Some of the rumors were true. Chic Slavique could buck on the lunge line so violently she appeared to be doing headstands.
She’d had a tough life, and she could be fierce.
Especially when bucking for all the world like a bronco, and not the broodmare she actually was.
But underneath the tough exterior beat the heart of a true friend, a good horse looking only for someone to unlock her potential.
“The first time I rode her, I put a western saddle on to give myself a fighting chance,” recalls Nora Tarpley, a horse trainer with 30 years experience who admits her reticence when saddling Chic the first time. “Everybody thought I was nuts for riding her.”
Back in 2005, she was a pregnant refugee from a devastated farm. So hard to look at when Tarpley first examined her that the longtime horseman couldn’t bare to take her photo. Who wanted to remember that?
But the image is still crystal clear: Chic’s ribs jutted sharply beneath a sparse tangle of matted hair and her mane grew into long dreadlocks.
Dam: Miseo Wire
Foal date: March 28, 2000“I went to pick her up after a family friend called me and told me about a pregnant mare who needed a place to stay during her pregnancy,” Tarpley says. “But when I went to look at her the first time, I kind of knew the horse would be mine.
“Even though her spine was showing, and her ribs were showing, I could look past that, and I could tell she had really great conformation, and so I said, ‘She’ll be a great addition!’ And, I just packed her up in the trailer and took her home.”
Five months later after being pumped up with nutritious food and antibiotics, she lied down to deliver her foal, Castine’s Beauty. It was a hard labor.
“We weren’t sure what her cover date was, but guessed she was 30 days overdue, and the foal actually got stuck during delivery,” she says. “My husband had to help her get the foal out … and she also retained her placenta, so three days after her delivery, we had to have her flushed out.”
And as the residue of her former life washed away, a new life, a better one, was soon to begin.
The promise that Chic might find an easier life was heralded by a long-legged teenager who bopped into the barn one day looking to take riding lessons.
Natalie Welch had spunk and a positive spirit, and with some lessons under her belt, Tarpley took a chance and decided to try the pair together.
“I had to do a lot of convincing,” Tarpley says. “When Natalie first got on her, she was nervous, and the horse was nervous, so we did a lot of walk-trot-halt! For months we had to work on canter transitions, because Chic would ball up and give her a racing start before she learned to pick up her canter.”
Though rumors abounded that the mare was tough and erratic, Tarpley and Welch came to believe in her.
“Everybody was afraid of her,” Tarpley says. “She could buck like nothing I’ve ever seen. But she did it on the lunge line, not under saddle.” Under saddle, over time, she proved herself worthy.
Welch admits she was a tough sell.
“Everybody thought the mare was crazy. When I finally started riding her, after a year of taking lessons on another horse, someone at the barn told my father that I was absolutely nuts to be riding that horse,” Welch says. “She told my Dad that Chic could buck me off at any minute.”
But Chic didn’t buck her off.
Lessons progressed nicely, and in the fall of 2009, Welch started leasing the mare. In September 2009, they went to a small show, where Chic was like a movie star who lights up when the camera is on. The pair took home three ribbons their first time out, two for third-place and one second-place.
And by February, the mare was hers.
“I came home from school one day and my father said, ‘Hey, we bought Chic!’ ”
Even a bigger surprise than her father’s announcement has been the mare’s prowess in the show ring. She loves jumping and showing, and has a penchant for wearing goofy hats at costume events. “She has a prissy personality, so we dressed her up like a poodle for a costume event last October,” she says.
And earlier this month, the pair participated in a benefit show for Thoroughbred charity R.A.C.E. Fund, Inc., gamely conquering barrel-jumps and other obstacles. Just a girl and her show horse. Their nervousness is nearly gone now, and a strong bond has grown.
Considering the mare’s difficult beginnings, and the poor horse’s bad reputation, Tarpley says she couldn’t be more proud of the pair.
“When Natalie first got on Chic, I had to make sure she could actually stop the horse,” she says. “Years later, they’ve started over fences and they’re living happily ever after. It’s really neat to see.”