Red Card Roberts
July 10, 2012
It has been said that the way to heaven is on horseback. And, at least for one local girl, horseback was also the way to heaven on Earth — a life in Park City.
Eleven-year old Ting Oliver was adopted from China about four years ago. She was already seven by the time her parents, Kim and Christian Oliver, were able to finalize her adoption and bring her to the U.S.
"Older kids don’t have a lot of opportunity to be adopted. Everyone wants a younger child. But when I saw her photos from the agency, I just knew it was right," Kim recalls of the adoption process. "But when you adopt an older child and bring them to a westernized country, everything is new to them. It’s not just the language they have to learn. It’s everything. What an escalator is, driving around in a car, everything."
The Olivers tried to bond with their new daughter and teach her English, but it was long process. At one point, they even took her to a Chinese grocery store in Salt Lake and asked the workers to help them learn what foods she liked to eat.
"She’s from a province in China that had a very different dialect than standard Mandarin, so they could only understand about 50 percent of what she was saying," Kim remembered.
Desperate to communicate with Ting, they weren’t sure what else to do. Then, just a few days after her arrival in the U.S. and their failed grocery-store experiment, they drove by a pasture filled with horses. Ting looked and her new dad and made the ‘giddy up’ motion, seemingly asking if she could ride a horse.
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Ecstatic to be communicating with his daughter and finally learning something about her, he immediately signed her up for a trail ride at Deer Valley.
"I was so nervous," Kim recalls. "I wanted to give her this, but putting my brand-new daughter on a 2,000 pound animal and not being able to tell her what to do was really scary."
But through a series of hand gestures and copycat motions, Ting took her first horse ride.
"From there on out, it’s the only thing she’s ever wanted to do," added Kim.
Ting’s parents entered her in horse-riding camps at the National Ability Center and that’s when this little horse experiment went from hobby to passion. Even though Ting’s English was still developing, it was obvious to her parents that horses made her happy.
"She saw them all the time when we drove around Park City and she would just break out in this huge smile," Kim said.
Then, a few years ago, Kim and Christian went to the Jans Winter Welcome and bid on a ten-pack of riding lessons that had been donated by Promontory. They won the lessons and gave them to Ting for her birthday.
"Ting had been enjoying riding, but hadn’t had any professional instruction until this point. And, by now, her English was at a level where she could comprehend instructions," Kim added.
After those ten lessons, Ting was no longer just a girl who loved horses. She had a real talent for riding them. So much so that her parents decided to move to Promontory so they could buy Ting a horse and have access to the club’s barn and riding arena.
"My husband and I knew nothing about horses when we started this. As Ting started to really develop her skills and the cost started adding up, I remember asking my husband, ‘Why didn’t we enroll her in gymnastics like normal parents?’ But it’s been great for Ting. It’s given her a focus and taught her responsibility and she’s at the barn so much caring for her horse, she doesn’t have time to get into trouble. And you can’t put a price on that," said Kim.
So, what started with a simple hand gesture a few days after moving to America, to now living in Promontory with her own horse, Kim believes Ting’s journey was all just meant to be.
Even Ting’s horse, Port-Au-Prince, seems like fate. "After we adopted Ting, we tried adopting another child from Haiti, and made several trips to the country’s capital city Port-Au-Prince. The adoption didn’t work out, but Haiti was part of us," noted Kim. "So when we were looking for a horse for Ting and saw Port-Au-Prince up for sale, we just knew he was the one for us."
Of course, Port, as he’s called for short, is more than just a serendipitous name. He is also an experienced jumper, controlled and trustworthy.
"Port has never refused a jump. I trust him, but I know it’s not a matter of if Ting will fall, it’s a matter of when. So even now when I watch Ting jump, it’s like watching a scary movie. I put my hands over my eyes and peek through my fingers. I’m sure all moms feel this way when their kids are doing something risky."
Ting competes with the Utah Hunter Jumper Association, and she and Port are jumping in the modified hunter group, meaning the horse’s hoofs are at least two feet, nine inches in the air while jumping.
"She’s still in the learning stage," her mom says. "But right now, she’s having the time of her life. Being on a horse is pure joy for her."
Indeed, a little slice of heaven for Ting.
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Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, public-relations guru and globe-trotting thrill seeker. In a former life she worked in TV news, both as a reporter and sports anchor. She has bagged peaks on six continents, kayaked the Zambezi and Nile rivers, swam with great white sharks in South Africa and tracked mountain gorillas in Rwanda. She was once very nearly sold for 2,000 camels while traveling through Morocco.