As a regular, horse-crazy teenage girl, nothing in my life had really shaken me until April 2nd of 2016.

I was away that weekend, showing at a paint show with my gelding and having an absolutely great time. We were placing well, winning our pattern classes against girls that compete at world level. I was so proud of him.

My parents were both busy that weekend, so I was away with my trainer. But I kept them well updated at home.

Never did I imagine that by Sunday evening I’d be weeping in my trainer’s living room as my parents broke the news to me that my brother took his life that Saturday.

My brother, Jacob, shot a bullet through his skull in his car on his college campus.

He was an amazing older brother, an army veteran, a gamer and an incredibly happy man. We had no idea what he was going through. He’d been distant from us for quite some time. My mother had even asked if he was suicidal at one point. But he assured us not to worry, that he was just “going through something.”

Photo courtesy of Ariana Horton

Not long after my grandfather died. We tried desperately to contact Jacob—my mother really needed his support during the death of her father. But we received no word from him and my parents became irritated and bitter about the situation.

Then that fateful Sunday, life as I knew it crumbled around me.

I experienced the greatest shock of my life in my trainer’s living room, shaking my head and refusing to accept what they were telling me. I spent the car ride home that night entirely numb. I called my best friend once I got to my bedroom and cried to her until I couldn’t anymore. I didn’t attend school for two weeks.

For months after, I was detached and irritable towards my parents. I just couldn’t understand why or how something like this could happen to our family. I had an unbelievable support system under me, from my parents to my best friend who made my cry tears of laughter at Jake’s wake to my FFA advisor who assured me that my spot on our judging team was not in danger.

Photo courtesy of Ariana Horton

Healing through this experience was incredibly hard.

For the first time in my life, I struggled to keep my grades up. I lost the drive I’d always had to see my big paint gelding. I thought of Jake all the time.

On the weekends, I desperately watched for his car to turn into our driveway, because he often came home from college for a day or two. It took me forever to come to terms that his car was in a junkyard somewhere, his blood splattered across the interior, waiting to be destroyed.

I glared at the basketball hoop that lingered just outside of our garage, the phantom bounce, bounce, bounce and Jake’s sneakers scraping against the cement always pounding in my skull.

Photo courtesy of Ariana Horton

I came to hate art because Jake always wanted me to pursue it in college. Now he was gone, so why would I ever do that? I became angry with him on nights when my mother would bother me one too many times because I was the only kid at home now and she was so, so scared.

One of the hardest things about losing Jake was watching my parents understand the loss of their son. I thought of it as losing my brother. I never considered what it must feel like to lose your child. It was heartbreaking to watch my father shed tears day after day and hear his voice catch at the smallest reference to Jake.

My parents and I mourn very differently and we didn’t always see eye to eye. They pushed me to visit his grave for a long time, but I had no interest in it. They feared that I wasn’t accepting what had happened. Eventually we all realized that this felt different for each of us. I had always been an introverted person, preferring seclusion during my weak moments.

I didn’t visit Jake’s grave until this year, on his birthday. I don’t plan on doing it again any time soon.

Instead of falling into my mother’s open arms when I was hit with the absence of Jake, I found comfort in the soft muzzle of my gelding, in the give of the leather reins in my hand, and in a mane buried in my fingers as I galloped through hunt country, eating mud and being whipped by tree branches all the way.

My horse and I listened to Jake’s favorite music during our rides and became closer than I thought possible. When I stopped him in the middle of the arena to listen to the breeze, taste the sunshine and take in all the beauty that existed in that moment, he reached back and nuzzled my toe in the stirrup, and I knew this beast, who I affectionately called a dork several times throughout the day, was the real reason I was okay.

If such a happy animal could stick with me through my absolute worst and still have that same joy while being with me, then I could be happy too.

With time and extreme efforts to pour my focus into my equine interests, I got through Jake’s suicide. And even found that beauty and happiness can grow from such an ugly event. We were blessed with two flashy paint colts, and I finished the year in our show circuits with reserve and grand champion titles.

I plan on going for a few world champion titles at Pinto this year, and I’m so incredibly happy. I still half expect Jake’s car to come up the driveway some weekends and the tears still fall as freely as they did a year ago. But I have to believe that Jake’s suicide was a part of my growth into the person I am today.

Because of the hell his suicide put our family through, I’m so much stronger than I ever would have been. And even though I wish he hadn’t done what he did, and I miss him so terribly every day, I know that he wouldn’t have done it if he didn’t believe in me.

So now I owe it to him to always believe in myself.

If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal, call the Suicide Prevention Services of America at 1-800-273-8255. Help is available 24 hours a day. CALL NOW. 

About the Author

Ariana Horton’s best friends call her Air. She has a soft spot for tripod dogs and a big bay tobiano gelding.