When 27-year-old Meagan DeLisle went looking for her next adult amateur mount earlier this year the list of things she was looking for was short: a veteran partner who could help her regain her confidence over fences. She didn’t need fancy; she needed safe.
And she found that in Bear, an 18-year-old Appendix Quarter Horse, who just happened to be missing his tail.
DeLisle rode western until she joined the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association hunt seat team at Southeast Missouri State University. After graduation, she took a short break from riding until she was able to afford the horse of her dreams—a well-bred athlete with loads of potential.
With that horse, she switched to jumpers, but soon the cracks in their relationship began to show. A series of miscommunications left them nervous about approaches to fences, and she felt they were feeding off each other’s anxiety. For a while, DeLisle pushed through, assuming with enough perseverance she could make the partnership work. Eventually, she realized discretion was the better part of valor and found him a new home.
“I truly believe that everybody has a type of horse that works for them, and not every horse is a match for every rider,” she said. “The way my trainer’s husband explains it to me is, ‘We date a lot of people, but we don’t marry all of them.’ I’m not married to the horse. It’s OK to say this isn’t the horse for me. Still to this day I look back and say, he was such a good athlete, but we could never have worked together. We just didn’t click.”
At that point DeLisle’s confidence was shot, and she was terrified of jumping. So when her trainer Jen Robertson called in January to say she’d found the perfect horse in Bear, DeLisle made her weekly three-hour drive from her house in Dexter, Missouri, to Robertson’s Altamonté Show Stable in St. Louis to test him out. But it was far from a done deal after that first ride.
“He’s very spunky. I threw the reins and said, ‘No, I’m getting off,’ ” DeLisle said. “My trainer got on and schooled him, and I got on him, and he was good, but I had kind of counted him out. The next day she said, ‘You might as well ride him again. He’s here.’ So I did, and he was good.
“He wants to teach a rider. I was trying to put him in a frame, and he was saying, ‘No this is how I go into a frame,’ ” she continued. “He knows how to do his job, and he doesn’t want you to get in his way.”
Bear was supposed to ship home the next weekend, but the van ride fell through, so DeLisle rode him again and again.
“I kind of ended up falling in love with him,” she said.
Bear gets plenty of attention from competitors who find his bobtail adorable and want to know the story behind it. His previous owner told DeLisle he broke his tail in a pasture accident as a young horse, though no one is quite sure how it happened. Veterinarians determined the safest course was to amputate, so now the tail grows in what DeLisle describes as a “mullet shape” with a bob surrounded by a few longer strands at the back.
Bear has no nerve endings in the tail, so adding on tassels or an artificial tail for fly control isn’t an option. Instead, DeLisle takes a few extra precautions with sheets and other fly deterrents. In homage to Bear’s unique “pom pom,” DeLisle has begun showing him under the name Chasin Tail.
Not only has Bear renewed her interest in jumping, but he also patiently guided her on cross-country schoolings and through her first horse trials. DeLisle, who had never considered eventing before, now runs beginner novice at recognized events in Missouri and Kentucky and is eyeing a move up to novice. The pair also recently competed at HITS Balmoral (Illinois) in the .80- and .90-meter jumpers.
“Bear has taught me so much; he is not the easiest of rides, but he always takes care of me,” she said. “I would rather have a horse who will jump even if I don’t get the pace or distance right. He may pull a rail, but he takes care of me. He is never dirty and gives me his all, even if it isn’t the most fair for him. Bear has taught me to actually feel and assess my ride each time. If I want him to be careful and go clear in show jumping, I have to actually think about my ride. I love that about him.”
In hindsight, DeLisle believes she fell prey to the same problem as many others—she was looking for the right package, not the right horse.
“When I started doing this, I was a broke college kid working three jobs so I could ride. I always dreamed, as I was riding my little gray Quarter Horse, that one day I could have the big, fancy warmblood,” she said. “When I came back to riding as an adult, I thought, ‘I’m going to buy my fancy horse now.’ I think I got tunnel vision on a ‘fancy horse.’ That’s where I got into trouble. I started looking not at the horse so much, but at the pedigree.
“Here comes Bear, 18-year-old Quarter Horse, and a lot of people wouldn’t look at him just based on that, let alone the fact he doesn’t have a tail,” she added. “Once I was riding him more and got used to him, I realized what a good horse he is and what a good citizen he is. You couldn’t get me to trade him for a fancy warmblood, because they might not have his personality or his heart.”