What? Miracles take work? My inner self recoiled. I love Chisum and I had her back! But what kind of happily every after was this?! One where I had to use all of my patience and everything I had learned about horses to truly earn this animal’s trust. At times it meant being satisfied short of my goal, knowing we had only gone one step instead of five. And if I’m honest with you, I would have liked it better if it were easier. If only this little mare just instinctively knew that I wouldn’t hurt her or ask too much, I wouldn’t have to…well, be humbled by slow progress.
My husband and I had been cutting firewood and pruning fruit trees all winter on the place we lived. That’s not bad work unless you have it in your blood be a’horseback, because if you do, not even cold New Mexico wind can keep you off of one. Our horses were in good shape and ready for spring works, in case the ranches we worked on last fall needed any help. Little did I know what would transpire for Chisum and me in that time.
Usually, I would ride for about an hour in the afternoon almost every day. Although she handled fine, if you know me, I’m not one to let a horse get sloppy turning around or walk out of a stop or back up crooked. I despise a barn sour or herd-bound attitude, and crossing water or bridges or going through brush calmly is expected. Chisum had these habits and wouldn’t try very hard for me- she liked to use her energy getting hot and mad. I tried not to get in wars with her, but there were some. Eventually, by riding her in headgear that was mild, taking my spurs off, and going slow, I learned a thing or two about horses. I learned that I didn’t know half as much as I thought I did. And I saw that the Golden Rule taught by Christ applies to horsemanship as much as to all of life. Should’ve know this already, but as I said, this was the humbling of an arrogant cowgirl. I couldn’t see then how vitally important these lessons would become…very soon.
Finally the time came to gather for spring branding on one of the ranches we helped on. The magic I had wished for between us when I first brought her back had merely waited until we were out there in the cactus flats. She went all day without pinning her ears. She could sense a cow when we gathered and I just put my hand down and let her find them. She was bright and alert and never missed a thing, ready to go all day long. I was kind of shocked, really, at the transformation, but the little mare just seemed to say, “So what? I know what to do. Let’s get busy!”
She drug calves for me and did a fine job. The only hiccup was once I had drug a few, she balked at going back into the bunch for another. I made her do it, and she did it, but I was glad for once we only had a few to do. Chisum did her job and we came home tired and happy. She didn’t act sore the next day, so I just figured her reluctance was just the last of her crabby attitude flaring up.
Then the unthinkable happened. I got so sick I couldn’t go with Cody for the next branding, and the doctor told us I needed a blood test to determine the cause. You may be laughing already, but I thought I had cancer or something terribly serious. The blood test revealed the truth: we were going to have a baby!
I could have gone on riding and kept up with the works, but folks, I was so sick that there was no way I could do it without stopping and laying down under a tree (make that a cholla). This wasn’t just riding along with the family on the home ranch. This was an invitation extended with the expectation of a days work in exchange for pay. So Chisum and I stayed home.
I hope you caught that. The promise from God that someday my children would ride Chisum was about to come true. I look back and marvel at that promise, and how powerful it was, and how it carried both me and my horse through the summer of 2014.
Other women seem to take pregnancy and parenting in stride. It’s just life, a stage that you adjust to as part of being a woman. Perhaps these wonderful gals even dreamed about one day carrying a child, and planned for it. But I truly was afraid. I know this is very personal and perhaps a little too close of a look into a cowgirl’s heart, but there was a quaking, a desperation, and the fear of imploding that threatened every day of my first two months of pregnancy. It was partly because I was so free all my life I had never really thought about what it would be like, a kind of unbridled naiveté. Part of it may have been cultural, as most girls in my generation are conditioned to dream of careers and not motherhood.
But for me, it wasn’t motherhood or even pregnancy that caused my negative emotions. It was purely the element of surprise, like how a mustang must feel the first time she’s run into a corral and there’s a fence everywhere she looks. I couldn’t comprehend life with the limitations of pregnancy and thereafter, the limitations of parenting and caring for an infant. I was petrified. And every well-meaning person who tried to give advice made me feel like a pit bull being poked at with a stick. By the beginning third month of morning sickness and feeling like a skeleton of myself (no baby bump yet, really), Cody and I were both frazzled and weary of it.
