The Chaco Chronicles

Me and Chaco at work

Chaco and I have been on a long journey. Chaco was bought by my trainer as a yearling. He was a favorite in the barn because of his boisterous and playful personality. The first time I saw Chaco in action was at a show in Scottsdale, Arizona. He was at that time five years old. My trainer was working him on-line, warming him up for a ride. He was speeding around the arena, snorting, screaming and acting like he’d never been let out of the barn. My first thought: That woman is crazy to think she can ever get this horse calm enough to work, much less show. My second thought: Oh man, is he ever gorgeous – he moves like a dream. My third thought: I could never handle a horse like that.

Move forward two years and I was looking for a new horse. Something fancy, something flashy and something challenging. My trainer and I visited a well-known Warm Blood horse farm and we saw many unbelievably beautiful horses, but I quickly realized the ones I liked were waaayyy out of my price range. Of course. Story of my life. 🙂 As we were watching the liquid gold prance by us with graceful elegance, another horse popped into my head. I turned to my trainer and said, “What about Chaco?” When she pulled her chin up off the ground she said to me, “You like him?” I shrugged my shoulders. We talked about it all the way home.

In short, I bought him. And then, fear set in. What in the hell had I just done to myself and my trainer, who truly loved the horse? I had yanked him away from her and now what? I had to ride him? “No,” she said. “Take your time.”

So I worked him on the ground, using natural horsemanship principals I had studied in the Parelli program, for several weeks. When I finally did climb on board, I was tight, nervous and saying my Hail Marys. This horse had so much impulsion at the trot, it was hard to stay seated and balanced at the same time. When we cantered, I felt like we were racing against the clock. What had I done? Every time I had to ride him, dread set in. I tried to make excuses. It’s windy, the footing isn’t right in the arena, I should be riding my other horses, I have a hang-nail. After doing this, yet still gritting my teeth and riding him, I became frustrated at myself. I had been riding and showing horses for a good part of my life. Why was I so scared? Interestingly enough, the lack of confidence in riding spread out into the rest of my life. I doubted myself, I doubted my decisions, I doubted everything. I had to do something about this. I had to be proactive. I had to conquer this fear. The answer? I gave myself a break. But this was not easy. For those of you who know me, you know I have the curse of the A-type personality. I’m driven. I’m an overachiever. I’m terribly hard on myself.

With the help of my trainer, I decided that fear was okay. In fact, it was good. It showed I had a healthy respect for this incredibly talented animal who was a lot bigger than me, quicker in his reactions than me, and in many ways, a lot smarter than me. (Yes, horses can be incredibly smart all you naysayers!) I had to use this fear and learn to harness it, like I had to learn to harness Chaco’s vibrant energy – because that’s what it turned out to be – his energy is enormous and I was intimidated by it. As I worked through these issues, I had an opportunity to finally put my fear aside and get to know this horse. Not only is he flashy and beautiful, he has a willing heart and a wonderful attitude. He’s always eager to do what I ask, even if I confuse him. He is immensely forgiving and loving.

I am still working through some issues with Chaco. But they are mine, not his. Now, when I ride and he is giving me that big ole trot, and that canter with lots of jump, there is a smile on my face instead of a rictus of terror. Sometimes, I even laugh because I get a kick out of the fact that he’s enjoying himself and showing off. In short, I’ve fallen in love with this boy and we are working together to build our relationship. Chaco is still a challenge but I am up for it. We are currently working in Level One Dressage and Sport Horse Show Hack and I look forward to a time when I am completely at ease riding him in any situation. We aren’t there yet, but I can feel it coming!

What is your relationship with your horse like? Please feel free to comment and get a dialogue going. It’s always good to exchange experiences and ideas and I’d love to hear your stories!

Stay tuned for more of the Chaco Chronicles. Coming up: The Stormy Diaries and The Handsome Herald.