Chief – A Funny, Furry, Therapeutic Horse Friend Needs Our Help

“Nothing says, ‘I’m here for you’ like Chief’s breath on your face,” reports Melanie Williams-Mahan, Director of Partners in Equestrian Therapy (P.E.T) in Atascadero, California. Chief has been changing people’s lives as a therapeutic riding horse for P.E.T. since 2006. Sadly, he has been sick and unavailable for riding as he recovers.

Recovering from Pigeon Fever

Chief is recovering from a bout of Pigeon Fever that went internal. Dr Lyon of Large Animal Practice in Los Osos and the Veterinarians at Alamo Pintado have been working on him and the latest blood tests show improvement. He is responding well to the medication. However, it is hard on his 19-year-old body so he needs to fully recover before going back into the therapeutic riding program.

Humor and Sensitivity Define Chief

“Chief has his issues, like being the ‘slowest horse in SLO County’, but his mind is always on the rider. The majority of times he interrupts a lesson by stopping, he is doing so because the rider is unbalanced or unsure. He always takes care of his riders, working or playing.”

He is missed by his riders who enjoy Chief’s humor and sensitivity. He truly keys in on his rider’s needs while listening to the handler and the instructor. This is the mark of a reliable therapy horse. Melanie tells us how he goes about his job: “Chief has his issues, like being the ‘slowest horse in SLO County’, but his mind is always on the rider. The majority of times he interrupts a lesson by stopping, he is doing so because the rider is unbalanced or unsure. He always takes care of his riders, working or playing.”

Many Riders Consider Chief  Their “Go-To” Horse

Several riders consider Chief to be their “go-to” horse. One such rider is Buddy. “Buddy likes to trail ride and discuss the day as Chief takes him into a friendlier world. Buddy likes to watch the train when it passes and when he’s on Chief it’s even better!” explains Melanie.

Renny, who manages life in a wheelchair, simply loves Chief. “Renny was a little apprehensive, but excited, at first,” describes Melanie. “Then she fell in love with Chief. He took her from two side-walkers and a lead walker to riding independently!”

The “Chief” Entertainer

Melanie tells us more about this funny, furry friend: “Chief is an entertainer. He’ll do just about anything to put a smile on the face of a crying child. Meltdowns are his specialty.” His usual comfort measure is to simply be near so his warm breath reaches the one who needs comforting. “If that doesn’t work, he’ll grab the nearest object he can get and fling it around until laughter ensues. He’s a best friend, a kind heart, and an adventure to a wonderful place. I’ve had teachers and volunteers with extensive horse experience tell us he’s one of a kind.”

All Therapy Horses are Life Changers

All therapy horses are truly one-of-a-kind life changers and Chief is the rule not the exception. Melanie explains how special Chief is and therapy horses in general: “Chief represents freedom for so many of our riders who can’t walk without the assistance of a wheelchair, cane, or walker. His patient and comical demeanor belies his strength in helping humans. He helps children and adults that are told daily that they can’t do things like other people. His power and empathy take them to places they never thought they could go.”

Chief’s Past Life

Chief’s past life was a jumping lesson horse in Texas. He caught the eye of P.E.T.’s current farrier, Josh Shamblin, who brought him to California where Chief gave jumping lessons at L.O.V.E. farm in Los Osos. When an injury stopped that career he was suggested to P.E.T. where he fit in perfectly.

How We Can Help Chief

Chief needs our help. His medical expenses have drained the funds P.E.T. relies on to continue their program. The two other horses, Levi, a draft-type Mustang and a Clydesdale named Macy help carry Chief’s riders while he recovers. Soon, thankfully, Chief will be back doing what he does best.


You can make a tax-deductible donation to the non-profit P.E.T. program through the donation button found on their website. “If we didn’t think he was going to recover, we wouldn’t be putting him through these meds, it’s not easy on him. We tell him every day how much he is loved and needed and how much he contributes to making a lot of lives better by just being him!” exclaims Melanie.

P.E.T. is also looking for volunteers. The riding program days are: Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. The therapeutic riding program currently has a waiting list for participants, so Melanie would like to add another day which takes more volunteers. She is looking for people who want to see lives changed through horse interaction. Melanie says, “Horse experience isn’t a must, we can teach how we handle our horses!”

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Former Pony Clubber, Eventer and Dressage rider who balanced training and showing with getting a college degree (from Cal Poly SLO), becoming a wife and raising a family.

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