NCIS…but cooler: An Air Force Horse Husband Speaks

In Interviews

Stacey Chepren recently wrote about the ways that her husband supports her ‘habit’ while away on active duty in the Air Force.  We decided to get the story from the horse’s mouth. What we ended up with is an incredible interview with Shane Chepren, Special Agent in the Air Force Office of Special Investigations in which he talks about ‘passing the test,’ sharing passions, and timing leg day.

Horse Hubby: I assume that you didn’t fully appreciate what or how much horses meant to Stacy when you first met her. Looking back, what traits first attracted you to her that are informed by her love for horses?

Shane Chepren: When I first met Stacey, before we dated, I knew she loved horses because every time I went to her office to drop off case files, there was the holy shrine for Klein on her wall. I don’t just mean a picture with a couple hearts drawn beside it. I am talking about 15 pictures of Klein and about 20 show ribbons. Most were for 1st place. When we actually started dating, I knew she loved horses but, like most ‘Horse Boyfriends,’ I was completely unaware of what extent the love was.

It was our second or third date. Stacey took me to the barn and she gave me a dire warning that no future Horse Hubby wants to hear: “If Klein doesn’t approve of you then we are finished, because she was here first and she’s not going anywhere.” I was never really around horses growing up, and for sure not since I joined the military. I have, on the other hand always been really good with animals, so I told Stacey I wasn’t worried (don’t tell her, but I was pretty nervous). Stacey told me that there were two dogs at the barn that would probably go nuts and bark at me, but wouldn’t bite.

This is a lot to put on a future Horse Hubby. Our relationship was about to be judged by the Iron Hoof (aka Klein).

That was all thrown out the window when we pulled up and the dogs did NOT bark at me or Stacey. Instead, they came up to me, sat down, and allowed me to pet them. As if that wasn’t strange enough, two cats came out for their turn too. Stacey was in shock. But I still had to pass the final test: Klein.

Stacey took me far out into the pasture to meet Klein (with two dogs and a cat walking single file behind me). I was not warned that Klein could be kind of snobby and would shy away from strangers. She was kind of aloof. Not knowing this, I walked right up to her, scratched her chin, rubbed her face, and tickled her belly. The rest is history.

What really attracted me to Stacey was not her love for horses. It was the fact that she was able to do everything by herself. She was able to take care of two horses, drive a big truck with a trailer, haul hay, clean stalls, get her hands dirty, and she didn’t need anyone’s help (though I will say it is easier for me to haul bales of hay through ten inches of mud). Even if it has nothing to do with horses, Stacey will sit by me while I fish all day and just enjoy being outside. That is all thanks to working with horses all day, every day, outside.

HH: What is your relationship to horses now? Do you ride? How much do you help around the barn? How else are you involved?

SC: I would say I am pretty involved. I don’t know how to tack up Klein or Moch but I know how to be helpful in other ways. I help with feeding quite a bit. all that I require is a detailed feeding guide and I can do it. I help groom all three of our horses and will even do the clipping of Klein and Wesson during the spring, better than Stacey can. Sometimes Klein gives Stacey some trouble when loading, so I will take over and walk her right on the trailer first try. Other times, if she is being really bad, I will take over because I can use my size and weight to prevent Klein from getting away with stuff. When we go to shows, I always grab Klein from the trailer. I walk her around a little bit, and maybe reach up and bend a tree branch down so she can munch on the leaves before I tie her off. After making sure Klein has water and hay, I pop out a chair, put my feet on the fender of the trailer and take a nap with Klein and any dogs or cats that want to jump in my lap. I may or may not give her bits of my sandwiches and sips of soda when Stacey is not looking. Stacey did catch me once giving Moch a bit out of a meatball sandwich prior to a show. I had to clean her face before she got sauce all over Stacey.

My knowledge of horses has significantly improved. I can watch a jumper show or Rolex and know what’s going on. I can even call it when I see people add an extra stride or leave long for a jump from the wrong spot. When I travel to different countries for work, I will send pictures or videos to Stacey of the local horse population. I can tell that they are all healthy or when then have terrible feet. I think the most important thing I learned is that 99% of TBs are crazy. I do not ride, nor do I have the desire to ride. I am perfectly happy walking through the woods beside Stacey while she rides Klein. I usually walk (armed with a gun or two for stray dogs) with them, leading Moch. That is probably one of my favorite things to do. Moch and I will walk anywhere we fit. We have jumped streams together, crashed through large thickets of brush, stuck our heads down an armadillo hole, and snuck onto a corn field. I don’t need to ride to have fun with Moch!

When we are both home I will help Stacey feed and clean the pasture. Most of the time I am coming back from the gym when she is finishing up. If she is coming home late, I will start feeding or cleaning the pastures without having her ask me. When she is traveling for work, sometimes for weeks at a time, I do everything and it doesn’t bother me. Sometimes the horses test me when she is gone so I will call her and tell her what kind of BS they tried to pull on me. I also do all the yard maintenance in and around the barn. I also will take care of the dressage ring when the grass gets tall or drag it when the footing gets out of control. I also may or may not send videos to her chasing the horses with the lawn mower or doing dressage tests on my lawnmower. [Editor’s note: I’d love to see that!]

