Hillary Jean has faced her fair share of hurdles.
Striding triumphantly aboard her horse, “D'Amour,” the Castle Rock resident was crowned champion of the 3'3" Amateur Owner Hunter class at the Colorado Horse Park July 6. But veiled by the winning smile was a cloud of uncertainty.
Jean was scheduled for a PET scan the following day. Doctors had discovered small masses in her kidney and lungs, and ordered further tests to determine whether they were cancerous. Jean had hoped that May would bring another triumph, one in the form of a declaration that she was five years cancer-free. Instead, the markers in her blood worried her oncologist.
Like she did after a bilateral mastectomy, four months of aggressive chemotherapy treatments and eight months of taking a drug to fight the disease in 2009, Jean pushed on. While awaiting her July 7 medical appointment, she managed to focus her energy on D'Amour, a loving and astute 8-year-old show jumper who recently graduated to greater heights.
The horse, whose name means “of love” in French, has been a reassuring and motivating force in her life.
“I felt that this horse was given to me from God,” she said. “He couldn't have created a more perfect horse for me.”
May did, in fact, bring a victory for the pair. Jean stopped by a competition in Texas on the way back from her second home in Florida, and she and D'Amour trotted away with the trophy. Having ridden at the Colorado Horse Park, an equestrian event venue south of Parker, for much of the last 13 years, Jean wanted to make sure she was ready for the challenge. D'Amour delivered a near-flawless performance July 6.
Days later, she got more good news. The mass in her kidney, which her doctor feared could indicate a resurgence of her breast cancer, was found to be a cyst. Jean also dug into research that said the elevated markers during her blood test could have been linked to the cyst. Her oncologist is monitoring the tiny spots in her lungs, which are too small to biopsy.
The timing of her return to the podium was serendipitous, much like her introduction to D'Amour, who came into her life weeks before her cancer diagnosis. The horse was a gift from her husband, Mike, who has been a “rock of support” throughout Jean's illness. Knowing that his wife wanted to literally elevate her game by taking on larger course obstacles, Mike Jean gave her D'Amour as a means to achieve her goal.
In turn, Jean gave her last horse, “Spoken For,” to a teen girl who wouldn't have otherwise been able to afford one of his caliber. That duo has since captured plenty of attention, nabbing wins left and right. The horse's trainer, a friend of Jean's, is going through a difficult time, as her father is going through cancer treatment. Jean can attest that Spoken For is an ideal companion.
“He is a special, affectionate horse,” she said. “He knows when you're having a hard time in life.”
With her recent scare behind her, Jean has taken full advantage of the opportunity to continue doing what she loves. Instead of putting her career as an equestrian on indefinite hold, she followed up her win with a second-place finish at the horse park July 13.
“I'm just so grateful,” she said. “I have a whole new appreciation to be able to compete.”
Jean is chasing points to qualify for the 2015 Devon Horse Show in Pennsylvania, where she grew up. Her grandfather served as the event's veterinarian for years, and competing there would be an emotional completion to her rise back up the ranks. Either way, having the chance to ride seems to bring a winning smile to Jean's face.
“If I get to Devon, I'll be happy,” she said. “If not, I'm happy to have my health.”