Horse ride lets girl be herself again

Kylie Schepers/The Herald
Josie Brown, 9, of Huntingburg pets Scotty the horse at Freedom Reins in Jasper on Saturday. Josie was diagnosed with osteosarcoma early last month. The afternoon at Freedom Reins was set up to help raise her spirits following the diagnosis.


JASPER — Josie Brown contemplated while her horse, Scotty, took a break to chew on some grass. The two had trotted through the stables and outside together for about an hour already.

“Is there anything else you’d like to do?” Karissa Kelly, Josie’s instructor, asked.

Josie pointed to a set of tires arranged in a staggered line. Typically, they were used by more experienced horse riders for jumping, but she wanted to try anyway.

As Scotty stood before the tires, not entirely sure how to navigate them, the instructors asked Josie if she’d like to back out. She was patient, though.

“He’s thinking,” she told them.

Then, almost as if on cue, Scotty stepped up onto the tires and moved through to the end.

“She’s a total professional,” Karissa said to Josie’s family watching from the sidelines. “She can do anything.”

Josie, 9, and her sister, Daizee, 8, of Huntingburg, spent the rest of the afternoon trotting around the grounds at Freedom Reins in Jasper. Freedom Reins is a therapeutic riding center designed for anyone going through physical, mental or emotional challenges, according to its website.

Josie was nervous at first, her mother Nakea Brown said, but by the end, she looked like a natural.

“I felt, at that moment, I had my little girl back,” Nakea said. “She thought she wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything fun like that anymore due to her circumstances.”

Josie, a third-grader at Huntingburg Elementary, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma (a type of bone cancer) on her right femur on June 10, just a few weeks before she turned 9. Ever since, she had grown depressed and felt like giving up, Nakea said.

As a mother and as someone who struggles with depression herself, Nakea said she would do anything to see her little girl happy again.

When Yvonne Hochgesgang, a speech-language pathologist at Huntingburg Elementary, heard about Josie’s cancer, she reached out to Nakea and the staff at Freedom Reins. It wasn’t a solution, but at least it could get her mind off of things for a few hours, she thought.

“Before she found out she had cancer, she was such a bubbly, happy, headstrong little girl,” Nakea said. “She always was smiling, unless her siblings were getting on her very last nerve. But hey, that’s siblings for you.”

An average day with Josie has looked much different for the past month. Meals are interspersed with medicine doses, and she now sleeps just about as much as her 1-year-old sister, Reylynn Braun.

Every day, Nakea takes Josie out onto their shaded porch for at least 10 minutes to get some fresh air. She then lays down with her daughter until she falls asleep for a nap, and then that’s when the housework begins.

Nakea also makes sure to ask Josie and Daizee about their feelings every night, asking what they liked and disliked about the day.

When Josie was diagnosed, she asked her mom why this was happening to her.

“I told her it’s because Jesus puts his strongest soldiers through the rough, hard times, because he knows how strong they are,” Nakea said. “But he also wants his soldiers to show others how strong they are, to never give up no matter how weak they think they are.”

When Nakea first mentioned riding horses to Josie, she was nervous. She had never ridden a horse before, and she wasn’t sure if she’d even be able to now that she has to use a walker to get around.

At first, she was even hesitant to touch any of the horses at all. Once Josie got on Scotty, though, Nakea sensed her daughter’s mood change. It was rare nowadays to see the two girls laughing together, able to just be kids with no worries.

“I really just wanted to cry happy tears,” Nakea said.

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