I once saved Stacey from being bitten by a Cottonmouth. We were looking for Moch’s fly mask, because she manages to Houdini her way out of it on a daily basis in the summer. We were heading down by a stream with some taller brush in the pasture and I told her to stay behind me because this is where Cottonmouths would be (they are everywhere in South Georgia). Not five mins later I hear her gasp and yell “SNAKE!” Sure enough, she almost stepped on a Cottonmouth because she had stepped out of the area I told her to stay in. Luckily I had a .38 on me with snake shot and I shot it as soon as she jumped back before it could strike her. She listens to me now.

HH: I know that both you and Stacey are active duty military. Stacey recently described this as a complicating factor, but you might think of the horses as a complicating factor in what is already pretty complicated. How do the horses affect your efforts to stay connected while on deployment?

SC: Definitely not! When I am gone, I get constant pictures and videos of the horses getting fed while jamming out to classic rock or just hanging out. If Stacey is in the middle of cleaning the barn or giving them baths, she just texts when she is done. I also like to order bulk granola bars off Amazon when I am gone and ship them to the house. Stacey will send me a video of them eating what I got for them all while telling them it’s from their Dad. I also get the play-by-play when it comes to shows and trail rides.

HH: Have you learned any lessons from horses and Stacey’s relationship to them that have affected how you approached your life and military career?

SC: The horses have definitely taught me to plan a lot farther ahead and to not pick desert locations (no pasture for them) as our next base. Being in the military means you will move every four years, regardless of whether you want to or not. There may be some bases that Stacey and I would love to be stationed, but it would not be ideal to support our life with horses. New Jersey is the farthest north both of us have ever been in the military and it’s not a terrible as we first thought. Stacey hates the cold and snow so even if we didn’t have horses, I would be stuck going to warm weather bases. After seeing the horses enjoy two winters now, we both think that a slightly northern base won’t be that bad. We were stationed in South Georgia for three years and the heat was not the greatest for Klein or Wes. Moch is our “Southern Bell” but she enjoys the snow with her blankets on.

Some of our career moves could potentially station us in places where it would be ideal for us with the horses (New Jersey is actually one because there is a ton of eventing around there). Stacey and I communicate often with what we want out of our military careers and how we can accomplish those goals while still maintaining our current life style. Both of us have been lucky with having understanding and great leadership in helping our military and horse life coexist.

HH: What do you do for a living, exactly? Are you passionate about anything in the same way as Stacey is about horses? How have you brought your own interests, perspective, personality, and experience to bear on how Stacey understands horses. In other words, what do you think she has learned from you?

SC: I work with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. We work federal criminal investigations such as sexual assaults, drugs, fraud, murders, etc. We deploy a lot and we help bases with protecting the base and the base population. We are constantly traveling around off base making sure the people on base are safe to complete the mission. We always ask people if they have ever seen the show NCIS. Well that’s me for the Air Force (except that we do cooler stuff than the TV show).

Moch and Shane’s 1974 Dodge Dart Sport

My hobby is working on my classic car. I wouldn’t say I love cars as much as Stacey loves horses, but I will say that when we were looking for houses, we only have three requirements: able to keep horses on the property, a garage, and can have a pets inside. I have driven my 1973 Dodge Dart Sport to a barn where Stacey was getting lessons and snapped a picture with the Dart and Moch. The horses also come running when I do burnouts in the street.

I know for a fact I have helped Stacey get her mind clear during horse shows. She will sometimes get really worked up over something not going exactly planned and I will tell her to take a ‘combat breath,’ envision what she wants to do, and then go do it. A couple times she has wanted to withdraw for a less than perfect day. Each time I gave her a firm pep talk and she went right out and nailed the rest of the show. Whenever we have a sick or injured horse, if Stacey starts to get upset, I will gladly sit her down and handle everything I can until she calms down or the vet shows up. I also get her to talk things out prior to the vet arriving, just by asking her “could it be this?” or “have you tried this?” Simple things, really but it’s the little things that add up and cause the most stress. I also have to remind her from time to time that to some people, horses are equipment. They don’t spoil their horses like we do, they use their horse to work and put food on the table, and they survive a lot harder conditions than we do.

HH: What one piece of advice would you give to someone considering a relationship with a horse person? In other words, what’s the secret of your success?

SC: I was looking forward to answering this question! I would say when you are new to the relationship and are not sure if a crazy horse girl is right for you, do EVERYTHING at least a couple of times. Go to horse shows. Go to the barn. Go out to eat with her horse friends. And listen about special dressage dirt that costs $5,000 a truck load because … it’s special. Go for a walk with them even if you don’t ride. Just do everything at least twice because I bet you will find that some stuff is fun.

You don’t have to go to every show. Sometimes I don’t. I go when Stacey asks me to go, and I also go when I want to go. It’s okay not to live, breathe, and bleed horses. You can have your own hobby too, but just keep one thing in mind: how many times have you dragged your wife or girlfriend to your hobby but won’t go to watch her ride?

I would also say that if horses came before you, don’t expect to ever change her mind about them. I usually use this as an example: if you won’t date a single mom, don’t date a horse girl. Horses are children in her eyes so if you can’t be a horse dad, don’t even bother trying.

Another secret to success is to buy something Back on Track related anywhere you go to get you out of wandering around tack stores. Have you been stuck at a tack store for four hours? Save yourself the time and buy her Back on Track polos or “no bows” and I guarantee you will be able to leave and go eat somewhere within minutes. Also if you are a gym rat, do NOT work legs the couple days prior to a show. You will be in pain walking the miles of cross country.

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