Love knows no distance: Stacey Chepren of “The Jumping Percheron” blog shares the story of how she brought her former carriage partner “Wes” home, 2,100 miles across the country. In Part I, we meet Wes.
Stacey Chepren blogs at The Jumping Percheron, chronicling the training and competing process with her full Percheron mare Klein (as well as many other horsey adventures along the way!) One such adventure was the opportunity to bring Stacey’s former carriage partner Wes the Belgian home to Stacey’s barn in Georgia at the time, all the way from Salt Lake City.
When I first met Wes, he was a carriage horse that I worked with before I joined the Air Force. I was really sad to have to leave him: it was love at first sight and I tried to buy him from the company a few times. They turned me down every time, but I promised him the day I left for Hawaii that I would be back for him some day. So, each time I would move to a new base I would let them know I moved, but that my email and phone number were still the same and that I was still waiting for the day they wanted to retire him. I told them in the meantime should he get sick or injured to where he couldn’t work, I was only a phone call away.
Finally in 2013, after eight years of waiting, they retired him and emailed me in August saying that the Christmas season would be his last and that I could pick him up anytime after December 26th. I had launched a Go Fund me to help fund his trip home too because the company caught me a little off guard when they said they were finally going to retired him. Blog readers and people from all of the country donated to it.
That’s where this story begins, as originally told on December 9, 2013:
I remember the first night I saw them. They had just come off the trailer from Denver a couple of hours before I got there. It was a cold October night, dark, and I had a non-horsey friend with me. Smith and Wesson were half asleep standing right next to each other like they were harnessed together. They had mohawk manes and looked like full-on war horses that you wouldn’t want to meet in battle. My non-horsey friend was hilarious. He just could NOT understand what he was seeing: “Oh my god… they’re HUGE. I’ve NEVER seen horses that big IN MY LIFE!! THEY ARE HUGE!! That’s ridiculous!!”
Me, on the other hand… I was instantly in love. Love at first sight. I thought they were hands-down the two coolest horses I’d ever seen in my life.
They actually came with names like “Bob” and “Bill” but obviously those names were much too boring for these boys. I volunteered to start working with them because they had to each start driving single, which is tough for a team to learn. The owners let me re-name them because I was so in love with them and spending all my extra time with them, even my day off. Yes, I worked six days a week most of the time because that job was not like a job — it was more like a privilege.
At first I was going to name them Sherman and Bradley. Smith was going to be Sherman and Wes would be Bradley. Naming them after tanks seemed pretty appropriate. Then I thought of one better: Smith and Wesson. Perfect! Don’t ask me how I decided who was going to be Smith and who was going to be Wesson.
I started working with both of them and while I loved them both Wes and I just seemed to click. Eventually they each developed their own personality and Smith actually would gang up with the other horses and pick on Wes. Wes was the biggest boy in there at the time and the lowest man on the totem pole. He really is a big baby.
At first they even had a hard time walking in a straight line in harness without each other. They would want to do a 180 and just look at me in confusion like, “You… want me… to work… without MY OTHER HALF???” Slowly they each got over it.
Smith seemed to settle in a little faster. He was a little older than Wes too. I actually hitched Smith up first and took him out for his first night of work. A couple weeks later I felt Wes was ready. I remember the first day I hitched up Wes before work and we went for a short drive through downtown. That was our test run and I felt like he was ready to go out and pick up customers.
We had good times out on the street. We picked up a lot of interesting people with interesting stories. We did countless wedding proposals, –luckily none of the girls on the proposals we did said no. We picked up lots of brides and grooms and took them to their hotel from their wedding. We took Christmas carolers. We got yelled at by protesters. We went through a ton of drive thru’s for snacks; I would always order Wes a fruit and walnut salad. We had people try to spook Wes, even by blasting an air horn at us one night. Wes never did much more than lean into his harness a little and I’d tell him “Oh, we’re okay, boy” and he’d relax. He never gave any of those people any satisfaction of spooking at any of their ridiculousness.
We have navigated through heavy traffic, through snowstorms, you name it, Wes and I probably have done it. One of my favorites was passing by storefront windows, with Wes seeing his handsome reflection and whinnying at it. I also remember crying a lot over having to say good-bye to him. I cried for months when I got to my first base in Hawaii. He is actually the reason I have Klein. He made me fall in love with the draft mind and personality.
Through all of this I have always kept in contact with the owners and let them know that when Wes retires, he’s coming home with me. Or if he got sick, injured, and couldn’t work anymore, before retirement, that I would be there to take him. I also have a friend that still works at the barn and is nice enough to send me pics of him every now and then. This has been going on for over seven years. My mom still goes to Salt Lake City, even though she doesn’t live there anymore, for business trips. Last August I had her stop by and give Wes some of his favorite granola bars.
I have gotten word recently that Wes is ready to retire. He is officially done and can come home any time after 1 January 2014. He will be picked up by Brookledge, the same company I shipped Klein with from New Mexico to Georgia. They did a FANTASTIC job! Yes, I could make a road trip out to Salt Lake City and pick him up myself but I think it would be faster and less stressful to just have a professional hauler make the 2,100 mile trip. It would be 4,200 mile round trip for me. I would be so emotional the whole trip because of the disbelief he’s coming home. I’ve waited for that day and had a lot of dreams about it.
The barn there finds great retirement homes for all of their horses. Mostly drivers that have worked for them come to claim their favorites when they retire, like I am doing. If I wasn’t there to bring Wes home they would find him another good home to retire in. But, I owe this guy, and I made him a promise. I’ve missed him every day for the past seven years. He needs to come home to me, where he belongs.
Keep an eye out next week for Part II, when Wes will begin his journey home! Go draft horses, and go riding.