• KT Wilder

For Delaney, the first wyre.

This is going to be a long post, but an important one.

Delaney is the original inspiration for Celestin, a key character in Between Worlds. Some of you may be wondering who exactly Delaney is. Those that have known me may not know the whole story, either, but you recognize him in photos. Truth is, Delaney is a big red horse. He is a big red horse who is missing his left eye - and was blind in it long before I got him.

The first time I saw him was magic. Pure, unexplainable magic. That memory has stuck with me, vivid as they day it happened. He was brought up from a back field for me to try out - one of many horses I'd tried at that point. I was 13 and on the hunt for a show horse. Out of the mist behind a golf cart, head up, ears forward, prancing on air, was Delaney. He was seven years old out of Amish country and blind in his left eye. I was in love, instantly.

During the two week trial period we had him, we went to a show. Del one two first places and a second, making us champion of the division that day.

The lady from the sale barn had come to either take Delaney back with her, or take payment. My father gave her a check. I remember that my father had sold his fishing boat just so we could buy Del, something I don’t think I’ve ever properly thanked him for.

Del and I went on to do a lot of different things together. Through those years Del became… well, everything. And not much has changed since then. But there is one thing I tell people when I talk about him - he saved my life. Not many know the whole story. I’ve never really written about it before now.

I wasn’t the healthiest kid. My diagnosis list is longer than some of the patients I’ve treated, and my number of surgical procedures is right behind it. I had multiple surgeries between the ages of 8 and 16, most were just because things didn’t grow right. When I was 17 years old, my back went out for the first time. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t sit. Laying down, propped precisely with a heating pad and medication to control the pain, everything shifted. We managed it for a while but it just got worse. My driving leg started going numb. Work was agony - I was a hostess at the time - until we finally got a diagnosis. I had Degenerative Joint Disease in my spine and I was the youngest patient the doctor had ever had. My numbness and pain was being caused by a herniated disk pressing against my nerves. I had two disks above it that were visibly degenerating as well. The first doctor told me a spinal fusion was the best bet, but he refused to do it because of my age. For a while we just dealt with it - and for a while I was on opioids everyday, easy to get addicted to. Addiction isn’t something people who haven’t experienced it really understand - you don’t get addicted to something because of what it gives you. You get addicted because of what it takes you away from. At the time, I just wanted to not be in pain, which eventually became the desire to not exist. A second doctor suggested a laminectomy - where an opening is made in the lamina of the vertebrae to relieve pressure in the spinal canal. Another surgery.

Even with the surgery, between my past procedures and this new disease I had to contend with, I was in a lot of pain most of the time. I could ride Del for maybe 15 minutes before I had to stop - and I couldn’t ride for about 3 days after. I pushed myself, and kept pushing despite the muscle spasms that left me couch bound for days. The last competition we ever did, we didn’t even compete. Nothing new, nothing difficult. As we approached the first jump, something was wrong. Something was different. And Del stopped at the jump. He knew, better than me, if he jumped that jump I wouldn’t have made it. Something was wrong with me and he knew it. After 3 refusals at the first fence we were dismissed. I called my mother, sobbing and devastated. I went home and I didn’t ride for a while. I got up every morning to feed Del of course, but that was really all I did.

There was a point I don’t remember in exact detail, but it was sometime after I started college that I told my mom I wanted to kill myself. The depression diagnosis was this big ugly thing I now had to deal with. Anxiety came next. I slept a lot, didn’t work as much, didn’t do much of anything. I was in therapy and eventually started taking medication. Sometimes I was okay, sometimes I wasn’t, but mostly I just remember being numb. I didn’t feel things. There were brief flashes of emotion, moments were I found a silver lining but it never stuck.

But there was Del.

Every morning without fail, this big, dumb animal with one eye and a shrill knicker would be waiting for me at the gate for food - the only thing he loved more than me (at least, I like to think that). If I didn’t feed him, clean his stall, who would? I know logically my parents, or they would have made sure he got a good home if I wasn’t around, but for some reason it had to be me. There just seemed like no other option. That kept me alive. Every day I’d go down and feed him, sit with him. Every time I would think the bad thoughts, but somehow I’d be pulled out of them. It was like something in him was telling me “no, not yet, stay here” and I would go one with the routine.

Eventually I was able to drag myself out of the pit. I don’t know how or when, but I got stronger and my back wasn’t as much of a problem. I started riding again. I changed my major. I moved to Texas.

And there was Del.

Del is retired now. We just hit his 20th birthday, making it 13 years together. He’s lost a few teeth and its slowed him down a little. We go on weekly trail rides, most often bareback, and much of the ride is him grazing lazily as we walk along. He is still the first to greet me at the gate.

Del was my freedom, my dream, and that was the basis for Celestin. I gave Celestin many of the similar traits - big, brave, intelligent, gentle… witty, full of humor and amusement. Speaking more in emotions than words; a soul-deep bond. He looks out for Faelyn when she doesn’t think she needs it. He takes care of her. He is naive, but at the same time wise. They speak to each other in quiet thoughts or emotions. There were so many qualities, so many scenes inspired by Del and I’s own adventures. I wanted Celestin to be as real as a mythical beast could be. After spending 13 years with the same horse, every day, I feel like I’ve done him justice.

So this book, this story, is for Delaney. The horse that saved my life, the reason that I dam still here.

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