WARM SPRINGS, Ore. - Chris Buller
first saw the spark a year ago.
The fledgling youth pastor was trying to connect with a group of American Indian boys who regarded him with stony silence.He
began to talk about his
love of wild horses and his
years training the smart but unpredictable creatures.
Suddenly, the boys opened up.Buller
had discovered their passion.
For years, the gung-ho, 38-year-old cowboy had run from a religious calling that went back three generations in his
family.But after his
discovery that the boys were eager to learn to train wild horses, Buller
began a mission that led him this month to San Juan Capistrano, and the old town's annual Swallows Day Parade.
Thirteen boys and girls from the Warm Springs Reservation rode the wild mustang and appaloosa they had trained with Buller's help.When the time came for them to parade their charges, the sky opened and poured rain on them.But the showers ended pretty quickly, and the rain wasn't enough to dampen their joy.
"Our horses were phenomenal," Buller
said later."As well behaved as any out there."
A few hours later, they watched as four of the 10 horses were sold at auction, and Buller
and the kids hope to sell them all, in part to raise funds for Buller's
reservation programs, and in part so they don't have to trailer them all the way back to Oregon.
"We did better (selling) here than we would have done at home," Buller
said of Miho, Sweet, Try, Heeler, Doc and five other horses that had roamed the 644,000-acre reservation before trekking here.
"And some of the horses that are left, they're going to go for a great price."Buller
, who wears a buzz cut and stands 6 feet 3 inches tall with his
cowboy boots on, is known as a risk-taker who makes things happen through the sheer force of his
All along, he
scoffed at naysayers back home who told him the horses might get skittish and bolt the parade route or that the middle- and high-school kids would struggle with keeping up their grades while they spent time getting to know their mounts.
is no stranger to the Swallows Day Parade, with its Wild West spirit and spotlight on horses.He's
attended several for years during visits to his
wife's grandmother in Dana Point.
But it was after last year's parade that he
got a brainstorm.Why not work with the reservation kids to train the wild horses - with the parade as the incentive?
And why not hold a horse auction to introduce the Orange County equestrian community to some newly tamed members of the reservation's wild herds?
Most important for Buller
, the trip is giving the kids a glimpse at life away from the reservation, which is home to about 4,000 members of the Warm Springs, Wasco and Paiute tribes.
..."They're seeing guys who work out in nature - guys who train horses and make big bucks, park rangers who are government workers and stay outside and ride horses," said Buller, youth pastor at the United Methodist Church in Madras, Ore., a town of 5,000 near the reservation.
"They're seeing the possibilities.
On a Saturday afternoon a week before the parade, 17-year-old Jordan Caldera watched warily as Buller
prepared to put the reins on Miho, a wild-eyed appaloosa.
just insecure," Buller
said, as he
slowly approached Miho, looking him straight in the eye."He
needs to learn confidence from you.He
can do anything."
has been all over the map.It was a way to escape his
great-grandfather, grandfather and father were all Methodist ministers.
approached the ministry in his
had plenty of skeptics on the reservation.To them, he
was simply the latest white guy riding into town to thump the Bible at them.He
proved them wrong.
learned that the surest way to earn respect on the reservation is to keep promises.
There was the day he
was to meet several kids at a small rodeo on the farthest corner of the reservation.It was cold and rainy, and friends told him he
should stay home.He
went anyway, and sure enough, five of the kids had ridden there in the downpour - two without jackets.
"I didn't want to be the white guy who let them down," Buller
ability to take a joke is another plus.And he's
got the kids' self-deprecating humor down cold.
When they realized they were washing the horses with Suave Aloe Vera shampoo, the kids gave Buller
"It works as well as the other kind," Buller
said."And one thing about Chris
worked all the kids hard, she
said, insisting they maintain a C grade-point average, attend study hall and help at fund-raisers in addition to spending time with the horses.
told me that the wolf you feed is the one that will rule your life," Buller
said."My goal is to build hope because I believe hope is what dispels evil in people's lives."
True to his
maverick nature, Buller
is hoping to buck the usual church regulations if he
is ordained as a minister.He
has told church leaders that he
doesn't want to move to another community.Instead, he wants to build a cowboy church on the reservation - a place that can serve as a center of the social life.
"We started out with riding lessons and feeding the kids," Buller