A Smile that Spoke Volumes
Chuck taught me how to smile. He had one of those smiles that spoke volumes. Chuck was a soft, gentle, polite and formal man that I highly respected. He was my coach in horsemanship and horse training. I was twelve when I started training with him. I met Chuck showing my horse Sweetie Pie, an American Saddle bred. He was the judge. I placed last at the show he was judging, or at least very close to it. After the show he came to talk to me. He told me he liked my horse and he thought I was a good rider and he offered to coach me. My Dad told me he was a renowned trainer of fine harness horses and I was lucky to have him take an interest in me.
I credit Chuck along with my father, as well as several other trainers, for developing my skills, feel and understanding of horses. Chuck coached me regularly for about three years. He taught me how to train my mare, Sweetie Pie. I got to watch him train six horses from every step of their training up to finished saddle and driving horses. All six were Stallions.
An Amazing Coach
He was an amazing coach. He spoke softly and said little. I could tell he loved teaching. He had a smile that could cut me to my quick or fill my whole day with joy. He was subtle and effective.
When he coached me he would tell me to do something on my horse, let me do it and then offer me some guidance about it. I felt like I was in some horse movie like National Velvet.
Chuck was tough though he never raised his voice or put me down. What made him tough were his comments and his smile after them. Chuck had to drive 20 miles to give me a lesson. Every time he came to give me a lesson he checked over my horse to see how well she was that day. He checked how clean she was and her attitude. He would move her around just a few steps one way or the other and then look deeply in her eyes to see how she felt about me. He could tell if I had made good judgments in how I had handled and ridden her from the time he was not with me by how she responded to being moved about and looking deeply in her eyes to reach her soul.
He taught me how to groom her with my hands as polishing cloths. With his guidance and lots of hours of grooming she was like a mirror, a bay mirror. She was so beautiful, sensitive, willing and quite formal in her attitude as an optimistic mare.
The Zen Experience
Between lessons he told me to ride her in a halter only. He felt that I would not handle her properly, without him, in her double bridle. I did everything exactly as I was told. I loved the feeling of exactness and appreciation of every action I performed, from cleaning her stall to the care of her tack and the rapping of her legs. All was like a Zen experience, preparing for my next lesson with Chuck.
I was proud of myself for taking on the same attitude as Chuck by being very polite and in the zone, so to speak. It was like some great act was taking place when we were all together reaching for the moon.
The Hard Lesson
Then it happened - the hard lesson. Chuck arrived as usual and began the job of checking out Sweetie Pie making sure that I was holding that line of integrity that he needed. He started as usual picking up each foot and looking closely at it to see if it was as clean as a dinner plate. He got to the right hind leg and found that I had not cleaned it. I had somehow forgotten to clean it. He put it down and turned to me and said, “horses have four legs and until I learned that, I was not ready for a riding lesson yet”. He smiled that smile that cut me to my quick and drove off not saying another word. The smile that cut and the smile that approved really were no different. His smile was meant to touch my soul and I guess that is why it hurt so much when I felt that I had not measured up.
He was truly a man that communicated deep into the souls of horses and humans. That was Chuck Travis, as I knew him.
I would really like to hear from you a story of a person that influenced you like Chuck did with me.
Watch out for new horse and human sighting and may the horse be with you.