Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast
My niece walking my 110 pound Rottweiler, Mickey, many years ago. Mickey would normally drag anyone walking her, but she just knew to be gentle with my niece.

Sunday, March 26, 2017


"While only six, he possessed an old soul, and he clearly had no issues with anything I placed in front of him."
Tank showing a little attitude

Enjoying some sun with the cat.

Tank in the beautiful Paradise Valley

This was how my friend Jessika described her first meeting with a horse named Tank.  With a body fitting of his name, standing 17 hands and 1400 pounds, the white and patchwork colored horse was to become a major part of Jessika’s life.  Long before she met Tank however, Jessika’s life was already devoted to and often motivated by her love of horses. 

A child of the deep south, Jessika grew up with horses, learning to ride western style before switching to English style at age 13.  With one of her first competition horses, Ginger, Jessika competed in hunter/jumper competitions before switching over to three day eventing, an equine triathlon. Shortly thereafter, another dream of hers took over.  That was the dream of being in law enforcement.  Pursuit of law enforcement lead Jessika to Montana where, after college, she became a police officer in a small town an hour north of Yellowstone National Park.  Though living one dream, she never gave up her first true love, horses. It was after she was forced to retire Ginger due to health reasons, and while looking for another competition horse, that she decided to combine her passions. That’s when Jessika’s life headed for real change.

With a lot of self-initiative, Jessika convinced her small department to let her start a mounted unit comprising her and a new partner, Larry, a horse she had picked specifically for this new job.  Jessika dove into her new pursuit as only a stubborn redheaded southerner could, leading to numerous trips with Larry to trainings and visits to departments around the country that had established mounted units.  She describes how Larry performed in this new endeavor:

"Larry was actually fabulous as a police horse.  He was brave, curious, and very generous; however, it was often on own his terms.  He’s by far one of the most sensitive horses I’ve ever ridden, a prima donna, if you will.  Normally, mounted units have at least a few horse and rider combinations.  LPD’s unit was unique, as it was just Larry and me.  Horses are naturally herd creatures; they find confidence and security when they are together.  While Larry often displayed these traits on his own, there were also times where he did not.  He also developed ulcers, which are extremely common in competition horses and horses that are under stress.  Mounted police work is not for the faint of heart, nor is the training for that matter.  Having a confident mount on every ride is paramount, especially if you’re a one-horse unit.  I retired him from police work and turned him into my three day eventing partner."

With Larry no longer an option, Jessika did what any other horse-loving woman would.  She went horse shopping.  That is when she found Tank.
Jess and her husband training Tank for police work

"It was love at first sight when I met him.  Ask any horse person and they’ll tell you it is both the worst and best feeling in the world.  No matter how much you love a horse, they still must pass the veterinarian pre-purchase exam.  After only riding Tank for a few minutes, I knew right then and there that he would be perfect as my partner.  I test rode him solo on a nearby road, with cars zooming by, then later, walking over a tarp.  While only 6-years-old, he possessed an old soul, and he clearly had no issues with anything I placed in front of him.  Days later, he passed that pre-purchase exam!"

The bond between Tank and Jessika was one that only horse people could understand.  It was a trust, a friendship, and a love that couldn’t be broken.  This bond was tested and proven true one fateful day.  On June 27, 2016, Jessika was out for a ride on Tank in the mountains near her home.  It was a beautiful summer day and the trail was not anything unusual for her and Tank.  Along for the ride were Jessika’s two Boxers, Roxie and Archer, both of whom were regular participants on these rides. Perhaps it was the enjoyment of the trail and a calm, sunny day, but whatever the reason, Jessika wasn’t prepared when something happened that caused her to fall from Tank.  She has no memory of the few minutes leading up to the accident but here is what she thinks happened.

At a rocky part of the trail, Tank stumbled a little and in just a heartbeat, Jessika fell to the ground and struck her head on some rocks.  Even though she was wearing a riding helmet, the impact rendered her unconscious on the trail, although she was not alone.

