Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Heather Smith Thomas—Notes from Sky Range Ranch: Chance, Part 2: Versatile and Unique

Heather Smith Thomas continues her remembrance of Chance, a horse with a heart of gold...and a fondness for nachos. Read Part 1.

Chance was a mellow, respectful horse that would never hurt anyone, but his appearance could be deceiving if you didn’t know him. He often looked grumpy and went around with his ears back.  “We called him the Marshmallow because even though he’d give you a nasty face and pin his ears back like he wanted to bite you, he never did. It was all bluff because he was just a big softy. If you didn’t know him, however, it would be very intimidating,” Heather says.

Chance was always willing to do anything asked of him, but he often put on a grumpy appearance!
Another interesting thing about Chance was his love of any kind of “people food.” “He’d eat whatever we were eating, or anything a person offered him as food, and was very trusting,” says Heather. “Nick would tease him by picking up a handful of rocks just to see if he’d try to eat them. Dad was riding him one spring and eating a chicken sandwich when he stopped for lunch. Chance was interested in it, so Dad just fed him the rest of the sandwich! He was a carnivorous horse!”

Another time at the Fairgrounds during a horse show, Heather, her mom, and Chance were waiting for the next class. “A little girl with a plate full of warm nachos walked in front of us, and Chance thought the food was for him. He just stuck his nose into her plate. The poor little girl was scared to death; she just dropped her plate and ran. Chance looked at her as she ran away, as if to say, ‘Wow.  That’s strange!’ and then he just put his head down and started eating the nachos. Mom and I took the plate away from him — the nacho cheese was getting all over his pretty, white nose and he was about to go into the show ring,” recalls Heather.

Chance’s versatility was phenomenal. It amused Michael to take an Arab to a very pro-Quarter Horse show and see young Heather win every class she entered with him. “Chance was very smart and very level headed, and always calm and laid back. He had the endurance of an Arab, and could go all day, all summer long, and never get tired, but was as mellow as any good kid horse,” he remembers.

Nick rode Chance many times on the ranch.

Nick getting Chance ready for one of the 4-H horse shows—all groomed and ready to load into the trailer

During their 4-H years, Heather and Chance did a lot of learning together. “He was always really good at figuring out how much I was ready for. He could be just as mellow and slow as needed, but when I was ready for more advanced things, he would readily take me to the next level. When we started the rodeo events, we did it slowly—taking it careful. But as I got more confident he started putting in more speed. By the time we were competing in a lot of rodeo events and I entered the Rodeo Princess contest, we could do about anything. Even when we were doing wild, crazy things, I knew he’d take good care of me. He could practically read my mind,” says Heather.

Young Heather and Chance making a mad dash around the arena during their performance in the Rodeo Princess contest
“He was my good old boy.  We did a lot of cattle work and range riding together.”

Heather and Chance helping with cattle sorting, guarding the gate
“Chance and I did a little bit of jackpot rodeo but we were never very good at it. Nick and Molly were a lot more successful. It wasn’t that they were that much faster than us, but Nick was in a lower age group and the competition wasn’t as keen. They’d rack up the money, whereas Chance and I didn’t win much money; we just had a lot of fun,” says Heather.

Heather and Chance at their 2003 Horse Show
“When I started doing the rodeo competition he didn’t know what to do and didn’t really like it. I don’t think he’d ever done anything that required much speed. Once he figured out that he was supposed to open up and run fast, he started liking it better.”

The very last night that they were running the barrels, Chance surprised everyone with an exceptionally fast run. “In the open horse show they go through all the various events, and at the end of the show they have the barrels and poles. For some reason everything was running late and we ended up in the dark. They had the big floodlights on in the arena. Chance and I were at the rail, watching all the other girls do the barrel races,” recalls Heather.

“He was very intently watching them. When it came time for us to run, he did his best performance. Usually he was very laid back, sauntering into the arena, and then we’d go. I’d ask him to go, and he’d run. But that night, after watching the other horses run, he was feeling frisky. As soon as I got him to the gate he started bouncing up and down, wanting to run. He was completely out of character. I let him go and he ran—the fastest time he’d ever run the pattern, by one whole second! We actually got third place in the barrel racing for that show, and it was totally amazing, for him. He put a lot more into it than usual. I don’t know whether it was the lights, or watching the other horses, but he figured it out. He did really well for a 23-year-old Arab that had never been trained to run the barrels!”

It might have been something about the dark, because over the years his riders discovered that Chance was very sure-footed in the dark. “In the daylight, Chance would trip over sagebrush, and stumble in holes and bad footing. He could be a little lazy about picking up his feet, sometimes to the point that the rider might be afraid he’d fall down (which he never did). At night, however, he never tripped. I don’t know whether it was because he could see better, or if he was more careful because he didn’t want to fall down in the dark,” says Heather.

The whole family rode him at various times.
Carolyn riding Chance on the ranch

Carolyn on Chance riding range with Michael
Nick, riding Chance to help gather cattle, waits while his dad gets off to tighten his cinch.
I rode him only once, when Michael and Carolyn had to trailer their horses to go round up an orphan calf at one of their leased places. We had to find the calf and bring him with some cows through the brush and ditches to get to the corral, and Chance did an excellent job for me on that roundup.

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