by Ann Jamieson

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder doesn’t just affect veterans. Victims of crime, natural disasters, trauma, and physical and emotional abuse can all become afflicted with PTSD.

In Brooke Hannah’s case, it was caused by an abusive mother, along with the constant bullying she suffered in school. Exposed to nonstop trauma, Brooke’s PTSD is so debilitating that it is classified as “complex” (as a result of repetitive, prolonged trauma involving harm or abandonment by a caregiver with an uneven power dynamic).

The disorder affects every aspect of Brooke’s life. A relapse caused her to lose a job she loved at Peter Alexander, a New Zealand/Australia based pajama store whose designs include classic movies, Disney, and DC Comics.

To deal with her depression over losing her job, Brooke put an ad on a New Zealand based Facebook page looking for someone who might need a hand with their horses. Having taken a horse care course at an agriculture college, she knew that being around horses made her feel good.

Her ad was answered by a woman who ran a horse rescue. She would be happy to have Brooke help her out with the horses.

Brooke enjoyed the work and in no time found herself falling in love with a Thoroughbred named Oakley. Life was starting to look up. She hoped to buy Oakley, and enquired about his price. When she found out it was beyond her budget, she was devastated. It felt like any time things started to look up, she got knocked down again.

This time she was ready to give up. There didn’t seem to be anything left to live for.

But sometimes things don’t work out because something better is waiting for us.Brooke’s little sister Morgan pulled her through, boosting her spirits by encouraging her to look for another horse. Brooke decided that it would be a good idea if she leased a horse rather than buy one so she would have the opportunity to see what it was like owning a horse full time. She put an ad on the Facebook site “Ponies and Horses NZ” looking for a potential lease. While she was doing so, she glimpsed a for sale post of a very handsome Thoroughbred gelding.

“He’s beautiful,” thought Brooke, “but way out of my league.”

Ten minutes after Brooke had posted her ad, she got a response. “If you ever change your mind about leasing, I have a horse that I think would be perfect for you.”

Curious, Brooke clicked on the link. She got the shock of her life when she realized who the horse was. It was the handsome Thoroughbred, the one she thought was out of her league.

The horse’s name was Bobby, and just his photo alone was enough to sell Brooke. “He had me in awe. He was on a beach in the sunset. He had no noseband, and was relaxed in his body. He had a funny marking on his face which looked to me like a palm tree, and that made me laugh. But the photo that sold me was one of him in his blanket pulling a very silly face.

The minute I saw Bobby’s pictures I started to shiver and shake. The pull to him was like nothing I have ever felt. It was like I had a rope tied around my waist and it was pulling me towards him.”

So on September 24, 2015 Brooke’s father (after a lot of begging and pleading from Morgan) drove her down to Raglan, a more than three hour drive, to meet Bobby for the first time.

The pull for Brooke was even stronger in person. “I’ll never forget seeing him standing there, his eyes lit with a calming fire, and looking majestic as anything. He was skinny, but nothing that would cause alarm. And he was so handsome! It was love at first sight for the both of us.”

His owner, picking up immediately on their connection exclaimed, “You are perfect for one another!”
Bobby sniffed Brooke up and down. Then he “cuddled into my chest and dozed off,” remembers Brooke.

The farrier came to shoe him and Bobby “stood there with someone holding his lead rope. I got the chance myself and I swear he was amused by how much I was shaking at seeing him.

Because he was being shod, I didn’t ride him, but I didn’t mind one bit. Being on the ground taught me a lot about him. I got to see him being lunged, and the way he trotted made me giddy. When he showed off, he really flew above the ground.”

Driving home, Brooke’s father turned to her and said “That is one amazing horse Brooke!” Back then her father only cared about winning racehorses, so when she heard him say that Brooke “knew that Bobby had to come home with us.”

A few days later Brooke got a message from Bobby’s owner. “How would you feel about bringing Bobby home next weekend?”
How would she feel? Over the moon excited! Brooke’s week passed in a whirlwind of emotions ranging from nerves to elation. Stephen, her Dad’s best friend, offered to drive them and found a float (trailer) that they could hire for the day.
Brooke was up early on October 8. It was the big day! She was eager to get on the road to pick up her new horse.

