Heidi Pichotta is a healer by nature and by profession. Her outgoing, caring personality attracts people to her, and she shares her light freely. But she’s also an equine healer in more ways than one. First, she’s the owner of Mechanics for the Equine Athlete where she aims to keep elite performance horses at the top of the game by re-balancing their bodies by using structural integration techniques. Not only does she rehab horses physically, but also mentally, especially the project horses she takes on as her own. One of her big success stories was with her own horse “Bubba” (Steppin Little Lena).
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You can hear the love in her voice but also the sadness in her heart when Pichotta speaks about Bubba. Pichotta first laid eyes on the gorgeous palomino colt when he was just 2 years old, in 2013, and fell head-over-heels. After the colt started his show career in the arena, unfortunate circumstances led to an exceptionally fortunate purchase for Pichotta and a project that changed her life.
“He was getting a little fried [from the pressure of competing],” Pichotta said. “I had the opportunity to buy him and it took a year to rehab him mentally and physically but I never doubted him. Even at his worst, he felt like the fanciest horse in the world to me.”
Pichotta introduced Bubba to her program and brought him back slowly and thoughtfully to become her non pro horse as well as stepping him back up for open classes. That time together brought them closer than she’d been with any of her other project horses.
“He became the horse I never dreamed I would have the opportunity to own,” she shared. “He became an incredibly special individual. You always hope they’ll turn into something cool when you get them to a better place, but he was absolutely amazing. He made friends wherever he went.”
In 2020, a year most of us would like to forget, Bubba died suddenly of an unknown poison. Pichotta’s heart shattered.
While you might not have experienced a sudden, tragic loss of a heart-horse as Pichotta did, if you’ve owned horses for long, you’ve experienced loss and the challenges that go along with letting yourself connect with another horse. Pichotta has advice for opening your mind to making a new connection.
Tip 1: Dive in. “Immersing myself in another project horse was all I could do to help myself heal,” Pichotta shared. “I dove right into another rehab horse and my work of helping other horses.”
About a month after Bubba passed, Pichotta connected with “Moonbeam” (Kays Playing Ruf) through good friends who knew the two needed each other.
“If we are patient, I think the horses we need find us; we get the horses we need,” Pichotta said. “I’ve had a lot of rehabs, and I know the right ones will show up. Moonbeam came to me when she was 3, and in less than a year together, she’s a different horse. The best thing for her rehab was to take off her shoes and let her be a horse—just ride, no pressure—which allowed me to get to know her and what she needed. I was so thankful to be back on a horse, and she seemed so thankful to be that horse for me.”
Shortly after Moonbeam, “Diablo” (Lite N Ruf) came into Pichotta’s life. She’d worked on him for a client, and he was being sold as a flunk out. Even though he wasn’t getting along, Pichotta felt there was something special about the plain brown gelding.
“I went into his stall and we immediately connected,” she shared. Ironically, he shared the same sire as Moonbeam—Not Ruf At All.
“My work is super healing for me,” she said. “Focusing on a goal like helping a horse get better takes the focus off my own pain. I’m supposed to be the one healing the horses, but they’ve always healed me through the toughest of times.”
Tip 2: Be open to something different. Pichotta’s history rehabbing horses gives her great perspective on welcoming a new one into your life.
“I feel like they’re all their own individuals—you’re never going to get that same horse back,” she said. “When I got Moonbeam, it was instantly apparent that she was just so happy to get all my attention, to see me every day, to do the recovery work, which is a great sign for me in a rehab horse. Bubba was the same, as is Diablo. There are so many special horses that just need a second chance. If I can go to sleep at night knowing I helped a couple of them, that brings me so much happiness.
“I know I might not get another once-in-a-lifetime horse like Bubba,” Pichotta continued. “But maybe one of the horses that helped me and I rehab will become that for someone else. My horses and my customers’ horses—they all have helped me get over my loss. My clients say I save their horses’ lives, but I feel like they saved mine. Anytime I can help a horse, it’s healing for me.”
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Tip 3: Remember your ‘why.’ Your first instinct after losing a horse might be to shut down. To isolate from your horse life. To protect yourself from another strong connection. Pichotta strongly advises against this.
“Remember why you do this,” she suggested. “I see some people who shut down when something bad happens, whether it’s a devastating loss or a bad ride. We have to remember why we do this—and that’s for the horses and how they make us feel. Find your purpose and stay true to it. For me, I see that I have another horse to help. It doesn’t come without setbacks, obstacles, and frustration. It’s long and so hard and not everyone wants to do it. But for me, every horse deserves a chance to be all he can be. All horses can thrive to their best ability when given the chance.”
Chances go both ways. By giving another horse a chance, you give yourself the chance to heal your broken heart, develop a relationship together, and give that horse the opportunity to reach his full potential.