As the white Dodge truck pulling a red horse trailer drove away from our home, I couldn\’t help but feel a little sad. Inside the trailer was a spirited paint gelding who had taught my son Talmage more about leadership, assertiveness, and the kind of girl you don\’t want to marry, than any other person (or animal) could have.
The story began over 2 years earlier when I flew to Billings, Montana with my good friend, Lee Caldwell. We were going to one of the largest horse auctions in the country and I was on a mission to bring home a couple \”kid\” horses for my two sons. While on the plane Lee gave me some expert advice that I would later regret not listening to. \”Be careful not to get caught up in the moment and start bidding when a great looking horse comes into the ring, if you haven\’t seen it out back in the corrals first\” he said. He explained how dishonest people will sometimes drug the horse before it comes into the sales barn to make it seem calm and docile.
Although there were still 300-400 hundred horses left to be sold by the end of the first day, the skilled auctioneer had me feeling that every \”kid\” horse that came through may be the last. I just had to have Apache when I saw him. A nice looking paint gelding, being ridden by a boy about my son\’s age. A Gypsy Vaner standing about 13 hands tall, his build was thick and stout. He had a long beautiful mane and tail that bounced as the young rider confidently rode him around the ring. Before I knew it I was bidding against another father who undoubtedly felt the same urgency to get this horse that I did. Both of us would regret the outcome. He regretted not getting this horse, and I regretted paying as much as I did. The next day I purchased a second horse that seemed to have more get-up-and-go for my older son Mitchell.
A week later, bundled up against the cold of an early March evening, my family gathered to watch our horses emerge from the horse trailer that had brought them back to Utah. I had shown the boys their pictures, and as Talmage has the capacity to do, he had already bonded through the picture and couldn\’t wait to be on Apache\’s back.
It took my brain a few seconds to compute when Apache emerged. Something was radically different. This horse had the same markings and body type, but rather than the sweet and calm disposition, he pranced out, head held high and shaking it defiantly, pawing, and oozing with attitude and energy. Lee\’s unheeded council on the plane stung my memory…I had been duped. My mind raced to find a solution. Maybe I could get my two sons to trade horses. My younger son, Talmage, with his calm and patient disposition, needed a gentle horse. Mitch was stronger, bigger and more assertive so he would be a better fit for Apache. In the end, it was too late. Talmage wanted the one he had been dreaming about. There was no going back.
Thus began two years of rides where it looked like Apache was riding Talmage. The time when this barn sour horse, turned and took off at full speed towards a busy street trying to get home, with Talmage calmly pulling him in a large circle to finally stop. He was scared but not angry. The horse pulling a cart around the neighborhood with Talmage at the reins, with cars of teenagers pulling up next to him calling out \”Sweet ride bro!\” And finally on our fishing trips up the mountain, having Talmage move to the front of our caravan, because Apache was the only horse that would confidently cross rushing streams, and we needed a leader.
I would have changed things if I could have in the beginning, thus interrupting the natural lessons he needed to learn in asserting himself and showing leadership. Rather than being the wrong horse, Apache was the perfect horse.
You may not have a horse to do this for your child, but you can allow other teachers to come along to present challenges, give the support, encouragement, and training they need. If you can restrain yourself from interfering and let your child do what they need to do, the learning and growth will happen. Struggle is often the greatest teacher. Character grows, like muscles do, when there is strain associated with it.
Now as Apache\’s new owner pulled away, I kept trying to be relieved that someone else would be dealing with his defiant attitude. But it was no use. All I could think about were the myriad of memories of he and Talmage together, the fun times, the scary times, and ultimately the growth I had seen in my son as a result of his partnership with this animal. You could say that Apache had inserted himself into our family history, but most importantly, he left an indelible impression on the character of my son. I\’m forever indebted.
Tim Thayne, Ph.D.