Editor’s Note: What we’ve found as our readership has expanded is that the RDC Community is full of humans with interesting lives. As our dear Earth turns on her axis, these folks are managing skyscrapers, scraping animal droppings, and dropping mail in everyone’s mailbox on their route. One of our readers, who gave me permission to share a few photos on a past Silent Sunday post, is a sheriff. He rides in the mounted patrol and his horse has an interesting story. While recovering from recent shoulder surgery, he sent “Traveler’s Story” along for my perusal and I asked his permission to share it with you. Have a story YOU feel needs to be shared? We’ll read it and work with you if it fits with our mission. ~ [kelly]
Traveler’s Story, by Sam Chestnut
edited by Kelly Roberts
The date was March of 2005. I was still recovering from a Prostatectomy due to Prostate Cancer. I heard from a friend that a man not far from us had a good looking Tennessee Walker gelding for sale. So Jean, our daughter Darla, and I went to check it out.
When we walked into the barn I saw a horse standing against the back wall of a stall with all four feet spread out, his nostrils flared, with his eyes fearful and widely open. I thought to myself, “Boy, something has just gone on here.” It was clear the horse was terrified and near panic. All of his hair had been shaved off with hair clippers and it was still early March; the weather still very cold. He was in an unheated barn with no blanket or method of keeping himself warm. He was somewhat skinny and not well kept. There were no physical scars other than his shaved mane, but it was clear the horse had been ‘through it.’
The owner asked me if I wanted to ride him. I said no because of my recent surgery; the incision was not completely healed. I was really not too enthused about climbing on a horse that had, apparently, just been whipped into a near frenzy. But my daughter popped up and said, “I’ll ride him.” She has always been a gutsy kid and she can ride better than most wranglers I have met. I asked her if she was sure and she replied, “He has kind eyes.” The man put a saddle on him and off Darla went. The horse had a beautiful gait and just floated around the pasture. When she came back she said, “Daddy I like him.” I said, “Are you sure?” She repeated, “He’ll be alright. He has kind eyes.”
After some haggling about price, which was never going to be an issue, I bought him. Even at the man’s first asking price I knew I was getting him out of that hell hole. I told my wife, “I don’t know if I will ever be able to ride him but I am getting him out of here that’s for sure.”
After introducing the horse to his new home, I assessed the full situation. He was a mental wreck and scared to death of people. When you touched his shoulder it was hard as a rock, he just knew you were going to hurt him. If someone moved their hand from their side toward a pants pocket, he would jerk his head back in anticipation of being hit. When I would enter the barn he would run to the back of the stall in fear. For a full two weeks after we moved him to our place, he would not eat with anyone was present in the barn. I had to put the feed in his manger then leave the barn before he would approach his meal. Any feeding or watering was done with him standing fearfully at the far end of the 12’X 24′ stall.
I cannot tell you how cautious I was about making sure everything I did around him was perceived as non-threatening. He had been hurt severely and repeatedly and there was a tremendous cavern of distrust I had to cross. I changed his name. His name was originally “Chief” but I figured he had heard that name shouted many times right before he was hit so I wanted to give a whole new existence. I named him “Traveler.” After several weeks I was able to be in the stall with him while he was eating. Then I started taking a small bath towel and rubbing him while he was eating in preparation for (hopefully) someday putting a saddle blanket on him. But all that hope had to have patience attached. To the best of my memory it was about six weeks before I was able to even consider letting him out in the pasture. We have 20 acres where the horses run and frankly I didn’t know if I would ever be able to catch him once I let him out. But he had plenty of pasture in his current situation, and I had accomplished my first mission by just getting him away from the idiot owner.
One day I told Jean that I was going to let Traveler out and I voiced my concerns about ever catching him again. But, it was not a good life for him to be shut in a stall. When I led him out of the stall toward the end of the barn he snorted loudly in fear of everything that was around him. His “stall of safety” was going away. When I released him he cautiously walked off into the pasture where the other horses were.
Every time I went outside after that day I would holler, “Traveler, ya want a snack?” At first he didn’t know who I was talking to but slowly he started figuring out that I was calling him. When he responded and came to me, I would give him what was then marketed as, “Horse Candy.” One time I gave him so much he just didn’t want anymore! He started looking me up when I was in the yard to see if I had anything for him. Of course I always did. After several months, his trust grew to where I could actually reach to pat his head without him so much as flinching.
The process through which I gained Traveler’s trust when I was riding him is another story. It is too long for today, and I had to be just as careful with that situation as I was up to this point. In sum, he has never been hurt while I was riding him and now he is more confident of himself and his surroundings when I am on him than when I am leading him. I have never given him cause to doubt me, and he continues to progress by leaps and bounds.
Traveler has become my friend and confidant. I trust him and he trusts me. Traveler is a “lover” and he seeks attention from people at our appearances. Knowing him like this I understand how much more traumatizing it must have been for him to go through what he did. What you see in Traveler is the “work in progress” of a real-life miracle.