Little did I know when I woke up that morning in late June that I was about to learn one of the most valuable lessons of my adult life.
We were already 3 months into the COVID Quarantine, and settling in for a long summer stuck at home. The ranch where my children take horseback riding lessons had just recently reopened, so I decided to spend some time watching the kids during their horseback riding lesson.
As my daughter walked around, trying to decide what horse to ride that day, the instructor came over to tell us about a new horse that had just been brought to the ranch. She had purchased him at a horse auction, where the main bidders are kill pens and meat trucks.
She named him Chance because this was, literally, his last chance.
Izzy wanted to ride him that day, and within moments, she was cantering around the arena in what was one of the best rides of her life. He was gentle, responsive, and so very smooth.
Watching Izzy with Chance, I knew that horse had come to our life to stay.
I asked the trainer if we could lease him, and within moments, Chance had become a member of our pack.
Jekyll and Hyde
The next day, there was a gymkana at the ranch, and Izzy wanted to compete on Chance.
Once she walked into the arena to start warming him up, that’s when we met Hyde.
Chance went berserk. He started rearing up, galloping sideways, and was literally out of control.
Shaking and on the verge of tears, Izzy managed to stay on him until she could safely get off.
One of the trainers at the ranch tried to ride him to see if Chance was taking advantage of Izzy’s tender age and size, but Chance took him for quite a joyride.
Thus ended Chance’s very short career as a gymkhana horse.
Never Give Up
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s to never, ever give up.
Even though Chance wasn’t the calm, mellow horse that we thought we’d leased, there was just something about him that made me love him from that first moment I saw him.
Soft, luminous eyes full of intelligence, mischief, and beauty.
Izzy was afraid to ride him again, but stubborn oaf that I am, I decided to take over the lease myself.
Back on the Saddle
The only time I tried horseback riding in the last 25 years, I got bucked within moments of getting on the horse, ending up in ER with a concussion. I already knew Chance would not be easy, but I decided to work with him anyway.
I started by getting up on the saddle, and boy, those early rides were scary.
At a drop of a hat, Chance could do his Jekyll and Hyde routine, and go from being the perfect gentle, responsive horse, to full bronco.
There’s nothing that I love more than a challenge, so I just kept getting back up.
Groundwork, Groundwork, more Groundwork
Some days, all I did was walk him around the arena like an overgrown Great Dane. I led him on a lead rope and whispered soothing mantras in his ears. I would stop and just lean on him so he learned what it meant to receive love.
Every single day, I brought him an apple so he’d learn to associate my hands with joy.
I quickly realized he had been abused, as any sudden movement of my hands in front of his face would make him rear up and buck. Someone must’ve hurt him in the face, repeatedly and often. My heart hurt for him, and every time I touched his face, I’d whisper in his ears, “I’ll never ever ever hurt you”.
Other days, I’d ride him but at the slowest possible walk. I could sense the incredible restraint it took for him to hold back, as he’s got a huge engine and he wanted to go go go!!!
It’s only been a month, but I can see trust growing between us like flowers blooming in Spring.
Today, we frolicked in the arena like children at play. I brought apples into he arena with me, removed his halter, and offered him apples if he’d follow simple commands.
Come, back, HO, turn.
And after he’d get his apple reward, he’d run and buck, exuberant and joyful, returning to continue our games.
After 20 years in digital marketing, spending 8-12 hours in front of the computer, day after day, year after year, it took Chance to teach me about balance.
When I sit at the computer to work, I work twice as hard and twice as fast so I can finish the day’s tasks and get to the ranch to see Chance.
Izzy went back to her first love, Pokey, and comes with me to the ranch every day to ride.
Gryffin is getting better and better at riding Cowboy, the horse he’s leasing.
All 3 of us look forward to the moment the afternoon cools down enough to get to the horses at the ranch.
We clean their stalls, bathe them, feed them, and take them out for sometimes short, sometimes long rides.
It’s Early Yet
We’re only a month into our relationship, but I believe Chance and I will have a long journey together. He has a long way to go to learn trust, and I have a long way to go to decompress and learn balance.
He has terrible allergies that I’m trying to help him overcome.
And I’m just relearning the joys of riding, and of caring for a 1200 lb four-legged friend.
So much joy ahead, so much to learn, so much to experience.
I’m so very glad I took a Chance.