HINSDALE – Sweeping equestrian competitions became a common practice for Naomi Bradley and her four-legged knight in white satin, Kaydin. But that success would only come after a trying journey pushed the limits of their patience and friendship.
“He’s never really calm,” the 20-year-old Bradley said of her horse. “If he is calm, we think there’s something wrong with him.”
Gaining that trust with Kaydin was just one of the stepping stones in Bradley’s ongoing pursuit competing in Olympic equestrian competitions, but now, an unforeseen health scare threatens to jeopardize that dream.
In December, Bradley was diagnosed with lumbar degeneration, as one or more of the discs of her spine is wearing out prematurely and causing severe back pain.
It was a blow to the Hinsdale rider, who is undergoing hours of physical therapy per week and determined to return to the equestrian ring.
Bradley first sat atop a horse as a 5-year-old living in North Carolina, but it wasn’t long before that when the family moved to Hinsdale and her mother enrolled her in equestrian riding summer camps.
“This trainer actually told my mom, ‘you know your daughter is a natural,’” she said. “’I highly recommend you keep her in the horse industry and have her compete and ride.”
She obliged, and Bradley’s horseback skills and technique blossomed.
But horseback riding is a partnership, and throughout history, some of the greatest pairings between horse and human started with a rocky relationship.
Red Pollard had Seabiscuit, a horse that was deemed mean and lazy. Charles Kurtsinger rode the fiery War Admiral, and a 16-year-old Bradley encountered her own challenge with Kaydin, a horse which Bradley describes as a “hot head” and “very energetic.”
It took Bradley two years to learn how to control the steed. She considered quitting several times but always decided to push forward.
“This horse taught me the definition of the word ‘patience’ because I was not very patient before,” she said.
The hard work eventually paid off when Bradley and Kaydin “swept” local equestrian riding competitions in 2010, including the Jumper Classic in St. Charles.
“That’s when I really decided that if I was willing to put in this much, time I wanted to try to get to the Olympics,” she said.
However, the lumbar degeneration diagnosis in 2013 temporarily curbed her Olympic aspirations, and she has been working with local rehabilitation center Athletico to treat the issue.
“It is something that is somewhat of a chronic issue, something that can last for a long time, especially if you continue to be active,” Athletico Athletic Trainer Anne Hinley said.
Aside from equestrian riding, Bradley is an avid recreational athlete and plays soccer, basketball, lacrosse, surfs, and runs track and field.
“Usually, you kind of start getting lumbar degeneration starting in your 30s, and it can kind of build up that way,” Hinley said. “I wouldn’t say she’s a rare case, but she is younger and is used to riding horses and is a very active person.”
Hinley and Bradley meet twice a week at Athletico, and Bradley said her pain has since reduced “substantially.”
“I love this girl,” Hinley said. “From the moment I met her, she’s just full of energy, very positive, so much fun to talk to and she works really hard.”
Kaydin is now in retirement, but Bradley said it’s still a goal of hers to make it to the Olympics in the equestrian competition.
“I’m very happy that I’m in therapy now, getting the problem solved, because if I wasn’t doing track I probably never would’ve went to get my back x-rayed,” she said.