The call to serve in Iraq came as a welcome challenge for Captain Amy Coleman. The 29-year-old Flight Surgeon was ready to serve her country and help her fallen comrades, no matter the cost.
“There were people in need over there, and I was glad to go and help. I was ready—-it was my time,” she says with calm confidence. “I’ve never been a spectator on the sidelines. If I’m going to do something worthwhile, I’m going to be in the middle of it.”
Coming from a family well versed in military life, Amy felt a sense of honor as she began her mission. But honors aside, it wasn’t easy saying goodbye to family, friends, and a Dutch Warmblood named Poseidon, especially when the trade-off meant leaving San Antonio for a sand-covered war zone.
But with the 421st F-16 Fighter Squadron, depending on her skilled hands and undivided attention, Amy put some of her greatest loves on hold, and jumped into action, minus the horse. In the meantime, Poseidon’s reins were left in the trusted hands of friend and fellow equestrian, Gayle O’Rear.
Gayle rode Poseidon at the barn where she and Amy board their horses, she checked him over regularly and sent e-mail updates religiously. But having been in Amy’s shoes before, as a nurse in Vietnam, the retired Army Colonel knew Amy needed a little more to pull her through the active duty experience.
“I know what it’s like to be away from horses,” Gayle says. “Once it’s in your blood, it’s a passion. And if you can’t ride, the closest substitute is to watch.” As it turns out, Gayle’s assessment hit the mark exactly.
“I tried to practice riding in my mind so I wouldn’t forget how,” Amy says. “I tried to keep it in the forefront of my mind, so when I got back, I’d be able to pick up where I left off. There was never a question of whether or not I’d go back to riding. It’s my passion.”
Amy did get to ride once while in Iraq, though not on a bona fide show jumper. “A camel has a lot of swing to its gait,” Amy says. “They’re a lot higher off the ground too, but at least it was a four-legged animal. I was happy.”
As the holiday season approached, a package arrived from Gayle filled with the only horses Amy would ever see in Iraq. Wanting to make sure her friend passed the free time with a smile on her face, Gayle bought Olympic Show Jumping DVDs, and acquired additional DVDs that were kindly donated by Spruce Meadows in Canada.
“I didn’t want her to miss out on all the equestrian action at home. I was tempted to send her a box of manure,” Gayle says ruefully, “but I didn’t think it would make it through the postal service.”
Amy and Gayle share a laugh as they consider the humor, though Amy says she’s relieved Gayle stuck with the DVDs.
“I had my laptop and I’d bring the DVDs into my tent at night and watch them over and over again. And during the day, if the pilots didn’t have anything to do, I made them watch show jumping and I taught them all about equestrian. I told them, ‘This is how I fly.’”
After a six-month tour of duty, Capt. Amy Coleman returned home to Texas in January. She’s resumed her place on Poseidon and continues to train with Olympic Team Bronze medalist, Colonel John Russell (1952 Olympic Show Jumping Team) at Russell Equestrian Center, to work towards her goal of becoming a Grand Prix show jumper. Gayle is still in the picture, riding with Amy and encouraging her to develop her talents as much as before.
“Gayle is my best friend. She’s one of the strongest, most independent ladies I’ve ever met. I take from her example, and I watch how she approaches things. She’s the kind of person I’d like to become,” Amy says.
To that end, Amy keeps busy making plans for the future, determined to reach the goals she has set for herself. In July, she and her husband will report to a new assignment in Germany, in part, so Amy can train more seriously in the show jumping ring. The Air Force is going along for that ride too, funding some of Amy’s equestrian pursuits, in hopes that she’ll be able to serve her country in a completely different light one day—in the Olympics.
“I see myself at the highest levels one day, and I’ll do whatever it takes to get there,” Amy says. “I’m not looking for any shortcuts. I know there’s a lot to do and a long road ahead.” And much like military service, a little challenge doesn’t scare Amy off. She rides right in the middle of the action, giving it all she’s got. “I’ve never had a sense of self-preservation,” she laughs. “I throw my heart over the jump and hope my horse follows.”
Will and determination that just might take her to a Gold medal.
“She’ll make it,” Gayle adds without hesitation. “She’ll make it.”
Captain Amy Coleman and Colonel Gayle O’Rear, joint recipients of the January “Hoofprints from the Heart” award, will both receive prizes from the USEF’s online store. Media may request additional photos or interviews for coverage. Contact Sarah Lane, Public Relations Manager (859) 225-6974, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
To review guidelines for Hoofprints from the Heart, log on to www.usef.org, and click on the Hoofprints logo.
Photo Credit: Colonel Gayle O’Rear and Captain Amy Coleman with Poseidon, Courtesy Captain Amy Coleman