By Jessica Andrews
Photos © Stephen Rivera
Reprinted with permission from Eques Pante
The year 2023 started with putting my horse Nahlea, to sleep. It was one of the hardest, saddest days I have been through. That day I said goodbye to a horse that had been my great friend and adventure partner for over 8 years. I have never bonded with a horse quite like her, we loved and trusted each other generously.
That evening I was talking to a friend I met through having Nahlea, and realized how much she helped shape and change my life. She wasn’t an easy ride and, without her, I probably wouldn’t have sought to advance my riding skills and subsequently have the need to create Eques Pante, and therefore wouldn’t have had the confidence to move life from California.
Some animals come into our lives and have a life-changing impact. Nahlea was one of those and although our journey was tough at times, I am forever grateful. This is our story…
t three months old, Nahlea was sold to a “meat man” and loaded up as part of a shipment filled with sheep and goats headed to Mexico from an auction in Northern California. She was severely malnourished and untamed. A rescue volunteer intercepted the truck and bought Nahlea from the goat trader preventing her from being shipped to Mexico. Her history before then I do not know.
I met Nahlea in a dry dusty lot in Southern California with active, loud train tracks very close by. Having grown up in England and always having horses in the countryside among trees and rolling hills, this was an unfamiliar environment for a horse, but there was something about meeting this little red filly that made me want to get to know her.
On our second meeting, she saw me from across the pasture and came galloping toward me with an abrupt stop. She was curious and had such a sweet eye. That night, I had a conversation with my partner about buying Nahlea, but being hesitant as she was so very young, he said, “buy her, you guys will have a great relationship.” His answer couldn’t have been more word-perfect.
It took me a while to gain her trust. I went slow, meeting her twice a day for short periods. Some days we would make great progress and others she did not want to know but I knew she wanted to bond, she just wanted to take her time. Once I gained her trust, she followed me everywhere. We went for hand walks in the hills and through forests. It was one of my favorite times with her. Watching her learn and grow was such fun and there was something about us being side by side walking on trails that felt like great bonding time. I saw a once scared filly blossom into a confident, cheeky teen.
Although mentally Nahlea was doing much better, physically, her rough start caught up. She needed surgery and rehab. I was nervous about her being so far from me after surgery as the rehab was four months and eight hours drive but it felt necessary to get her the best surgeon and rehab time for success. She arrived back from rehab radiant and cheeky. She was ready for work!
A barn friend told me of a great trainer—it was time for me to get ready for this spirited girl. I started riding her big-moving warmbloods and learning to ride all the movements and suppling exercises.
I began to get hot spots, rashes, and all the discomfort that comes with learning our sport. I tried every underwear on the market. Nothing really fully worked, and I felt there was nothing out there that fixed all the issues. In conversation with girlfriends at the barn, they explained they had the same issues and they just put up with it.
Hearing “equine bum acne—oh yes, it’s a thing,” I thought, oh, I MUST create something! As with most barns, our barn was family. I met so many wonderful, eccentric, loving people. People that would stay in my life for a long time and be loyal, great friends.
This was the time when fires were rampant in Southern California. Nahlea was at a ranch when a fire struck in the early hours. Those loving people, our horse-crazy community, risked their lives to save our horses that day. There were so many things that took place before and during that day that ensured this red lady’s safety. She and her four-legged friends just got out. The ranch up the road unfortunately wasn’t so lucky. After that, I took her out of the mountains and to the dressage facility where I was learning. She would be well cared for and safe there.
The pandemic really pushed me to start designing and creating Eques Pante. In 2020 when the hair and makeup business I had worked so hard building had to stop, like so many of us, I was in a state of panic. To keep my sanity, I needed to put pen to paper. With the help of a US pattern maker and factory, the first prototype was made.
At this point, I moved Nahlea again to a pasture with other horses. The facility had those beautiful rolling hills I was used to riding on. My first ride with the prototype was wonderful. I felt comfortable, relaxed and so happy I had found the solution. I thought well, even if no one else agrees, I have found something so I can enjoy my passion, and that’d be good enough for me!
After a year of tweaking and having others test the prototype, I launched the Pante in February 2021. The Pante reached riders all over the world. The reviews came in and riders of all disciplines and ages loved it!
This brings me to today. A day where I am at the beginning journey of Eques Pante without my joyful steed. Science tells us energy is not destroyed, it merely changes form. I live in the hope someday I will experience Nahlea’s sweet and fun spirit again. But, I have our memories and all the lessons she brought me. With all this comes reflection of how lucky I was she chose me and I her. What’s more, I have a brand to build and riders to reach.
*This story was originally published in the February 2023 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!