Life goes on
After a wildfire nearly claimed their home last year, Donna and Tony Kamstra looked for ways to return to normal. And part of that process for Donna was competing in team penning again.
“The biggest thing was that she just had to get back to work with Sadie,” says Donna’s trainer of 11 years, Kevin Semmel of KS Training Performance Horses. “Donna was chomping at the bit to get back to riding and do what she loves to do.”
The core elements of team penning are a herd of cows, three horses and riders and one pen. According to the American Quarter Horse Association website, the sport is “a timed event in which a team of three riders must sort three specifically numbered head of cattle from a herd and pen them at the other end of the arena within 90 seconds.”
But the first team penning event she entered after the wildfires last September “was like a step back into another world that I wanted to get back into, but it wasn’t my world yet,” says Donna. Thoughts of fire, loss and insurance calls still flooded her mind, making it difficult to focus on Sadie and the cows. Donna did her best to finish her runs and then returned home.
But, happily, when the pair entered the team penning arena on October 19, 2020, things were different. The sound of cattle bawling, the sight of friendly faces and the feeling of sitting in the saddle, knowing her partner was beneath her, all felt right. “My brain wasn’t completely there yet, but hers was,” she says of Sadie. The final team Kamstra and Sadie ran with penned three cows in 26.64 seconds, the fastest time of the night.
“I found normalcy again flying with Sadie down a wall on a cow,” Donna says. “Without her, I don’t know if I’d still have some ‘normal’ days.”
Donna’s focus had returned and her partnership with Sadie was stronger than ever. “After the kind of loss we’ve been through … and then you go and you end the day with a 26-second run? A big check can’t feel any better than that,” Donna says. “We’re back.”
sending plumes of arena dust into the air. Sadie just stood by her side. The mare, it seemed, still viewed the arena as a place to work, not relax.
Each day at the fairgrounds brought new people, new animals and new sights. Many were creatures Sadie had never seen before, such as a llama. Donna found that the dynamics of working through these encounters strengthened her bond with her mare. After all, when Donna is in the saddle, she trusts
Sadie to take care of her as they do their job. Now on the ground, Sadie trusted Donna to take care of her when they met new things.
Donna started taking photos of Sadie’s expressions when she encountered something new and shared them on social media. Before long, a growing audience was following Donna and Sadie’s journey. This social media project provided “purposeful distraction” that helped her keep hope during a difficult time, Donna says. “It took you out of this world and put you into a world of Sadie. It made it bearable. I had my Sadie and she had me and we made it through.”
Finally, on September 18, the last day of their stay at the fairgrounds, Donna shared a photo of Sadie eagerly looking at their horse trailer. “I see it, Mom… I see it!” the caption read.
They were going home.
A new journey
In one sense, the Kamstras were fortunate: During their 11 days away they had been able to check on their property and use water from their pond to douse and protect their house and barn from the fires.
Tony remembers seeing their home still standing when they drove up the driveway. “No words for that,” he says. The Kamstras found that the lawn and pasture were still green, but the fire had transformed the rest of Promise Ranch. Their spare horse trailer, camper, dually farm truck, stand-alone garage, tractor and boat were reduced to ashes and tangles of melted metal. Their entry sign had fallen to the ground but was still intact.
Their fruit trees were burned. Their rosebushes were black. The great fir trees surrounding the house and barn were charred.
“You don’t quite believe it, but you’re looking at it,” Donna says, and she emphasizes that she is grateful for all that remains. “I have been so richly blessed with my husband and my family and my horse life and where we live,” she says.
Sadie seemed to share that feeling of relief. Once unloaded from the trailer, she was turned out in her pasture, an emerald carpet amidst the surrounding coal-black trees. In her first moments of freedom, back in her pasture, Sadie did the very thing she’d refused to do the entire time they were at the fairgrounds---she rolled.
“She just rolled, and rolled, and rolled, for a good six minutes,” Donna says with a chuckle. “I just laughed and laughed.”
Several days later the rains moved in and cleansed the forest air. The entry sign was retrieved from the driveway and propped up against the fence with the backside visible. It reads, “Grateful, Thankful, Blessed.”