If Airman 1st Class Kaitlyn R. Evans has a stressful night on patrol, or if she just needs to vent, she always has her best friend. She might fuss at her friend for getting himself dirty as she brushes his mane, but he always listens, never talks back, and perhaps most importantly, is always waiting for her in his barn in Lothion, Md.
That’s because Evans’ best friend is her horse Kobalt.
“A lot of times I will come out here if I’m stressed out about things, and I can ride,” she said. “When I get in the saddle, I can just leave everything else on the ground, and I don’t pick it back up, so I usually leave the barn calmer and happier. A lot of times, I do my best thinking out here, and I will have a fresh perspective on things when I’ve just had some time to myself and spent some time doing something I love. So I usually leave here with a clean slate.”
The 11th Security Forces Squadron member brought Kobalt from North Carolina when she arrived at Joint Base Andrews, Md., Nov. 20, 2014 after she completed technical training at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Everyone, from her recruiter and military training instructor during basic training to fellow Airmen, told her she wouldn’t have the time or money to care for a horse, but Evans didn’t listen to unsolicited negative guidance. She wanted her best friend with her, and she’s reminded of the reason each time she walks into his stall.
“They have the strongest bond of any horse and human I have ever seen,” said Cathy Scott, one of Evans’ best human friends who she met through their mutual love of horses in North Carolina. “It’s actually funny to watch them together. He moves, she moves. Their steps sync up when they walk. The only way to describe their bond is they are truly connected.
“She would do anything for that horse. Who else would take their horse with them while on active duty in the Air Force, based more than nine hours from home? Their bond is truly remarkable.”
But the friendship didn’t begin well when a veterinarian near her hometown of Old Fort, N.C., gave her Kobalt, then a 3-year-old named Ned, when Evans was 17. He kicked, tried to bite and Evans was afraid of him. But eventually, she summoned the courage to ride him, and trust was born in both the young woman and her horse.
She talks to Kobalt as if he’s another human being, sometimes even answering her questions for him. But there’s an emotional bond between them that she really can’t explain.
“When we’re together, it’s almost like he can read my mind,” she said. “He is constantly on top of what I’m feeling. If I’m sad, he tries to cheer me up. He gives me hugs. If I’m upset or mad, he gets upset and throws a little temper tantrum to let me know he knows I’m mad. If I’m happy or just full of myself, he just relaxes and listens. He’s very connected to me and my emotions, everything I feel, do and see.”
She began riding horses at the age of 10 when her parents decided to home-school her and her brother, and they needed a physical education activity. Three years later, she got her first horses – an old pony she named Allie and a colt named Alaska. At first, she was far from excited about the 23-year-old, dirty, white pony.
“But I took her home, gave her some TLC, a bath and cleaned her up, and she ended up being the best pony I ever had in my life,” Evans said. “After I adjusted to her, and we got to know each other, and we quit hating each other so much, I started to really enjoy owning a horse.”
Evans joined the Air Force when her father gave her a choice of either completing the college degree she had spent four years working on or joining the military. But neither basic training or her technical school came easily for her. In basic training, she struggled with her physical training test because of anxiety over sit-ups, but eventually overcame it and graduated June 13, 2014. But it didn’t get any easier in her tech school until she had to make the decision while low-crawling through sand on a 100-degree San Antonio day in full gear on whether she was going to continue fighting for the career she wanted or give up and go home.
“My sergeant was over me, screaming the entire 10 minutes, telling me to get out of the sand pit and go home, and that he didn’t want me in his Air Force,” she said. “I remember thinking I had to decide right then and right there if I was going to get up and go home, or if I was going to fight for what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be. So I crawled through that sand, and I finished.”
Evans graduated Sept. 23 as a distinguished graduate. While in tech school, she also was a teal rope, which is a sexual assault representative. She felt called to volunteer for the additional responsibility because she was sexually assaulted for four years, beginning at the age of 14, by an older man at a barn where she was riding her horse.
