|Most of us have wondered what it would feel like to be told we have|
cancer. Jean Sullivan already knows. In August of 1996, at 57 yearsof
age, she was diagnosed with a serious form of breast cancer. Withintwo
years, the metastasizing cancer had invaded the bones of her spineand
For many years, Jean had been an avid rider of hunter/jumpers, but she
got to the point where she was in constant pain, and the doctors declared
that her horseback riding days were over.
"My reaction was to ask the doctors what they knew about horses," Jean
reports, "and they answered, honestly, that they knew nothing. So Itold
them that they were the wrong people to be taking care of someone who
couldn't live without horses."
Jean set out to find a new doctor, and her inquiries led her to Dr.C.H.
McJunkin, a chiropractor skilled at handling the kind of hip and spine
problems she had. That satisfied only half of her requirements. Theother
necessary qualifications were revealed when Dr. McJunkin told her that
continued riding would be beneficial, if she'd just change breeds.
Dr. McJunkin's parents had been deeply involved with Peruvian Paso
"The gentle motion of the Peruvian's natural, four-beat gait can be
extremely therapeutic for people who suffer from hip and spine ailments,"
The doctor's statement triggered something in Jean's memory. Many years
earlier she'd briefly ridden several Peruvians, and their smooth ridehad
left a very positive impression.
"Housed in the back of my mind was a half-thought/half-dream of someday
owning a Peruvian," Jean remembers. "I didn't consciously think aboutit,
but it was there. This dream horse even had a color: black."
Jean was obsessed with the need to continue riding, and she put outthe
word that she was looking for a black Peruvian gelding. Her loyal "horse
friends" looked high and low, but trained geldings were in high demand
and short supply. Moreover, there weren't many Peruvians in Arizona,and
very few were black.
"I couldn't think about anything except finding my dream horse and riding
him for as long as God would grant me," Jean says with a smile. "There
didn't seem to be a very good chance of that, but I never gave up."
One afternoon the phone rang.
"The date will never leave my memory," Jean promises. "It was June 9,
The caller was a stranger named Michele Wilson, who had heard of Jean's
search. Michele said that she had a gelding she was willing to sell.
However, she was attached to the horse. He'd been her first Peruvian.
She'd owned him for eight years and would only let him go to a goodhome.
No problem there. If Arizona's Peruvians Pasos knew how well "Jeannie"
treats her horses, they'd have all been standing at her corral gate,
begging to get in.
"What's his name?" Jeannie asked.
"El Pirata Negro," Michele answered. Then she unknowingly dropped abomb.
"That translates as 'The Black Pirate'."
"I got goose bumps, and that's the truth," Jeannie remembers.
"His nickname," Michele continued, "is Mr. Miller. He was born in Texas,
and his dam died giving birth. There was no other mare to put him with,
and the vet said there wasn't much to be done except to 'hope for the
best.' However, his life was saved by a resourceful ranch manager who
decided he had to do more than that. He coaxed milk and colostrum from
the dead mare into two Miller Beer bottles. Then he capped one bottlefor
the next morning, attached a nipple to the other and sat with the colt
until the little guy had slurped every drop. Being raised that way,he's
more human than horse. If he likes you, a strong bond will develop.
That's the way he is."
Jeannie gathered all the information she could and then made an
appointment to meet Mr. Miller.
"I was as nervous as a cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof," is how Jeannie tellsit.
"Would Mr. Miller like me? I went to our first meeting armed with apples
and carrots. I didn't intend to bribe him; but if we hit it off, I
planned to cement the relationship right then and there!"
"It seemed like Miller knew we were offering him for sale," Michele
explains. "Every time someone came to look at him, he'd turn his back,
pin his ears flat against his head and act generally disagreeable.Soon
the potential buyers would walk away without even asking to ride, and
he'd perk up his ears and -- in his way -- grin as if to say: Well,I got
rid of them!"
When Jeannie arrived, she asked if she could walk into Mr. Miller's
"I said: sure," Michelle remembers, "and she walked in. Miller's head
went up. He put his ears forward and walked right up to Jeannie. Kismet!"
The rest is history. Jeannie hadn't planned to ride him that first day;
but before she knew it, trainer Stan Reese was summoned from his nearby
training center, and she was being boosted into the saddle.
"He was a perfect angel," she recalls. "After just a short ride I could
already feel my back and hip start to loosen up. He was unbelievably
smooth, but there was a little swaying motion that did wonders formy
Jeannie bought the horse then and there.
