For 30 years, Kristi Clark was a nurse ministering to the needs of others. Then two years ago, she had a stroke and found herself retired, with time on her hands, confused, dizzy, disoriented. Family and friends supported and comforted her; her curly/mustang pinto cross mare helped her heal. There were many days of uncertainty for Clark — for herself, about her skills, her life before and now, and how it would all play out — and she found a path back to her center through Dixie, the mare.

Kristi Clark with Dixie and her foal, Morning Myst. Photo by Mindi LaRose

“So many times I just buried my nose in her neck (and hung on),” she says. “Somehow, we are in sync with each other.”

During those first unsteady months following the stroke, and even now occasionally, Clark knows she is “off” in her timing, perhaps putting herself unintentionally in harm’s way around a horse. Dixie seems to know, and moves to counter Clark’s mistaken step, taking care, protecting her.

Originally a city girl from Seattle, Clark began to learn about horses at age 21 at a ranch in South Dakota. Her then-husband’s grandfather had been a horseman in World War I, and taught her the basics. Clark went through a series of “bad” horses, rupturing her spleen while working with an arabian at one time.

One thing she’s eager to pass along to novice horse-lovers is to take care when choosing a horse. “You don’t need to take on one that will hurt you — I’ve been there and done that,” she says. “Avoid (that mistake).”

Years later, a friend on the peninsula told her about a roughly trained mare and thought she might be a good match for Clark. Used as a broodmare, at the time Dixie was 7 or 8 years old, and none too keen on people. Clark said she trained her on “horse time” — couldn’t catch her for the first year, but after hand-grazing and really learning what made Dixie tick, the two became the best of friends.

Clark and her husband, Paul, have lived in the area for 25 years, originally in Gig Harbor, and currently on Key Pen on the water. Their daughter, Jamie, is “the best rider in the family” and will soon be leaving for the Marine Corps.

Years ago, the Clarks bought 27 private, rolling acres in the Penrose area and have made riding trails throughout. In preparing to relocate to the property, Clark thought of her horses’ comfort first; the first building she designed and had built on the land was a monitor horse barn. This is where the family’s four horses, including Dixie and her pinto foal, Morning Myst, live. Clark or her husband (or both) make the drive to feed, care for and visit the horses twice daily; it’s a priority that other things work around.

In late December, Clark received word from the county that the family’s house plans have been approved. She is looking forward to the day when her country home is completed, and she is just a short stroll away from her best equine friend, Dixie. She says she’s looking forward to establishing an organic blueberry farm.

“I’m a project person,” she says. “I like the independence of being an entrepreneur, of being outdoors. I’m just a dabbler with a love for horses.”

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