did not come with any papers other than her coggins; however, I was able to find her racing history through USTA. She raced 23 times between 2004 and 2006 and placed first once! This documentation ends with her final purchase date in 2007.

My only goal when purchasing Kona was to increase my confidence. My anxiety had pretty much taken over at this point in my life, and I knew I needed something gentle and secure to make up for the confidence I lacked. I was looking for a partner I could learn and grow with at my own pace.

a little history…

Unfortunately, the timeline for Kona’s journey has been laden with conflicting stories. I was able to gather her general history. Kona was pulled from the Camelot Auction by SRF in 2017 before she could fall into the slaughter pipeline (they got to her just in time!). Because her documentation goes cold after 2007, it is assumed that she was an Amish buggy horse that was brought to the auction due to soundness issues. She was rehabilitated by SRF and passed up by many adopters due to her inconsistency in soundness, but eventually adopted out in December 2017. She was returned to the rescue in 2019 due to aggressive behavior, and I met her soon after. Kona had been passed around a lot in her life; I promised her that she would have her forever home with me!

how & when we met…

Kona was everything I didn’t want in a horse. I had a very specific idea of the horse I was “meant to have,” and I wasn’t even sure if I wanted a standardbred. I went to the rescue looking for a 16.2hh+ black gelding under 15 years old, and was introduced to this 17 year old 16hh bay mare. The adoption agent was so confident that we would be a good match, so I reluctantly agreed to view her. The second I sat on her I knew she was the one. This skinny, older mare showed nothing but relaxation and confidence. She was exactly what I needed.

Kona was skinny and incredibly under-muscled when she came into my care. Her feet were not in the best condition, but a single trim fixed that right up! Sadly, trust was her main issue when I first got her. She immediately displayed behaviors that she didn’t show at the rescue, and it was clearly because she didn’t trust me. Who could blame her? She had been passed around for most of her life, and it was clear that one of her many previous owners was not kind to her.

Kona would try to run whenever I would bridle her (it took two of us to actually do it!) and I could not touch her face without her trying to get away. I accidentally gave her a small shock when putting her blanket on and I could not approach her for the next week without her looking terrified. She was also horribly defensive toward other horses and was food aggressive. She has come so far in every aspect since I first got her. Hard to believe that she’s the same horse!

My barn family at Cavesson Corners was so supportive in the adoption of Kona. My instructor was with me every step of the way and helped me understand the difficulties of adopting a horse with a bad past. My parents were less than thrilled with the situation, but my sister was always supportive of my decision.

our lowest point…

My lowest point with Kona occurred in August 2020 when she began experiencing consistent soundness issues. I spent months researching her weird movements and discussing options with my vet, farrier, and standardbred experts. We had been doing so well in our training, and everything crashed at once when I was faced with the reality that Kona may need to retire. At the time, she was 18 and her previous life took a major toll on her body. It also made me feel like a terrible owner – was I the one who caused this? Did I ruin my horse because I didn’t know any better? Kona had suffered enough in her previous life- was I continuing that suffering by riding her?

Thanks to some specialty shoeing and fantastic support from my vet, we were able to get her almost 100% sound and comfortable again by November. She continues to be the happiest horse I know, and I am very aware of her limitations due to her past. When she tells me she’s ready, she will retire with me and continue the spoiled life she deserves!

our highest point…

After her soundness issues, I decided to focus our training more on dressage to help her learn to use her body correctly. I am not trained in dressage, so it was a really fun learning experience, and I decided to enter an online dressage series with her in January 2021. We wound up placing second and third in our first real competition, and we were met with so many kind comments. I genuinely believe Kona is a beautiful horse with gorgeous movement, and it felt really nice to hear professionals agree. Kona seems to enjoy it too, so it’s a win-win!

where we are now…

I know the Second Chances Project revolves around the horse and their second chance at life, but I want to stress that Kona has given me a second chance at happiness. She reawakened my love for horses and has given me so many healthy coping mechanisms to deal with my anxiety. There are times where I will have a meltdown on her back, and all she does is stop and turn her head to look at me. It’s as if she says “It’s okay mom, when you’re done I’ll be here and we can try it again.” I supported her through her anxiety regarding the bridle, and she supported me through my nervous tendencies.

My favorite memory with her is when I was able to bridle her for the first time without her running away. I removed her halter and fully expected her to take off, but instead she wrapped her head around me. That was the first time I was able to give her whole head a hug, and then she accepted the bridle as if she’d been doing it her entire life. She offers me a hug every time I bridle her now, and we’ve incorporated it into our tacking-up routine. We were two broken pieces that made each other whole, and it is such an honor to be her forever person.

Thank you so much to Kristi and her lovely barn family at Cavesson Corners! It’s rare to meet such a loving and caring group of people who truly exemplify the word “horsemanship”. I’m so grateful I had the chance to meet and work with you all.

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