“He just started integrating himself into my life by taking me home every day,” she said. “My mom and dad thought he was trustworthy because he worked with handicapped children. I was brainwashed into a lot of things and threatened. But after I got Kobalt, he was my stable, emotional tie-down. When I made the decision when I was 18 to get out of the situation because I physically could because I was an adult at that time, it was a very difficult, emotional time. So my horse played a big part in keeping me emotionally grounded. A lot of the things I went through affected me emotionally, and they still do to this day. My horse is something that’s been there for me.”
Evans talks to her therapist regularly and is beginning to realize the assault wasn’t her fault. She also gives the Air Force credit for giving her the strength to press charges against the perpetrator. Still, going home requires considerable inner strength, although she’s also thankful for the support of her family through the ordeal.
“The Air Force helped me to become a stronger person, where I don’t care what other people think,” she said. “He did what he did to me and deserves to pay for what he did, so I go home with my head held high, and I don’t care if some people take his side.
“Now I have help through the Air Force. I really didn’t understand how emotionally I was affected by it, and I tried to blow it off like it wasn’t happening, that it was in the past, but I realized I can’t do that. I have to figure out a way to work through it in order to overcome it. That’s what I’m doing now.”
As a young security forces member, Evans is off to a promising start in her career at JB Andrews, one of her flight sergeants said.
“She came here straight out of tech school with a lot more motivation than some of the guys she came in with,” said Tech. Sgt. Rommell C. Lewis, 11th SFS flight sergeant. “I think she has a good future in security forces as long as she holds on to her drive and motivation.”
Her best friend is a big part of that process. She works nights, along with 12-hour shifts every other weekend, so she sleeps during the day before making her daily visit to the barn to spend time with Kobalt and her pony named Kallie each afternoon.
“It is my outlet, where I come to de-stress and de-compress,” she said. “If things happen at work, I don’t bring work to the barn. I come here to be peaceful and to have a good time and connect with him. I really do think of him as my best friend, so it’s kind of like coming to hang out with your best friend.
“But he’s also like my therapist. I can easily come out here and talk to him anytime. He doesn’t say anything, he doesn’t talk back, and he doesn’t give me any advice I don’t want to take. He’s been like my anchor through a lot of things. He’s my anchor through my job, and he’s been my anchor through the sexual assault. With everything, he’s been there with me through all of it.”
She doesn’t look at either taking care of her horses or her job as work in the traditional sense because she loves both for different reasons. She has already begun organizing volunteer events, such as taking a small team from her flight to re-salt Arlington National Cemetery. Evans is amazed when she considers her progress, both on the job and in her recovery from the sexual assault.
“It’s been a journey, but it’s also been more of a fight to find out who I am in myself and who I want to be,” she said. “Every day I wake up, I do things I never thought were possible. It blows my mind to think I’m where I am today. The more I get into it, the more I love the military, the organization and I love what it stands for. I used to be terrified of deployment, but I’m to the point in my mindset where if it’s my turn to go overseas to deploy, I’m ready to do my part to serve my country and be somebody bigger than myself.”
She has a plan for Kobalt and Kallie for both deployment and her next permanent change of station move. He will be cared for in his barn if Evans deploys, and when she moves again, the horses will move, as well. In December, Evans moved her horses into the barn in Lothion after owner Robin Diallo responded to her Facebook advertisement. In addition to the boarding, Diallo’s son, Ben, helps her around the barn, just another advantage in what Evans calls an ideal situation for her horses.
As Evans settles into her job at JB Andrews, she plans to resume Kobalt’s show competitions this year. She wasn’t able to take him last year because of her Air Force training but has major plans for Kobalt or Painted Marble Serengeti, his show name. But whether it’s through competitions or just riding in the pasture, the friendship between the Airman and her horse will continue to be an important part of her life.
“Being in riding, competing and having Kobalt is a lifestyle. It’s what I choose to do,” she said. “It makes my life 100 percent better and 100 percent more stable. He relies on me, and I rely on him emotionally. He’s a big key to what’s brought me to the military and what has brought me through a lot of things in life.
“He’s my best friend.”