Thank you to Linda Leon for hosting me during this virtual book tour for The Horse Lover: A Cowboy’s Quest to Save the Wild Mustangs, my memoir about creating and managing the first government-sponsored wild horse sanctuary.
Alan you are very welcome. I would like to highly recommend this book. The forward to this book is by his sister Sandra Day O’ Connor and was written with Lynn Weise Syned. If you are a horse lover or simply looking for a good book to read purchase a copy of this book.
Chico and the Dog
Maybe I was destined to work with wild horses. After all, my first horse was one. Chico was a little wild mustang captured by a local cowboy in the flanks of Steeple Rock Mountain, just north of Lazy B. Somehow my dad ended up with him before I was born, so my sisters Sandra and Ann also claim him as their first horse.
Chico became my best friend almost as soon as I could walk. A pretty bay color with a star on his forehead, he was a small horse, too small for a cowboy, but just right for a child. Chico and I lived many adventures together while he stood patiently in the corral and let me clamber over him like a jungle gym. One day I would be the cowboy chasing and catching wild cattle to the amazement of the other cowboys. The next day I was an Indian stalking game and evading the cavalry. The fact Chico came from a wild horse herd enamored me. When I was old enough to ride, Chico would go at a speed I was capable of handling and no faster. When I fell off and cried and grew angry with him, he would stand still and patiently wait for me to collect myself and get back on. He took care of me more hours than my mother did and at least as well. I rode Chico the first time I was allowed to go on a round-up, when I was five years old. He kept me safe
But eventually the day came to retire Chico. He was in his late twenties. It was time for him to roam freely in the pasture and enjoy the taste of fresh grass.
Chico had made friends with a boxer we had on the Lazy B ranch named Chap. I swear that dog loved Chico as much as I did. Chico would amble through the corral, Chap trotting right next to him. The two would saunter out to pasture together. This best buddy relationship had to be tough on Chap because dogs need water every few hours and Lazy B’s desert pasture had no freestanding water. When the duo returned to headquarters, Chap would plunge into the water trough, roll around like an otter in a pond and drink enough water until you thought it would spout from his ears. Since he wasn’t a hunter, he’d fill up on food at the back of the ranch house. Chico patiently waited for a few hours while the refueling took place. Then back out to the pasture the two would go, coming and going as freely as they wanted.
One day I saw Chap trotting past the corrals toward the barn, alone. Right then, I knew Chico had passed. I quickly saddled up and rode out to the pasture and found him. The coyotes hadn’t gotten to him yet. I knelt down and stroked his weathered hide, saw the peaceful look on his face. I knew he was old and it was his time, but still. You think you’re prepared but when someone you love dies, the loss comes as a shock.
My horse and I walked back to headquarters, tears wetting my face. Underneath the immediate grief glowed the permanent joy of having known Chico and having him in my life for so long. He not only was my first horse, he was my first lesson in the meaning of loyalty, patience and friendship. And even through tears and pain, how can you not be grateful for that?
To this day, I carry the memory of Chico. Sometimes I can’t help but wonder if he was there in spirit during the four years that I cared for those wild horses on the sanctuary up in South Dakota. I like to think he was watching out for me. Maybe he even put in a good word with the herd and encouraged them to trust me. That would be Chico, calm as ever, certain things would work out. And they did.
Thanks, Chico. You were the best first horse any cowboy would want.