When Tristan Williams walked into the Marion County Fairgrounds arena Saturday with her miniature horse, there was a miracle, of sorts. The horse’s name, Mira, was, as Tristan said, “the first four letters of miracle.”
What most spectators didn’t realize is that the confident 12-year-old showgirl and the well-trained horse they saw were a continuation of another miracle, one that has unfolded over time, in love and trust.
Tristan’s father, Doug Williams, died unexpectedly in 2009, when she was 7. Her mother, Sheila, said Tristan became shy and withdrawn. Sheila thought working with horses might help.
“She got involved with horses as a way to deal with grief,” Sheila said.
Wanda Williams, Tristan’s grandmother, made arrangements for her to work at a miniature horse farm operated by Larry and Deana Olsen.
“She was just kind of withdrawn a little bit, but she loved horses,” Deana Olsen said. “She’s not now. I didn’t do it; the horses did it.”
Tristan proved to be a quick learner and a “natural” with horses, Deana said. Some horses were assigned to Tristan, and over the course of a year she and Deana worked together to develop Tristan’s caregiving, training, and showmanship skills.
Tristan was having so much fun she decided she wanted a horse of her own.
“She told her mom if she could have a pony she’d never ask for anything else,” Deana said.
Then, about three years ago, Deana received a call from an Elmdale farmer who had a miniature horse he wanted to give away.
“Usually when someone calls me like that, I don’t need another one,” Deana said. “But for some reason, I had to go look at this horse.”
She discovered Mira was the foal of Sox, a good-natured miniature Deana had sold to someone in Cottonwood Falls.
Deana decided two things that day: She would take Mira in, and the horse would one day be Tristan’s.
Mira had been neglected and abused, so she was anything but good-natured.
Mira’s ears had been painfully twisted as a way to control her, making her afraid and hard to approach. Her hooves were overgrown so badly it took several months to reshape them. She had to be sedated for trips to the veterinarian.
Tristan didn’t know that Mira would be hers when she started working with her; nor did she know that a shed she had helped Wanda’s son, Jeff, to rebuild at Wanda’s farm would be Mira’s little stable.
“He had to put the shed back on the foundation,” Wanda said. “He had her out there helping pull nails and use the hammer.”
Tristan’s attraction to Mira grew.
“She just kept telling Jeff and Wanda, “This would sure be nice for a horse in here,’” Sheila said.
Tristan was at the farm one day, about six months after she started working with Mira, when the Olsens pulled into the driveway with Mira.
“I was completely awed,” Tristan said. “I covered my face because I was trying not to scream. I was so excited. I was getting a horse. I gave them the biggest hugs.”
Mira was making progress, and the bond between the two was growing.
Tristan was on the farm working with Mira almost daily throughout the summer, but she had to cut back when school started. Mira didn’t take their separation well to start.
“I actually had to go out there because she wasn’t eating or drinking,” Tristan said. “When I was in the barn with her, she started eating and drinking again.”
Earlier this year, Mira displayed the trust she had with Tristan when, at a competition, Tristan volunteered for a jumping event that needed another competitor.
Mira had never jumped before.
“Since she’d never done it before, in the first jumping class I jumped over the poles with her,” Tristan said. “I got a few laughs out of that. Then I took her out there, and she jumped over all those poles. She jumped a little too late, so she knocked them over. If she’d have jumped earlier, she’d have cleared all of them.”
That was a show of trust between the two, Deana said.
“That indicates Mira has confidence in Tristan,” she said. “She’s willing to do what Tristan asks her because Tristan has never asked her to do anything undoable.”
The once-shy girl and the formerly skittish horse competed in a district tournament in Salina recently and earned a trip to the state fair in halter class.
Sheila said the transformation she’s seen in both Tristan and Mira has been remarkable.
“It used to be she was so shy, and now she’s so outgoing and relaxed,” she said.
Deana said she was glad she had a hand in bringing the two together.
“Mira’s been a gift to Tristan, to give her goals and help her grow and get through this time,” Deana said.
Wanda had a simpler way to describe what happened between the two.
“You talk about love,” she said, “Tristan has loved her into submission.”