A Cinderella story for a girl and her horse

The underdog rises to the top; that is what one year brought to young Emily Jakubac and her horse Chianti. Their story is an experience of hope, and for all who know them, it is a chance to share in their triumph.

Last year, when Emily (a young dedicated volunteer at Gina Perrin’s Heavenly Horse Haven (HHH) – a farm animal and horse rescue in Anza) received a riding lesson scholarship at the beginning of 2012 from Denise Nelson-Finster of Dann Sporthorses, who could have imagined all that would occur because of these clandestine pairings.

Denise’s husband Kevin had read about HHH and the young volunteers in the Anza Valley Outlook and brought the article to Denise’s attention. She was deeply moved and wanted to give one of these young people a riding scholarship, something she rarely would do. Because of this connection, a very interesting year has been spent through the intermingling of people’s lives in both groups that has resulted in deep caring, sharing of skills and talents, and mutual respect.

Denise is a Federation Silver and Bronze Medalist in Dressage, which is no small feat. She is a teacher, trainer, and coach and one of the few who teaches dressage to young people, something not normally done in the dressage world. She has been coaching Scholastic School teams to victory for some time and gives private lessons at her facility in Anza at very reasonable rates.

Her philosophy is to not only coach a young person on how to ride, she also believes in molding a student’s moral character, too. To stay in her program, her students must not only be willing to work hard but also to conduct themselves with “a touch of a princess (or prince)” – a reminder to be confident, kind, a good sport, have clean lips, and conduct themselves in a manner befitting a princess/prince at all times, in and outside of the show arena. These lessons help mold the young person, benefiting them in life whether they continue with riding and showing horses or not.

Gina also molds young lives at HHH, giving them an avenue of expression and a place to hone their dreams of horses. She mentors many young lives taking students and HHH’s reconditioned horses to Gymkhana to learn valuable lessons that build confidence, kindness, good sportsmen-like behavior, responsibility, and a sense of self-worth. She goes out of her way to make many wonderful experiences possible for these young people and she is a shoulder they can lean on when needed. She even takes Emily and others, along with their horses, to lessons at Denise’s Dann Sporthorses weekly.

Stories after stories of lives being changed have been happening throughout the year, not just human lives, but horses’ lives as well. Chianti, a young French Arabian, was a rescue horse who came to live at HHH about 11 months ago. Used for racing, Gina has had to spend much of her time slowing her down. Working with her several times a week, Gina was impressed with how fast she would learn new things.

“She is naturally a beautiful mover; this girl was born to dance,” said Gina who in turn told Denise about her.

Denise evaluated her skills and was thrilled. Denise has graciously chosen to train Chianti with Emily, with hopes to pair them in upcoming shows, thus showing the world what the underdog can do.

Others who volunteer their time and talents are Rob Kalb, a horseshoer, and his friend Donna Braswell who rides and cares for horses at HHH; they are some of Emily and Chianti’s biggest fans. Rob has brought a once lame horse back into balance for Denise and she is ride-able again. He now cares for all her show horses.

Emily has become one of Denise’s princesses, and with her natural horse skills and hard work, she is ready to start honing those skills learned on the show circuit. She has put in the hard work at her lessons while helping Gina retrain, exercise, and care for the many rescued horses at HHH. In fact, when Gina was away due to a mishap, Emily took over the running of the ranch until she was better. Gina said she would be lost without her.

Emily tells in her own words the struggle to go from underdog to the chance to rise to the top, her own Cinderella story.

“A lot of people have asked me, ‘How do you feel about all this?’ Is there even a way to describe it? At first, it was just sort of surreal, (receiving a scholarship and being taught by Denise) like I was imagining it all. It was like that for a long time. Now, finally, it has sunk in. It took a long time, but it finally got through to me that yes, this is real. It actually happened and all of a sudden I feel so many things at once I think I might self-implode.

“I’ve always been the kind of person that is perfectly happy to stay in their little niche and not think about it any further. At my first show, I didn’t give any thought to doing well or doing badly, winning or getting bucked off. I kind of just went with the flow. It’s been an awesome experience. Chianti has been great, too. I think she’s doing as well as can be expected at this point, which is pretty much where I am. Are we perfect? No way. Are we trying? You bet.

“Chianti is a talented mare with a great mind, and it’s my hope that we’ll be able to show the world what a rescue horse can do. I’m not doing this just because it’s fun, or challenging, or makes me look good. I want to do this because I believe in the underdog. I believe in the person who gets told, ‘You can’t do something because you’re not good enough, smart enough, or rich enough,’ and then goes out and does it anyway. I believe in every broken-spirited horse that comes to Gina’s ranch and leaves happier and healthier. I want to do this because the world says ‘no’ but Gina, Denise, Chianti, and I say ‘yes.’”

Emily was sponsored by Denise at her first show and won first place in her class.

“She rode in a Green Working Hunter class and won it on Pacific out of 12 riders,” Denise shared proudly.

According to Denise, “The show circuit coming up for Emily will be the Signature Show Series run by Robin Surfass. These are held at Del Mar Horsepark. These shows are entry level hunter jumper series shows that are substantially cheaper than ‘A’ circuit shows. She will also be showing at the Galway Downs Series run by Robert Kellerhouse. The Signature Series starts in December 2012 and Galway Downs starts in January 2013. These shows run about $250 to $300 per show. I will not be charging her trainer’s fees.

“Emily will be showing Noteworthy at first, a very experienced hunter horse. Then, if she does well, she can graduate to Pacific, a fancy Trekhaner Working Hunter. Emily will also be showing a wonderful mare, owned by HHH, in training level dressage at these schooling shows.”

Emily is hardworking and spends most of her waking hours helping others so there is little time for her to work to earn money to pay for shows herself. If you would like to help Emily and Chianti show the world what the underdog can do, please let Denise know.

Corporate sponsors as well as individual donations are being sought to help this Cinderella team make it. Please call Denise Nelson-Finster at (951) 972-2653 to make arrangements or mail donations to Emily Jakubac c/o Denise Nelson-Finster at Dann Sporthorses; 54550 Mitchell Road, Anza, CA 92539. Visit HHH’s website at www.heavelyhorsehaven.org and visit Dann Sporthorses at www.hotbloods.com.

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