By Colleen Leon
In 2003 a well-known local cowboy was having a big tack sale in my neighborhood. A friend of mine was looking for a small horse and knew I was going to go to this sale and asked me to check it out. This cowboy was known for breeding and producing some big beautiful quarter horses. So I asked the cowboy if he had a little horse. He replied yes he did and enticed me to look at him so I could tell my friend about this cute lil guy. Off we went in his golf cart.
Suddenly, there he was! A very cute, flashy red and white pinto. I jumped off the cart immediately and went right in his stall; I couldn’t resist his kind face and those big soulful eyes. He was so gentle and loved being loved on. I looked at my husband and he immediately said “NO!” we already had 3 horses! Cowboy says….”You want me to saddle him up?” I said yes, hubby said “NO!”
Comanche, his name then, was immediately saddled and into the round pen we went. Cowboy started giving me information about him and told me he was turning four and had only about 30 days training on him. I could not get over how calm and gentle he was and how he stood perfectly still when he was mounted. I was falling in love. Cowboy rode him around a bit then gave him a big “cluck” and he started doing this very smooth gait. OMGosh was it smooth! Cowboy laughed as he went around and said all he needed was a full martini glass! My eyes got big, Cowboy just laughed! “He’s a Tennessee Walker” Cowboy said.
I was offered to try him and I was excited. I could not wait to get him into that same gait and smooth it was! That is when the love started! And so the adventure began. I had never ridden a gaited horse before, didn’t know anything about them. I changed his name to Chapo (Spanish for “shorty”) and home we went. I rode him home bareback with a halter while hubby grumbled all the way home.
I had been riding for only a couple years and was just discovering horses. I wanted to know everything and try everything. I hired a trainer and the work began. Pretty soon we were doing very well and I learned he could do a nice slow lope but I never had the nerve to “open him up”. After all, he was just a Tennessee Walker!
I decided to try a barrel-racing clinic for fun, thinking it would be good for us. “Barrel racing?!” my friends laughed and scoffed. “Sure” I said, “Why not? He’s a horse, he can lope.” I was wrong, he could and did fly around those barrels! Wasn’t a big competition but he surprised the heck outta me and my friends!
I thought, “Well, if he can run barrels, why not try cows?” I contacted my trainer and said, “Hey, can you teach us to sort and chase cows?” My trainer said yes! He had faith in Chapo. We did a lot of training on cow machines and did a couple of clinics. We signed up for a local sorting event; not serious, but a competition. Again, my friends thought I was nuts, “He’s a Walker, he’s not a quarter horse, he won’t be cowy”. Yeah, they were wrong. He had a natural “get after ‘em” attitude. He would pin his ears and follow their moves. I was totally surprised and again, so were my friends. By now they were starting to believe in my Tennessee Walker and what he could do. And so was I.
In 2008, my trainer told me about a competition being started here in Tucson and suggested I enter my horse Chapo. It was a race called “Craig Cameron’s Extreme Cowboy Race”. I had seen my first CCXR about a year earlier and thought I would love to do this race. My horse is fast and we’ve run barrel races, sorted cows. Why not? I was so excited as this was our first big competition. I investigated the course to see what it would be like. I talked to the lady hosting it and found out what it was all about. We sat and talked about the race and then the question came, “What horse will you be riding?” I told her a Tennessee Walker. You should have seen the look I got! She actually curled her lip and said, “Why? Walkers can’t run.” She then tried to sell me a different horse. I guess she felt sorry for me. I left feeling discouraged. About six months later, my trainer encouraged me, heck he MADE me enter our first Craig Cameron Extreme Cowboy Race. We ran and did great in the first race! We actually made top five. We then ran the finals and took second place overall! I was so excited and proud of my lil guy! After the race, the host, that very same woman I met six months earlier who told me a walker would not be good came up to me and congratulated me on our second place win! As she was talking to me I realized she didn’t remember me. So I said to her, “You don’t remember me, do you? I am the one you told a walker wouldn’t do well in this race. Ma’am, that was a Tennessee Walker that took second place!” She apologized and went away a total believer. We competed three more times throughout the season and placed top 5 every time!
My Tennessee Walker is a very versatile horse. There is nothing he won’t or can’t do. My grandchildren ride him, I have pulled a cart with him, he has dragged logs to a fire for me.
Chapo’s greatest accomplishment is becoming a certified Search and Rescue horse. Chapo IS THE horse the Pima County Sheriff’s department calls on to haul injured hikers out from steep canyons with huge rocks and steps. He always takes care of the person on his back. He is a hero…he is MY hero…he is my Heart!
Moral of the story is, never judge a book by its cover, Tennessee Walkers are very versatile, all you have to do is ask.
PS…did I mention he gaits like a DREAM?!!!!