They Traded Peach Trees & Cornfields for Mountains
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They Traded Peach Trees & Cornfields for Mountains

They took a risk and never looked back

They Traded Peach Trees & Cornfields for Mountains

Even though we all love a good 'Dark Horse' story, we seldom hear or see those stories work out in our own communities and lives. I think there are plenty of times we all feel bad about ourselves, and we feel like someone as average as us will never actually make it.

So, I'd like to tell everyone who will listen about two of the most encouraging, motivating, and gusty people I've ever met. The best part of their stories is that they are ordinary. They are relatable. They are real people who are just trying to make it like the rest of us.

The Nebraska girl (see above picture) pretty much comes from a cornfield (or at least, thats my understanding). Her name is Katrina Panec (PA-nets) and she's studying Natural Horsemanship and Psychology at the University of Montana Western.

The Peach Trees (as seen above) lady started off in the deep (true) South. Her name is Abigail 'Abbey' Walker and her southern accent is still as strong as ever. She, like Katrina, is studying Natural Horsemanship and Psychology at the University of Montana Western.

These ladies share a few things in common. Firstly, they are both the 'middle-child' of their families and therefore have the ability to take care of anyone and everyone. Secondly, they are both on the shorter side, standing at 5'3 and 5'2. Thirdly, they are both extremely gifted in cooking and baking.

All these things aside, they are both surprises. Neither of them are traditional college students. Katrina started school at UMW when she was 23. Abbey started at UMW as a transfer student from Georgia (that's right, Georgia).

Katrina was initially enrolled in Nursing School. In fact, she's actually a Certified Nurse's Assistant. However, on her first day of Nursing School, Katrina felt her heart close to the entire idea and decided to take her life in a 180 degree different direction. Although she owned a horse, Katrina had never received riding lessons or any form of instruction with horses. Once she made it to UMW, she hadn't even been accepted into the Natural Horsemanship Program. There was a student who dropped out of the program last minute, opening up a spot for Katrina and her horse Kenya. Fact is, they weren't even really supposed to be here in the first place.

Then we have Abbey, who was accepted into the University of Montana Western but had been denied immediate acceptance into the Natural Horsemanship program. To be blunt, Abbey was thrown onto a waitlist. She got a phone call a week before the fall semester started- she had been accepted. In a weekend, Abbey packed up her entire life, moved to the opposite side of the country, and became a Natural Horsemanship student. Like Katrina, she wasn't really expected to make it here, let alone become a Natural Horsemanship student.

Both we're scared. Both we're overwhelmed with the financial contributions that as out-of-state students, they needed to make for their education. Both left their families thousands of miles away. Both left their communities they had lived in for 20+ years. Both committed to a program and University they hardly understood. Both were the 'Dark Horses' of their year.

So, it's two years later. What are they doing now? I'd be happy to tell you.

Katrina has completed two full years of Natural Horsemanship classes with her mare, Kenya. In a about a month, Katrina will start her very first colt, as part of the EQUH 453 NH: Young Horse Starting & Development class. She has also become the Vice President of the UMW Horseman's Club. In the fall of 2017, Katrina will begin her Third Year in the Natural Horsemanship Program and will assume office of President for the UMW Horseman's Club. She also spent her summer working on a cow/calf operation called the Harrington CO Ranch. Katrina has not only been successful in the Natural Horsemanship program, but has exceeded expectations and continues to set higher goals for herself and her horses.

(Katrina at work on the Harrington CO Ranch)

Abbey originally intended on only completing an Associate's degree in Natural Horsemanship. However, she now is on track to complete her Bachelor's Degree in not only Natural Horsemanship but also Psychology. In a few weeks, Abbey will have completed two years of Natural Horsemanship classes. She also chose to take a unique challenge and pursued a spot on the 2016-2017 UMW Sales Prep Class. Abbey gained a spot in the class and has started and ridden a UMW Sales Prep Colt since October 2016. She also has been an active volunteer and member of the UMW Horseman’s Club for the past two years. Although the past two years have been challenging, Abbey doesn’t regret trading peach trees for mountains.

(Abbey with her UMW Sales Prep Colt)

These are very short summaries of Katrina Panec's and Abbey Walker's stories, but even these summaries inspire me.

How is it that a woman from Nebraska, with zero formal riding instruction, is now colt starting and a President of the Horseman's Club?

How is is that a woman from Georgia, who changed everything about her life because of one phone call, is now starting colts with the UMW Sales Prep Class and has plans for graduate school?

I’m so glad they decided to leave behind the peach trees and cornfields. I'm so glad they took a risk and followed their passion.

Thank you ladies for setting such a courageous example for the rest of us.

(Abbey & Katrina wrestling calves at their first branding)

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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