Gently, tamer turns huge beasts into obedient animals


-- A few months ago, Thunder was leading a herd of brood mares through rangeland in Nevada.

Today, the 5-year-old mustang stands in a Gold Hill corral facing a 27-year-old tamer of wild horses.

Chera Chase is patiently teaching the wild mustang to yield to her pressures. She walks toward the gelding until he looks her in the eye. She backs away from him as a reward for his obedience.

Thunder ran and kicked so hard the day before that he knocked down a section of the round pen. Today, however, he's taking a few curious steps toward his trainer.

People think wild horses are harder to train, but you can see that as I move, I've got his eyes and ears, Chase says.

The wild horse tamer recently moved to Gold Hill from Mount Shasta, Calif., where she cared for 200 Polish Arabians for nearly nine years. Chase is known for doing the seemingly impossible -- getting a misbehaving horse with a bad habit to change its ways and teaching its owner better horse communication skills. She charges $30 an hour and has a waiting list of horse owners who need her help.

It's very fascinating to watch her; she's so tender with the horses, says Gold Hill resident Joan Voss. I watched her tame a wild mustang and it nearly brought tears to my eyes watching her take an animal that wild and be able to ride it within such a short time.

Chase's method of natural horsemanship is similar to those of trainers such as renowned horse whisperer Marty Roberts, says Robbin Stewart, who owns a Polish Arabian ranch in West Linn.

Chera has a natural gift, Stewart says. She analyzes the problem, what caused it and how the horse is responding now. She backs up from there and teaches the horse new ways to interact with its person.

Chase recently worked with a gelding Stewart owns. The horse wouldn't let anyone pick up his feet for cleaning or changing shoes. She's also cured horses who balked at riding in a trailer or horses who refused to back up when riders asked them to.

A highlight of her career so far was rescuing SS Miami Vice, a tortured show horse worth $500,000, from being put to sleep because he was labeled a threat to humans.

Today, the 10-year-old Arabian follows Chase around and obeys her every command. He was named 1998 champion by the United States Dressage Federation, earning the All Breeds Award for training level.

What really impresses me about Chera is her ability to communicate with the owners of the horses, says Don LeRoux, owner of Star Valley Ranch near the Rogue River.

Training a horse makes life easier for everyone, Chase says. The horse is relieved to know that it doesn't have to be the leader of the pack anymore or fear the human who's cleaning its stall and laying fresh hay. And riders don't have to fear their 2,000-pound pets.

It's a universal respect. If you can talk to a horse kindly, he'll do anything for you. But a horse could kill you too, in a millionth of a second, Chase says.

For this reason, Chase starts training sessions by teaching the horse to look her in the eye.

A horse must always acknowledge your presence. They must say, `I see you are here in the stall so I won't kick you.'

It's a slow start, walking around in the corral casually, almost as if she's searching for a lost wallet. Chase describes it as bulldozing a hillside, pouring concrete in a frame and setting the foundation for a home.

People always skip this step. But if a horse doesn't want to stand next to me, how can I expect him to let me on his back? I don't want horses to cringe when I'm around. I want them to look forward to my company.