Having prayed my heart out for relief from morning sickness, knowing God helped every other new mother and wanting God to just change my heart to be like all the other women who naturally adjust, I felt broken. Why was this so hard for me? I loved that baby so fiercely already, and all the excitement of having a child…that was there, too. I would lay awake (nauseous, usually) dreaming of showing the baby the stars for the first time or of the first ride on a horse…or dreaming of a few years down the road, teaching them to ride and rope; or what songs I would sing them to sleep to…I had the joy…just buried underneath the burden of a pretty rough first trimester. What I was missing was assurance that it was going to turn out alright, that I could do this. Up to then, I was just hanging on. And my husband hung on with me, waiting on God to come through.
“What did God do?” you ask. You must know He would have to speak to me in an extraordinary way in order to get the message through to my hard head and harder heart. This is funny. Hold on to your hat for this part.
Cody continued cutting wood, and I tried to help as much as I could. I rode a little bit, here and there, but again, usually ended up laying under a tree. So Chisum got fat. Fatter than fat. I cut her feed back a lot because I thought she was just eating too much, but every time the house door opened, she would nicker at whoever showed their face as if to say, “Hey! I’m starving over here!”
Being in the state I was, I finally got a clue.
“Cody, is there any chance she was exposed to a stud before we got her?”
“No way. But I’ll give Ronnie a call…”
Sure enough. A yearling colt got in the same pasture with his saddle horses and more than one of his mares was accidentally bred, too. Chisum was in foal.
Chisum was much further along than I was. She was due in July, and I was due in December. She wasn’t being crabby for no reason when we drug calves in the spring. She was probably hurting somewhere, an ache I understood well by now.
Watching her bring a colt into the world and raise him well, teaching him what he needed to know about life, became my inspiration. I watched her and then did the same. Gentle with the newborn, patient with the youngster, firm with the rebellious brat. We moved to the Block Ranch in October of that year, and our little girl was born in December. She knew Chisum’s shadow over her in her stroller from the very first day of ‘warm’ weather. Chisum taught me that being a mother is a job that you do your very best at, because it won’t last forever. Whatever sacrifice you can give is privilege, not burden. You can’t teach them everything, just make sure whatever you do teach them is right. That alone will keep them out of more trouble than worrying about them. She would walk along with me as I waddled around, trying to let me know that if she could do it, I could do it, too.
Although she was probably uncertain at first, she confidently took on motherhood with pride. That’s how I got my assurance and my confidence. God helped me start a new chapter in my life by taking what was worthless and lost, helping me find it, teaching me to be compassionate and hopeful, and redeeming the past. God used both of us, the little mare and me, as agents of the Kingdom in a plan and a purpose that is bigger than us. He gave me a gift in His promise that has become a fountain of good with every new page that turns in my life.
Since weaning her foal, Chisum became Cody’s top horse on the ranch we now live on. And when he wasn’t using her, he would saddle her and bring her to the branding corral for me. I would park the stroller in a safe place, get on and drag calves, and when my bunch was done I would be back on mom-duty. I rode Chisum during both my pregnancies, and have ridden her with both of my children. She has blessed every person that has handled her, and not only that, but she’s still awfully pretty to look at.
Chisum’s foal is a green colt, started this summer by the ranch family that bought him from us. And Chisum spends part of her time with me, and part of her time with some dear friends who need a horse to ride while I am too busy with the kids. When she’s not here in the horse trap, I still find myself looking for her out the window. I don’t know what the future will bring for my little gray mare and me, but one thing is for sure: we will never be separated again. She still has her scars and her memories, and I have the lessons she has taught me.
There’s always a ‘take-away’ from horse stories.
From this, I have only one: God keeps His promises.