A raku pot sits on my dining room table, a reminder of the little quarter horse I owned for a year. My mother made the pot and had it raku-fired with some hair from Chief’s mane and tail. It’s lovely.
Unfortunately, by the time I got the pot at Christmas, I’d given up on Chief (more on that soon) and sold him. Fortunately, selling Chief was one of the best things I could have done – despite the fact that I dearly loved him.
Chief had been trained Western but I thought he’d make a good dressage horse. He had nice enough movement and was willing in the initial (key word) stages of our work. He liked change, going new places, and mixing it up in the work. He was a confident, excellent trail horse except ….
I’ve known horses who balked about getting into the trailer at home, knowing they were leaving the safety and serenity of their stall to head toward places unknown. Most of them, however, happily hopped into the trailer at day’s end, looking forward to a home-cooked meal. Not Chief.
Chief would willingly get into the trailer at home but took all kinds of persuading to get in after a lesson or a trail ride. Especially a trail ride.
Here I am, happy and tired from a lovely ride and the damn horse refuses to get in the trailer.
We tried the cowboy method (run him around away from the trailer, suggest that the trailer is a safe, mellow place), the two-person (and an encouraging whip method), and the stud-chain (plus whip) method.
There were always treats in the trailer. But, while that was just fine at home, on the road Chief showed no interest in them and was just plain naughty about the trailer.
I hired two different professionals, worked on this at home, and still had intermittent problems. That little horse was smart and stubborn. I hated not knowing how long it would take me to get him into the trailer on any given day.
Next came a bucking problem. We attended a clinic where on Day One Chief was wonderful. On Day Two, Chief had put in a good effort but thought our walk break meant he was done for the day. I got the feeling we’d used up our last quarter.
I had a bad feeling when the clinician asked for just one more canter depart. Rightly so. Chief bucked his way across the diagonal. While I stayed on, I didn’t appreciate the drama.
I hired a trainer to put a few rides on Chief and things moved forward once again. Mind you, we were doing Training Level dressage – nothing stressful. Chief started to act out in random moments, not wanting to go forward, kicking out, just general, “I don’t want to” commentary.
I had his teeth, back, and so on checked, to rule out a physical problem. I really liked this horse and wanted it to work out.
At home, Chief started balking about going forward in the arena. He’d go sideways, backwards, kick out, and give me little crow hops. I had a more experienced (and daring) rider get on him. She was able to get him to go forward but it was a lot of work.
A light bulb came on when I realized I’d had six different professionals help me with this horse. Chief simply preferred fighting to working.
Perhaps another rider could do better. Perhaps we weren’t a good match. Regardless, I didn’t want to work that hard or get hurt. I’m persistent but this is supposed to be something I do for fun. I was crushed.
I didn’t feel it was fair to pass Chief on to another dressage rider. I couldn’t really recommend him for the job. So, I took him to a Western trainer who put some work into him, loved him, and sold him to one of her clients as a trail horse. I was so sad, I was ready to ‘quit’ horses altogether.
Here’s the happy part of the story, the silver lining in the dark cloud. Thanks to Chief, a friend felt sorry for me and let me ride her lovely, 2nd Level horse. I learned more in a year than I had in the last five years, taking lessons with the fantastic (and I mean that) Eileen Parent of Summerfield Farm.
Thanks to this experience, when I began taking lessons in Bend, I got to ride a horse with similar training. This led to me leasing the awesome Mr. Micah, who is both lovable and a wonderful teacher.
Chief set all of this in motion. I could have persisted with this horse, beating my brains out, but I cut my losses after a year’s worth of frustration.
Chief’s departure truly led to better things. Which is why I say: ‘Thanks, Chief!’ every time I think of him.