Anastasiya Potts is a ray of sunshine. Positive and straightforward, at age 21, Ana Potts is devoted to her beloved horses while balancing college and other responsibilities. But the petite blonde hasn’t always had a life that revolves around horses.
Adoption Journey for Ana Potts
Ana and her older sister, Katya, lived in an apartment with their mom, grandmother and uncle in Ukraine when they were small. Around their hometown, Ana would occasionally see horses pulling carriages.
“As soon as I saw a horse, I fell in love and wanted one so bad,” Ana recalls. “I would walk up to people and ask if I could pet their horses, and sometimes they would also let me sit in the carriage.”
When Ana was 7 and Katya was 10, they were taken to an orphanage, and their mother passed away shortly after. She still desperately wanted a horse, but more than that, a family.
“Every Christmas, they would ask us what we wanted for Christmas, and they’d give us a piece of paper to draw what we wanted,” says Ana. “I would always draw a family with horses.”
Stephanee and Zach Potts lived in New Braunfels, Texas, with their three school-age children. In 2007, the same year Ana and Katya were taken to the orphanage, the couple learned about international adoption from a local organization, and they began researching adoption of Ukrainian children. Part of that process was hosting children from orphanages in Ukraine for short-term visits. The couple were sent information about Ana, and they were immediately drawn to her.
“We just had a calling towards her—we believe God put her in our hearts, so we agreed to host her,” Stephanee says.
When Ana arrived, she couldn’t believe her eyes. Stephanee’s parents and sister, Ashley Roberts, had a ranch with horses.
“As soon as we drove in the gate and she saw the horses in the field, she was so excited,” says Stephanee. “I can’t describe how happy she was, talking a million miles an hour. She connected to the hip with my sister and would do anything to get on a horse’s back.”
Ana was ecstatic.
“They literally had horses in their backyard,” Ana says. “I stayed for three weeks, and I fell in love with the family. I went back to the orphanage and told all my friends about it.”
The orphanage misled the Potts about Katya, telling them Ana didn’t know her sister and that the older girl had heart problems. But Ana shared the truth during that first visit.
“We knew if we were going to pursue adopting Ana, we were going to pursue her and her sister together—we would never consider separating them,” Stephanee says. “We learned more about the girls, and we fell in love with Ana, so we began the process of adopting them.”
Ana and Katya were part of a group of seven girls and eight boys, but the girls were as tight as sisters and shared in Ana’s excitement about America.
“I prayed that I would be adopted by the Potts, and that I would have a family with horses,” Ana says.
The following summer, both Ana and Katya went to stay with the Potts family for two months. The couple took a month-long visit to Ukraine to spend time with Ana and Katya, and they also got to know their tight-knit group of friends.
“Shortly after that visit, we were asked to start our own hosting organization,” Stephanee says. “We knew these kids, so we were able to advocate for them on a personal level.”
In 2008, the arduous adoption process was complete, and both girls became part of the Potts family. Thanks in part to coordination efforts by the Potts, all of Ana’s friends from Ukraine were also adopted—most of them to families in Texas.
“We’re still best friends even today, and we see each other all the time,” Ana says.
Adjusting to the Horse Life in the U.S.
Ana’s biggest adjustment to life with the Potts family was becoming used to routine and restrictions.
“I didn’t understand why they were telling me what to do, but they explained that when I got in trouble, it’s not because they were mad at me, but because they love me and want what’s best for me,” Ana says.
Katya dove straight into ballet and pursued it with a singular passion. Although Ana tried other activities, like gymnastics, her true passion was horses and equestrian competition. This interest was nurtured in part by Ashley, who gave Ana riding lessons. The Potts moved to a ranch of their own after Ana and Katya joined them, so Ana was able to ride every day. Ana’s new sister, Allee, was already a competitive rider, and riding together bonded their relationship.
“Ana gained so much confidence through showing and riding horses, and being with them,” Stephanee says. “We could see healing take place when she would spend time with them. Anytime she would have a stressful day, she would go down to the barn, just patting them and brushing them.”
Ana quickly realized that being with horses was good for her mental state.
“Having horses was very therapeutic for me,” Ana says. “They gave me a way to access my emotions and control them. I had always wanted to ride horses, and I just felt like myself whenever I did. They reminded me of what God has blessed me with.”
Equestrian Highlights for Ana Potts
Ana started taking lessons with Ashley and showing Paint Horses, and went on to win a world championship at the American Paint Horse Association Youth World Championship Show. She decided to transition to competing on Quarter Horses and began riding with AQHA Professional Horseman Brad Jewett. When Ashley built a new barn in San Marcos, Texas, Jewett’s assistant trainer, Duke Williams, became the barn’s resident trainer.
Ana had goals for her youth career, including eventually riding for a collegiate equestrian team, and she worked with Williams throughout her time as a youth. She was second at the largest single-breed horse show in America, the All-American Quarter Horse Congress, in one of the most competitive classes—Youth 14-18 Horsemanship.
“I would say that is my biggest [youth competition] accomplishment,” Ana says.
Her favorite horse is her mare, It Was Just A Kiss (aka “Bella”).“She was definitely a tough mare,” she says. “You never could tell if she was going to go in the show pen and do her job. But I think riding her taught me to work harder and to keep getting better. Because the more we improved as a team, the more fun we had together.”
Off to College
Ana worked hard to learn English and fill in holes from her education as a child, and upon high school graduation, she was accepted at Texas A&M University. After reflecting on what she wanted her college experience to be like, she decided to decline joining the equestrian team.
Ana still rides as much as she can, but she’s also spent a year and a half volunteering at a non-profit called Life in Stride near the school, which teaches children to ride. Life in Stride’s founder, Kate Evans, says Ana was dedicated to riding and achieving her educational goals, but humble and easy to be around. Evans says Ana was a favorite of the little girls taking lessons.
“She’s super upbeat, fun, high-energy and a great rider,” says Evans. “She could work with the little ones, but she had enough skill and understanding of riding to explain concepts to the advanced riders. She is very positive, but instantly comfortable with the kids. And she’s so gracious and likeable.”
After volunteering at an orphanage in China, Ana hopes to create a Texas-based organization to bring volunteers together with that orphanage to help more children. She is also writing a book with her friends from Ukraine to share their stories.
“Ana has so much grit and determination—she doesn’t ever make excuses because of what she has been through,” Stephanee says. “She owns her life and goes for her dreams. I’m really proud of that.”
Now rooming with her sister Allee, Ana is a junior and communications major at Texas A&M. While Ana hasn’t decided on her career, she does know what her purpose is.
“My goal right now is to make a difference,” Ana says. “I want to teach riding lessons to younger kids. I would really like to have a training facility where kids from a tough background can come and use horses as therapy. I know they made a difference in my own life growing up, so I think it would be cool if I could do the same for others going through something hard.”