Bobby was in the paddock when they arrived. Brooke easily caught him, and handed him to her sister’s friend Jess to hold while she opened the electric fence. Bobby stood like a perfect gentleman.

When he was led up to the float, he climbed in with no hesitation.

Bobby settled in so well for the ride that they could barely tell there was a horse in the back. When they stopped at the halfway point, Bobby seemed quite happy, gazing out at a lake they had stopped near.

Arriving at his new home, Bobby settled in as if he’d always lived there, and immediately set about converting new admirers. As Morgan helped place him in his new paddock, he placed his head against her chest just as he had done with Brooke.

Bobby moved into a paddock with Digger, who also was an off-the-track-Thoroughbred. Bobby and Digger formed a friendship, as did Brooke and Kathy, Digger’s owner. Kathy took Brooke up every day to see Bobby, and help her with Digs, which Brooke was more than happy to do.

Brooke, meanwhile, did some digging into Bobby’s background.

Bobby, it turned out, had been a very successful racehorse. Running under the name “Wrath of Fire,” Bobby had been a champion in Hong Kong. He was nine years old and the name, Brooke felt, summed up the inner strength they both shared.
Bobby turned out to be a super easy keeper…and a goofball. He enjoyed just spending time with Brooke. One day he lay down and put his head in her lap and they just chilled out together. Sometimes Brooke sat on a pile of logs in his pasture and he lay behind her, back legs stretched out.

Brooke relates, “We’d sit and talk for hours on the weekend. I always knew he was listening because he’d nudge me when I stopped. There were times he was overprotective of me, going so far as to once stand over me, as if I was his foal. And one day when I fell over, he frantically galloped over to check if I was all right, then I swear proceeded to laugh at me when he realized I was okay.”

Bobby wasn’t above creating his own laughs. A favorite trick was grabbing the hose when Brooke bathed him so he could watch her jump around and shriek his name while she tried to avoid being drenched by the wildly swinging hose.
Finding it amusing when Brooke struggled to mount, Bobby would nudge her with his nose. Whether he was trying to help her or trying to make mounting more difficult Brooke could never quite decide.

One day when Brooke went to get his grain from the feed room, someone had spilled something wet and slippery on the floor. Brooke wiped out and landed flat on her back, still holding on to Bobby’s feed tub.

Thinking she heard a cough behind her, Brooke tilted her head back. Bobby was standing there with one ear forward and a tilt to his head with his brow raised. “He just looked at me in utter bemusement,” she laughs.

When Brooke first rode Bobby in November she “was scared! He was so excited, eyes wild and pawing the ground. I remember thinking, ‘He’s going to kill me.’ But once I was up and he realized how scared I was, he calmed down. Those 45 minutes were magic.”

After that they rode nearly every day. Rain or shine, Brooke and Kathy could be found riding their boys through the paddocks. Bobby was so calm that Brooke could lean forward and wrap her arms around his neck, something that he enjoyed immensely.
The pain that Brooke lived with every day eased when she was around Bobby. “He helped my PTSD by showing me that I did have what it took to work with OTTBs. All my life I had been told that I couldn’t do things. Bobby proved that I could.”

He also changed her family’s view of horses. Morgan, who had always been afraid of them, fell so in love with Bobby that she got down on her knees and proposed to him.
Brooke’s father, who had formerly only been interested in horses that crossed the finish line first at the racetrack, found that Bobby had worked his way into his heart. Bobby made him feel welcome at the barn, and took to following him around the paddock. In return, her father took to washing all the carrots and apples that were purchased for Bobby. “And that,” says Brooke, “was not like my father at all.”

Bobby touched everyone he met. He and Brooke were even invited to be in the Santa parade. The organizers were going to make him a Santa inspired quarter sheet, along with a tinsel covered breastplate.
And he changed Brooke’s life. “When it came to Bobby, I would describe it like fire. I had been walking through life half dead and he gave me life. I walked taller; I looked different, when I was with Bobby. I was who I always should have been and he encouraged me every step of the way. Bobby gave me life and a purpose, something that I had always craved, and most important of all unconditional love.”

Although Brooke lost Bobby through a tragic pasture accident, his legacy lives on. It lives on in the love he showed her, and in the ability he gave her to live her life on her own terms, and with confidence. Because of Bobby, Brooke is planning her own business: a business training OTTBs specifically for competitive trail riding and endurance.

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