Frank the Phoenix Horse

Frank was donated to CHAPS in 2010 after he and a cattle guard got into an argument. He had spent nearly a year at the local veterinary clinic healing from multiple wounds. From the get-go, Frank was a great therapy horse—patient, kind, steady, and smooth. He worked with multiple riders throughout his years at CHAPS and everyone loved him.

Frank was handsome—a big beautiful dun paint with a bald face, four stockings, and true blue eyes. That’s how Frank got his name. He was named Frank for “Ole Blue Eyes” himself, Frank Sinatra.

Over the years, Frank’s hearing became more and more diminished. Poor hearing is a trait in blue-eyed horses. At first, it wasn’t so bad, but then, at a horse show, folks started clapping for the riders and Frank couldn’t figure out what it was. He was an amazing horse and didn’t spook enough to unseat a rider, but it was enough for us to institute a “no clapping” policy at our barn shows.

Fast forward to 2017. Frank was working with a client who abruptly started clapping, very loudly. To our surprise and amazement, Frank took it in without a hitch. We figured he had lost most of his hearing so the noise wasn’t scary anymore. He could hear some, we knew, but not well. Late in 2017, Frank started spooking at shadows. He continued to work with clients, but for his comfort, we kept him in the indoor arena with the doors closed. It wasn’t enough. The veterinarian said he was going blind. His iris and his cornea had fused so he had lost all ability to constrict or dilate his iris.

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January 2018, we made the hard decision to retire Frank. He was retired to a large animal sanctuary in Colorado. They had retired another of our old horses so we didn’t hesitate when they offered to give Frank a home. The first few months, we got updates on Frank and photos. Then they started tapering off. Requests for photos and info were not answered. 

November 2019, we were in the area for a conference and decided to stop by and see Frank. What we saw was a literal skeleton of the Frank we knew and loved. His feet were long and chipped, his mane all knotted, and his very large frame was literally bones in a dun suit.

Because we had had a contract with the sanctuary, we were able to re-take ownership of Frank and brought him home. We were not sure he would survive the trip, much less the winter, but we had to bring him home anyway. Frank spent 10 months convalescing at our center. He was loved on by all: clients, staff, and volunteers.

We put him in a fly mask for sun protection and kept him in the pasture with the most shade. Soon he was bored and needing something to do besides stand in the pasture. Frank came out of retirement to work with two clients: a young woman with cerebral palsy and a young man with autism. These two clients were just enough for Frank to be satisfied with life again. Frank carried the young woman to a gold medal in the 2021 Special Olympics WY State Games. He also carried both clients in our barn show. He should have been wary of humans. He could have had so many vices, behavior problems, and distrust of us. He didn’t. He was patient and kind and loved his two clients very much.

Unfortunately, in April 2022, Frank lost all vision in his left eye. With his diminished vision in the right and basically deaf, Frank became very anxious and spooky. We laid Frank to rest on May 3, 2022, in the pasture he knew as home for many of his 29 years.

Frank doesn’t have the best of stories, but he had one of the biggest and kindest hearts I have ever had the pleasure of working with. I am grateful for the years and the service, but I am really grateful we were able to serve him and give him three great years beyond a nearly catastrophic experience. —Kristen M.

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