Memories of Mike Charters

Mike Charters taken at Torchy and Betsy Millar’s Ghostwood Farm.

Nine days ago Mike Charters had a massive heart attack while shipping horses. In true Mike fashion he pulled the rig over, stopped on the side of the road insuring that his cargo was safe, then died. Bill and I were just two of the lucky people who could always count on Mike to safely transport our horses. On Wednesday evening there was a gathering of people to celebrate this kind man’s life. No one’s allowed to be sad (good luck on that!) and everyone’s encouraged to remember what Mike Charters brought to their lives.

Remembering…You know what…that’s an easy thing to do. Here at Winsong Farm one item after another has “Mike memories”.

–As I approach the lower barn Kye (our 23 year old Appaloosa/Quarter Horse) nickers. Mike loved that horse. At our fundraiser for a therapeutic riding centre this spring Mike was in the audience. He said, “Kye always makes me smile.” When Kye was seventeen years old Sophie Kalpin evented him. Mike shipped the strong-willed, highly opinionated 15.1 hh horse. One outing was to Canter Call. Sophie was scheduled to have a cross country lesson, but at the last minute a complication arose and the instructor wasn’t available. No problem, Mike had already arrived and said, “Let’s load him. I’ll help you school him over a few jumps.” I filmed the session and learned some new things about this excellent horse shipper. That man knew horses, jumping and how to help riders. Kye and Sophie were amazing. Mike set up sequences of obstacles, some with intricate twists and turns, “Sophie, just look to the right as you go over that jump. Kye will read you. He can turn on a dime and take that oxer from a standstill if he has to.”

–Mike shipped Kye to the Rip Gautier Cup. The schedule had the adults riding in the morning and the younger people in the afternoon. There was method in the event organizers’ madness. They used to have the adults ride after lunch, but that got to be a bit scary. Seemed that an alcoholic drink (or two) went with the lunch and the resulting rides were way too thrilling.

Bill took Kye around the cross-country jumps. I filmed him and had a bit of a problem holding the camera steady. There was one refusal (if I’d been the horse there would have been many more…). Bill circled and Kye flew over what I thought was a huge jump on his second try.

After lunch Sophie came up to Mike, “Kye’s not listening to me.” Mike smiled and went over to the warm-up area. Within minutes he had Kye and Sophie in harmony. I quite enjoyed filming her round on that little horse. At the end of the day Kye shipped home with a third place ribbon and $100 prize money.

–I walk by the driveshed and there’s the Gator. For one of the Hockley Orienteering Games Betsy and Torchy Millar had a “golf cart” division as well as the horseback and the “on foot” categories. I’d called Mike to find out if it were possible to ship the Gator with the horses. “Yes, that’s fine.” We loaded Zelador and Zeloso in box stalls, leaving the center section empty. Mike drove the Gator up the ramp into that section and right on his heals Bill brought Kye into the trailer. Kye wasn’t going to the orienteering event and Bill didn’t want the horse to feel left out. Plus Bill always seems to enjoy doing “unusual” things. Kye stood sniffing the Gator, then let Mike lead him back to the barn. Every time Mike told that story he praised Kye and muttered something about Bill…

–Mike shipped us to Betsy and Torchy’s farm, Ghostwood, for a trail ride pretty much every autumn. One approach to the farm is Airport Road, heading north of Highway 9. Mike would NOT take that route while hauling. “It’s too hilly. You drive that with horses and you’re asking for problems. They’re constantly rebalancing themselves. I’m taking a flatter route.” Thank you, Mike!

–The first Friday in August (when Zelador and Zeloso were three years old) Mike shipped them to a farm near Kingston. When scheduling the “summer camp” (the boys and I were going to spend a week there) we sort of forgot that this was the beginning of the August holiday weekend, and wouldn’t you know the 401 was a parking lot. The normally 90 minute trip took three hours. When we arrived at the farm Mike said, “You should have seen those two horses. There we were, stop and go on the highway and they were entertaining everyone. They had their heads out of the windows and were watching all the cars. When I stopped to check their water I had to refill their haynets. They really enjoyed this trip.”

–A few weeks ago Mike and his wife, Kelly, helped me prepare Zelador for a possible TV commercial. Sue and Rick Parker (Canadian Wrangler) got a call for a horse that can sit. I’d never shipped Zelador alone and knew I’d better get Mike to ship us off the farm. We loaded Zelador and his BIG bean bag “chair”. The trip was calm and quiet. I placed the bean bag in an empty stall in the barn. I led Zelador in and he sat on it. Mike and Kelly were amazed. Here was this horse, at a new place, all by himself, listening politely to me and performing like a pro. I attribute Zelador’s demeanor to every trailer ride he ever had with Mike Charters. Mike gave the horses “peace of mind” and when you’ve got that, you can do anything.

There are many more Mike stories from Winsong Farm. I will write about each and every one of them and present the stories to his family.

Winnie and Bill Stott