Anxious for the match to be a long and successful one, the Wilsons
insisted on paying to have Stan Reese take the horse to his training
center for some "fine tuning".
"I'm the one that needs the fine tuning," Jeannie laughed.
"Well then, you come over as often as you want," Stan grinned. "I won't
have him all that long. It's just that he's been a show horse all his
life, and I'd like to retrain him for the trail."
Mr. Miller was trailered to the Reeses' to begin a new life at twelve
years of age.
"From the showring out into the beautiful Arizona desert he went,"
Jeannie remembers, "getting used to things he'd never seen in an arena.
Stan retrained him from Peruvian to western tack; and twice a day -at
dawn and dusk - Miller went out, gaiting among the cactus and turninghis
ears to pick up the sound of scurrying cottontail rabbits."
Stan and Shirley took Jeannie "under their wing", and she came to their
place almost every day for the month Miller was there.
"They graciously answered my endless questions and gave me the
reassurance I needed," Jeannie says, thinking back.
Michele still remembers that Jeannie's visits with the Reeses often
lasted until well after dark.
'There she'd be," Michelle says, "sometimes in the dark of night,
finishing Miller's third or forth grooming by wiping his face witha
black wash cloth she'd brought from home."
The Arizona Peruvian Paso Club, Ltd. encourages its members to buy a
membership for people who purchase horses from them, and the Wilsonsdid
"The other members of the club warmly welcomed me," Jeannie remembers,
"and I found their activities very enjoyable."
A month later, Stan Reese and Michele Wilson delivered Mr. Miller to
Jeannie's home in Peoria. When they arrived, Jeannie welcomed themwith
champagne, and toasts were made to everyone there, including Mr. Miller.
At Jeannie's, Mr. Miller wasn't lonely for a second. His new friends
included a kitten that sleeps in his feeder, a rooster he permits to
roost on his back and an owner who treats him like royalty.
"I visit him at least six times a day," Jeannie grins. "He nickers every
time he sees me, but I think his favorite visit is the one when hegets
groomed. He seems to like it best when I finish the job with his black
Jeannie also put Mr. Miller on a diet.
"Even after he'd lost a fair bit of weight, he still had a long wayto
go," Jeannie reports. "He was such an easy keeper that I considered
looking for a way for him to cart away his own manure, but that probably
wouldn't have been a very good idea. With the exercise, my musclesand
bones are gaining strength and flexibility. The doctors tell me I'mdoing
better every day. They can't believe I can mount by myself and ridefor
hours with virtually no discomfort."
Jeannie was pleased to discover that her insurance agent, Ruth Jacobi,
who wrote the insurance on Mr. Miller, was a big fan of Peruvian horses.
Ruth was an official for the well-known A to Z Horse Show and holdsa
place of honor in the history of the Peruvian breed in Arizona. Backin
the days when Peruvians didn't have much of a following, she used her
influence to get them included in the show whenever possible, and shewas
very inventive. One year, she had them -- instead of the usual Quarter
Horses -- carry the colors during the opening ceremony. During subsequent
years, she invited Peruvian owners to give special exhibitions, and
finally she managed to schedule some Peruvian classes. Ruth was alsothe
Paddock Steward at the Carousel Horse Show and managed to work hermagic
there, as well. Every year, the show offers Peruvians a full scheduleof
"Who knows," Jeannie says with a twinkle in her eye, "the good Lord
willing, just maybe Mr. Miller will make appearances in the showring
again, with me in the saddle! I think I'd like that. Of all the horses
I've ever owned, he's the one I most love and respect, and he deservesto
be seen by other people who need a smooth-riding, gentle horse witha
The only "calamity" so far has been a bruised toe.
"Once time while I was bending over to clean out his hooves, he stepped
on my toe," Jeannie remembers. "I swear he had a look in his eye that
said 'I'm sorry', and he promptly laid his head on my shoulder."
What was a bruised toe compared to Jeannie's new outlook on life? She
bounces out of bed every morning, feeds her pride and joy (but nottoo
much!) and sits on the fence listening to him munch his food. Now and
then, Mr. Miller leaves his feed and comes over to give her a friendly
"Evening brings the end of another happy day," she reports, a contented
look on her face. "Even with the cancer, I feel unrestricted freedom.Mr.
Miller gives me the ability to go where I want and to do what I most
love. I call him my non-doctor-assisted therapy. He's the best possible
thing for my heart, my soul and my will to survive. Without him, Iknow I
wouldn't still be alive."