In May of 2000, in the blazing Arizona heat, Chief was found chained to a fence. The people that lived in the small town of Queen Creek weren’t sure what to do or who to call. Some of the townsfolk made sure he had water and hay, and they thought that surely someone would come to get him.
After days spent chained to the fence, Chief was finally rescued by some local cowboys who came and cut him loose. They loaded him up into a trailer and took him to a community ranch in the area. Horrifically, while at the ranch Chief suffered even more terrible abuse. Kim Meagher, founder of Wildhorse Ranch Rescue (WHRR) in Gilbert, Arizona, says that the staff at that facility even used him as a gelding demo, without using anesthetic.
The ranchers at that horrible place eventually decided that they didn’t need Chief any longer, so they called Peter McEvoy, a horse shooter from a nearby refuge called, Out of Africa Wildlife Park.
But McEvoy realized that it wasn’t time for Chief to die. There wasn’t anything wrong with Chief, except that no one wanted him.
McEvoy then made a phone call to Meagher. “He called me and said, ‘Kim, I have a horse here and his only problem is humans,’” said Meagher. McEvoy told Meagher where Chief was located, and mentioned that he was with another unwanted horse named Twinkle Toes.
“If you could rescue them that would be fantastic; we’re not going to take and kill them,” McEvoy told Meagher. So Meagher found herself driving to the ranch, where she picked up both of the unfortunate horses. She brought them back with her to WHRR, an equine rescue and sanctuary that was founded in 1995.
“He was pretty pathetic,” said Meagher as she recalled Chief’s plight. He was probably in his late 20’s when he first came to WHRR. Horses usually live to be between 25 and 30 years old, depending on what kind of horse they are, and ponies can live well into their 40’s.
Chief’s frail body was covered in scars, almost like someone had cut him with a knife, according to Meagher. He was afraid of people. “If you walked by his stall, he would shake and clench his eyes closed. So we just fed him, mucked his stall and talked sweet to him. It took about three weeks for him to start opening his eyes and actually look at us.”
Chief slowly started trusting the volunteers and the other horses. Little by little, he let himself become a part of the herd. A herd that included Lady, WHRR’s first rescued horse, and Dunny, its second resident.
Both Lady and Dunny came to WHRR in 1995. The woman who had once owned Lady was elderly and loved the beautiful, white 10-year-old rescued BLM mustang, but she no longer had the physical ability or the time needed to properly care for the horse. Dunny too was given to WHRR by a family unable to provide for him.
Over time, Chief got used to being with the other horses and he came to love his caretakers. He would cavort and play with them and was able to live life as part of a herd. And in 2003, Chief was nominated for and won the Friends Of Animal Care & Control Survivor Hero Award. He had lived a life of abuse and neglect before coming to WHRR and had come out the other side a survivor!!
He began to lose his sight as time passed, Chief began bumping into things, and this was happening more and more. “We worried about his eyes and noticed he was following Lady,” said Meagher. “He would get behind her and nudge her butt as if to say, ‘Take me for a walk.’ They had not really had a bond before this.”
Lady with Kim Meagher
Lady indulged him and began leading him around. “About 90 percent of the time she’d say ‘OK.’ He would follow her almost with his nose touching her,” said Meagher. “Every now and again he’d nudge her and she would put her ears back and swing her head toward him, and you could almost hear her say, ‘I’m not in the mood right now!’”
But he was stubborn and he’d nag Lady until she finally relented. Chief always won.
“She was really very kind to him and took good care of him,” said Meagher. “They did look like an old married couple – like they were married their entire horsy lives.”
The two of them did all of the usual horse things, standing head to tail. Lady would use her tail to sweep the flies off Chief and he would return the favor. Chief was never far from Lady.
Sadly, after examining Chief, the vet said that he was suffering from a degenerative eye condition that there was no cure for. In time Chief went completely blind and often had to wear a fly mask to protect his eyes. The mask was equipped with padded bumper guards to stop him from banging his eyes and hurting them.
Chief proudly displaying his Hero Award medal (WHRR)
As the years past, Chief and Lady developed a very strong relationship, and Chief relied on the beautiful white mare more and more. The herd also continued to grow as WHRR took in more animals.
But, in 2005, something unimaginable happened. Meagher had to call the vet for Lady, who was in terrible misery. The vet came immediately to investigate. Sadly, Lady was dying, and Chief could sense that something was wrong.
“Chief was yelling in the barn so we could come get him,” said Meagher. “He was panicked and screaming running back and forth in his stall banging into the walls and the fence. He just would not calm down, so we had to halter him and bring him next to her during the exam.”
Lady was aware of Chief’s presence. “I think it comforted her instantly,” said Meagher. “The roles were reversed; now he was providing comfort for her.”
Chief never left her side throughout the entire procedure. “When Lady was gone he stood over her for the longest time, and of course we finally had to put him up in his stall in the side corral,” Meagher added.
Sadly, Lady didn’t survive and Chief was devastated. When the truck came to retrieve Lady’s body, Chief screamed for about an hour. “It was heartbreaking,” said Meagher. “We all just balled. What could we do? How do you comfort that?”
“We were always thankful that Lady was a lot younger than Chief, because we just couldn’t imagine him without her,” said Meagher. “We always thought Chief would go long before her since he was quite a bit older than she was. When it happened the other way around it was pretty devastating.”
Chief was beside himself once Lady was gone. The volunteers were afraid to let him out of his stall without Lady because they feared he wouldn’t be safe. He’d have to be placed with a volunteer, even though Chief would rather stay put most of the time anyway.
After a few months had passed, Meagher made the decision to pair Chief up with Dunny, who pretty much took over for Lady. “Just the fact that he allowed it was a pretty big move for Dunny,” said Meagher.
The friendship between the two horses lasted until Chief died on New Year’s Day of 2009. No one knew exactly how old he was, but the vet estimated his age at about 37 years old when he passed away surrounded by WHRR’s board of directors and the volunteers who loved him until the very end.
Lady and Chief pulling up the rear in their earlier days
“Everyone of us, every being has value,” added Meagher. “We all seek love and safety. And often, beautiful friendships blossom from the most soiled beginnings.”
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