Jenna Gould & Tic Tac Man (AKA Red)
Jenna Gould isn't your typical equestrian. In 2010, she contracted a viral infection that left her left leg paralyzed below the knee down. Although she was unsure whether she would ever fully regain the use of her leg, she refused to give up on riding. With special magnetic stirrups and an iron will, she continued riding and searching for a horse of her own that would allow her to ride safely. She needed a unicorn: something quiet, steady, and sane, but athletic enough for her to continue jumping.
After trying several horses in New England, her search brought her to South Carolina, where what can only be described as fate brought her to the horse that would change her life forever.
THE BIG RED HORSE WAS EVERYTHING JENNA WASN’T SUPPOSED TO BE LOOKING FOR IN A HORSE: A 7-YEAR-OLD, RECENTLY OFF-THE-TRACK THOROUGHBRED.
With her nerves still on high from a recent riding accident that had left her with a broken wrist, she jumped through a few gymnastics, pleased to find that he was a perfect gentleman.
“The jump was probably only 2’6”, but to me it looked like 10 feet! I was a very nervous rider at the time, and he took such good care of me.”
He was sane, careful, and boosted Jenna’s fragile confidence. 900 miles from home, Jenna had found her unicorn in the most unlikely form of a big red Thoroughbred: Tic Tac Man, affectionately known as Red.
ALMOST THREE YEARS AFTER JENNA LOST THE USE OF HER LEFT LEG, RED CAME HOME TO CONNECTICUT.
Jenna had slowly begun to regain feeling in her leg and was gradually improving. The day Red arrived off the trailer was also the day that Jenna took her first unassisted steps with no brace. This monumental day represented the beginning of a partnership that would change Jenna’s life.
Together, they found their collective calling in the jumper ring, and in 2016 they were awarded Reserve Champion at CHSA finals, CHSA Reserve Champion for year end points, and Sportsmanship of the Year award.
But Jenna’s relationship with Red goes far deeper than awards and ribbons. Her love for the Big Red Horse is evident in everything that she does. That love became essential to Jenna in the winter of 2018 when she faced another health scare. After contracting pneumonia, she was diagnosed with a heart condition called POTS syndrome, which causes her to pass out at seemingly random intervals. Jenna was put on bed rest and out of work for almost 3 months.
“IT WAS A HUGE SETBACK. EVERYTHING I DID TOOK EVERYTHING OUT OF ME; JUST STANDING UP WAS EXHAUSTING.”
Through all of the turmoil, Red was an unwavering source of support.
“Without him, I don’t think I would have been able to make it through everything sanely. People would drop me off at the barn and I would just sit in his stall. It was the middle of winter, and I would just go sit in the middle of the round pen on a barrel and watch him.”
To this day, although Jenna is more stable than she was in the beginning, she still passes out about twice a month due to POTS. Red seems to know when she needs a little extra love. "He's just been a whole different horse. He's never been an easy horse; he's had a buck in him, but he's never once done any of that on a day I didn't feel well.”
Jenna didn’t just get one best friend out of her trip to Aiken. She also met Red’s former owner, Mellisa, who has become one of Jenna’s closest friends. An avid runner herself, Mellisa encouraged Jenna’s interest in running. Despite doctors telling her she would probably never walk again without the assistance of a brace, Jenna began running competitively and completed her first marathon.
Today, Jenna balances riding, running, and biking. Her attitude is overwhelmingly positive, and her trials have only served to put life into perspective for her.
“YOU GET ONE SHOT AT THIS. YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’LL GET TOMORROW. BUY THE DAMN HORSE, GO TO THE HORSE SHOW. BUY THE PLANE TICKET, GO SEE YOUR FRIENDS."
Jenna's story is a reminder to all of us to never take a single day for granted, and to push forward no matter the challenges you face. You never know when you'll find your very own Big Red Horse to carry you through.