We’ve been discussing riders that inspire quite a bit these last few months. We’ve had some incredible amateurs and professionals talk about which riders from the Ecogold Professional Riders Team inspire them and why. Now it’s our turn to talk about someone that inspires us. Frances Wade-Whittaker and her horse Suki have inspired us to talk about determination, love, and being resilient. Fran and Suki inspire us to never give up.
For those who don’t know their story, on July 9, 2009, during a traumatic barn fire Fran’s 9-year-old Oldenburg mare Suki suffered severe burns on 70% of her body. She spent almost 2 months in ICU at New Bolton Center in Pennsylvania. Although many were skeptical about Suki’s chances for survival, her relentless courage and will to live not only led her down the road to recovery, but also has inspired countless others around the world.
While many were hesitant that Suki would survive, Frances put her faith in her veterinarians to advise her in doing the best thing for Suki, which led to performing a skin graft on her back. After the skin graft, Frances began to find hope that one day she may get to ride horse again.
Suki’s fighting spirit and Frances’ diligent care led to what happened on August 7th, 2015. What happened August 7th, 2015? After 6 years, Frances rode Suki again.
The decision to ride Suki was not one that was made lightly. Throughout Suki’s recovery, Frances was continually making sure she was doing whatever was best for Suki rather than being selfish and putting her own interests first. “There was some criticism when I decided to treat Suki after the fire instead of having her put down,” said Frances. “The very first question that I asked of the attending veterinarian, Kelly Kalf, was just that. Does Suki need to be put down? She said that Suki was stable and she was impressed with the mare’s attitude, and we should give it a try.From that moment on, Suki improved daily. Dr. Kalf said it best: ‘Suki lifted her head and we never looked back.’ To consider the journey toward riding again I dug deep inside my brain, instead of my heart. Spending every day with Suki I knew in my brain and my heart that this was what she wanted. One day while grooming Suki in the barn aisle she seemed fidgety looking out toward the arena where a horse was working. I closed the front door part of the way to see if she would settle. Instead, she moved all the way to one side of the aisle so that she could watch the activity. Maybe I am being too sentimental in reading this as a sign. But I know this horse so well. That first time back out in the arena when she actually worked, instead of just trotting around on the lunge line, I saw the look in her eye. Walking back to the barn she was quite proud of herself. I was confident that my efforts were for the right reasons.”
Working towards being able to ride Suki was not an easy process for Frances. The 6 years of recovery and rehabilitation is a testament to the partnership and trust they’ve built during their time together. “It was a long process,” said Frances. “Early on when people would ask me if I thought I would be able to ride Suki someday I would say no. After the skin graft I started to say, well, maybe. Then suddenly I found myself saying yes, I will sit on her again some day. Once I started putting a saddle on her for lunging it became more real. Then I would bring her to the mounting block and lean on the saddle, the way you do when you start a young horse. I knew it was time the day she turned around and looked at me as if to say ‘Well, get on already!’ We were a team. I always knew she would tell me when the time was right. That day I put my foot in the stirrup for the first time since the fire I felt like my heart was going to explode. This mare, after all she had been through; after all WE had been through together had put her trust in me, and I put my trust in her. As riders, this is what we all do every time we sit in the saddle.” Their journey together was one that was filled with moments that seem impossible; with multiple trips out to the barn a day, coaxing Suki to allow medicine to be put on her painful burns, and custom made fly-sheets and other garments to keep the healing skin safe and clean.
When we heard about Frances’s struggle to find equipment that is comfortable for Suki, we knew we had to send them our Calmatech saddle pad. Helping Frances be able to ride Suki again was at the top of our priority list. Thankfully, when the pad arrived, it was up to Frances’ standards for properly equipping Suki. “The Calmatech saddle pad provided the comfort of fleece over that strategic area and the non-slip portion kept everything from moving around.
I started working Suki in a saddle with the Ecogold saddle pad underneath. [First] full lunging sessions at walk, trot and canter. [It was] still good. Stirrups hanging and bouncing, no change. It was go time; the Calmatech saddle pad was definitely key. It provided the comfort and lack of friction that was necessary for success.”
Inspiration may come in many forms, but how Frances and Suki inspired us was extraordinary. Here’s to never giving up and fighting for the things we love.