"While I remember everything up until the few minutes before the accident, I have complete amnesia of the accident itself.  My next memory is that of waking up in the hospital, two days later.  I’ve had multiple people state in disbelief that I was by myself at the time, but in reality, I was not alone.  Tank was grazing nearby and my Boxers had bedded down around me. I was conscious when the hiker found me; however, I have absolutely no memory of it.  I apparently fought the paramedics and my deputies, yet I have zero memory."

  So began Jessika’s long recovery from what is called Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).  Yet, like during the time of the fall, she was not alone during this long process.  Her husband, step-children, friends, and coworkers all were there to help, as was Tank.

"I was ignorant of brain injuries when this happened.  I simply was not prepared for just how long and hard recovery would be.  Tank has helped me on every level possible - spiritually, physically, and mentally."

Despite the injury, Jessika’s love for her horses, and for riding, were not diminished and, in fact, were to become driving forces in her recovery.

"About three weeks after my TBI, I felt confident enough to get back in the saddle.  Even though it was against doctor’s orders, as well as my husband’s, it was something I had to do.  I thought I had a bond with Tank before the accident, but I did not truly feel it fully until I got back on him after my injury.  He just seemed to know.  He was gentle, affectionate, and patient with me.  I only had the energy for a twenty-minute ride, but I just knew that he knew what was going on with me.  While he was gentle and patient with me those first few months, over time he would gradually test me here and there.  That’s when I knew I was really progressing under saddle.    From the time I got back on him after the injury, he just knew what my capabilities were."

This story, itself, captures the beautiful bond between horse and rider, yet with Tank it portrays just a touch of how wonderfully impacting this horse with a tough name is.  More evidence of Tank’s impact was captured in February 2017, when Jessika posted a picture of Tank visiting an old woman whose husband had passed away.  The relationship between Jessika and this couple had been long-forged, and Tank, like so many animals, seemed to understand that he was needed.

"I met Marlys and her husband, Bob, while delivering jury summons on duty about seven years ago.  I had arrived that afternoon during a very difficult time in her life.  I adored her the moment I met her and we kept in touch over the years.  In 2015, while conducting training in the neighborhood on Tank, I decided to stop by their residence to say hi.  Marlys’s love for Tank was immediate.  Tank responded in kind and was more affectionate with her than he had ever been with me.  Bob and Marlys soon became my adopted grandparents.  They embodied everything grandparents are supposed to be - warm, kind, selfless, humble – everything we all aspire to be.  Whenever training in that neighborhood, I was always sure to bring Tank by.  And even when I wasn’t working the neighborhood, I would trailer him over to their house.  Bob always had a ridiculous amount of carrots and apples stocked in the fridge for Tank, just in case we made a surprise stop.  Marlys had been ill for some time and had been reliant on Bob to care for her.  His love and commitment to her was undeniable.  Bob passed a week ago Sunday, yet I can still hear his laugh and see his big bright smile as he brought out Tank’s treats."

The picture that Jessika posted after Bob's passing, combined with her comments, clearly highlighted just how big a heart Tank has.

Tank's visit with Marlys after her husband had passed

"For the first time in 64 years, my Marlys spent Valentine's Day without her beloved husband. This warm, kind soul passed away on Saturday. I can't bring her husband back, but I can bring a 1,400 pound teddy bear by for a few hours. He got super protective of her that day. He even warned one of the girls when she got too close to their little "zone". I was appalled yet fascinated at the same time. Like a mare protecting her foal."

Many people have been around dogs and cats, but few have had the privilege of working with horses.  The equine/human bond is unique and entirely about trust.  It is based on both horse and rider being a part of one herd, one mindset. Trusting. Faithful. Jessika and Tank are the classic example of that beautiful bond between horse and rider.
Jess and Tank

It was my intent to capture this special equine/human bond in my second novel, Lost Horse Park.  If nothing else, I desire to give readers a taste of what it is like to be one with a massive animal that runs with the wind.  A special thank you to Jessika for sharing her story about Tank and for contributing the pictures contained in this blog. 

Troy B, Kechely

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