The stallion huddled in the corner of the small paddock, his crusty hide sagging from his bones. His owner had said the horse was a half-Arabian pinto, but I could barely make out the two-color coat beneath the muck.
His hair was matted and mud-caked, his mane dirt-streaked. I approached cautiously, but the horse took no notice. He just picked listlessly at a clump of hay. No wonder he’s being offered for free, I thought. No one would want a horse like this.
“Free Horse.” That’s what my husband had scribbled down on a notepad along with a phone number, an offhand mention by a friend. It seemed like perfect timing—we were looking for a horse for our nine-year-old daughter, Haley.
A year ago, when she was finally old enough to help take care of a horse and ride on her own, we had bought her a snow-white Welsh mare named Lady.
She turned out to be the perfect horse for Haley—gentle, well-behaved, as comfortable walking in our town’s Independence Day parade as she was roaming the nature trails around our farm. But Lady developed laminitis, a crippling condition. We had to put her down, and Haley was devastated.
Our other horses were too big and spirited for her. She was using a friend’s pony to complete her 4-H program, but I knew how badly she wanted a horse of her own and I’d prayed for an answer. “Free Horse?” There had to be a catch…
There was. On the phone, the man had told me the horse was a stallion, neglected and left to run wild by its previous owner. Already that told me the horse wasn’t good for Haley, or any child.
Stallions are naturally more aggressive than mares. Even if gelded, the horse was completely untrained. At eight years old, he might never come around.
But my curiosity led me to the man’s farm. I’d trained several horses. Perhaps I could nurse this stallion back to health, train him, then put him up for sale and use the money to get Haley a new horse.
Since Lady had died, we had a stall available. Besides, I knew if I didn’t take a chance on this horse, I was pretty sure no one else would. Chance, a good name for a horse, I thought.
The following weekend I brought Chance home. His weak back legs wobbled so much he could barely step into the horse trailer. I had to practically push him in.
The first thing I did was put him in a round pen, away from our other horses, and focus on getting some weight on him. I walked out to the pen twice a day to feed him. “Can I feed him, Mommy?” Haley asked.
“Not yet,” I said. I needed to see how Chance would behave first.
After about three months of good food and care Chance regained his strength—and his attitude. I opened up his pen one morning and he burst out, tearing around the pasture in a panic. “Easy, son, easy,” I said in a low soothing voice, but when I approached, he turned and bolted.
I finally managed to get him back in his pen. Then he reared up and struck my shoulder with his hoof. I was all right, but frustrated. Horses aren’t violent creatures; they’d rather flee than fight. Yet Chance always wanted to lash out. I figured he’d been abused; that’s why he didn’t trust people. Lord, how do I get him to trust me?
“Can I feed Chance?” Haley asked later. After that morning, I was especially emphatic in my response. How could I risk a horse hurting my daughter? “Absolutely not, Haley,” I said. “You must not go anywhere near Chance. Is that understood? He’s just too dangerous.”
“I understand, Mom,” Haley said, disappointment in her voice.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “We’ll get you a horse soon.”
I knew how curious Haley was about our new horse, but Chance was no Lady. The sooner I could train him, clean him up and sell him, the better.
A few weeks later, Chance had calmed down enough that I felt comfortable trying to groom him. When he saw me with brushes, he backed away and neighed loudly.
“Shh, easy, son, easy.” I laid my hand softly along his side and rubbed gently. The crust on his flanks wiped away to reveal his silky white coat spotted with deep mahogany patches. The thick bristles of the brush combed through his matted mane, untangling the long, white wisps.
I could see his breathing slow, his eyes no longer wide and scared. “When was the last time someone groomed you like this?” I said. I took a step back when I was done, admiring my work.
“He’s so beautiful, Mommy,” Haley said. She stood at the edge of the pen, staring at Chance. I had to admit his coloring was quite striking. Maybe with some training he wouldn’t be so hard to sell. One of the basics was getting Chance to walk into a trailer. He had done it when I brought him here, after all.
But now Chance threw himself against the walls and struck out with his front hooves, behavior I had only read about in horse-training books that said some horses acted out like this when they were stressed in small spaces. It wasn’t only dangerous for me; Chance could hurt himself. Then he bolted out of the trailer in a panic. What was I to do?
I remembered how well Chance had reacted when I groomed him. I couldn’t be a taskmaster with this horse. He just needs a little kindness and consistency, I thought.
I took plenty of time training him to the trailer. Slow and steady, I’d lead him into the middle of the trailer, standing at his head, stroking his mane. My touch seemed to calm him. When I tied him down and left the trailer, he started to get antsy. But I noticed that as long as he could still see me, he stayed put.
“No worries, pal, I’m right here,” I said, and he quieted down. Progress, finally. Thank you, Lord. This is going to take the two of us for sure.
Meanwhile, Haley and I began a search for her horse. We went to check out a horse my friend heard about, only to discover it was lame. One we found in the paper seemed perfect, until we saw it in person and it towered over Haley. I searched on the internet. More than a few times I’d catch Haley looking forlornly at pictures of Lady.
“God knows the right horse for you,” I assured her. But the look on her face said it all. She loved Lady and nothing could replace her.
It took months of work, but Chance made great strides. He could be loaded onto a trailer no problem—with or without another horse. He rarely bucked when I rode him. Instead of running off when I approached, he’d walk up to me in the field. He was well-behaved enough that I even let Haley help me groom him—something that had become Chance’s favorite activity.
Watching the care that she gave to Chance reminded me of the way she was with Lady. God, Haley’s still hurting, I prayed. Please help me find the right horse for her. Once I sold Chance I could give that mission my full attention. All I needed was a few good pictures of him to put online.
“Haley, why don’t you lead Chance around while I try to get a good shot,” I said. Chance followed Haley around the pasture. “Can you get him to lift up his head?” I asked. Haley stroked Chance under the chin and he lifted his head.
I posted the photos online, anticipating some response. Chance was only eight, small, fairly well trained and the photos showed how handsome he’d become. But weeks later I hadn’t received even one nibble. Maybe if we get some pictures of Haley riding him…
I stood in the pasture, watching as Haley guided Chance. Haley looked so happy in her riding helmet, her ponytail bobbing up and down as she pushed Chance to a trot and slowed to a stop. They looked so…natural.
For the next few weeks, as I waited anxiously for a buyer, Haley rode Chance around the farm. I kept a close eye on them, not ready to fully trust Chance yet. But he never gave Haley any trouble. Haley began feeding him and took over his care. I noticed he always nickered to her when she fed him.
“Why don’t we take him out on the trail?” I said to Haley one day. I saddled up one of our horses and Haley rode Chance. It was peaceful, quiet, only an occasional snort from the horses and their hooves crackling the fallen leaves that littered the trail.
Just then, a guy on a dirt bike zoomed up. My horse backed away from the revving engine. I held the reins tightly, afraid he would bolt. I shot a terrified glance at Haley. How would Chance react? He didn’t move a muscle. The dirt bike passed and Haley patted Chance on the side. “Good boy,” she said.
His behavior amazed me. As the trail ride progressed, it began to dawn on me why Chance wasn’t selling. And why I’d been so moved to give him a chance in the first place. How could I have missed it, Lord? Haley must have read my mind. “So, Mom,” she said. “Chance can be my horse, can’t he?”
“I think that was the plan all along,” I said. We meandered along the trail back toward the farm, every clip clop of hooves next to me the sound of an answered prayer.