Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Old Horse

My horse, Dink, is 23 years old this year. That's old.

We got him when he was two; a friend of ours had been called out to deal with him -- a breeder of Appaloosa cutting horses said to our friend, "If you can get him out of that paddock and off my property, you can have him -- just don't tell anyone he came from here."

Now why would anyone give up a purebred Appaloosa? Why, because he was smallish, and meaner than pig-tracks. Our friend thought he'd use the colt to breed his mares, and get some quality bloodlines into their offspring, but his wife nixed the idea when she saw the colt, saying, "Not with that little dink, you won't."

In turn, our friend offered Alex the colt, saying if she would get him cut, (castrated) she could have him.

And she did. With a nod to our friend's wife, we called him Little Dink informally, but named him Lord Duquesne. Names matter, they really do. We gave him dignity, and bravery, naming him after an 18th Century fort in Pennsylvania. (And maybe a little double-entendre for fun, as there was a beer called Duquesne back in the day, also.)

Alex gentled that mean colt with skill and intuition; he never bucked, accepting a saddle and rider with willingness and intelligence. We've rarely had to explain anything to Dink twice. Alex finished growing up and got married, and had no time for riding, what with a full-time job and all sorts of adventures that are her province for the telling, and Dink came to me. I did some finessing with rein and heel and leg cues; he brought to the partnership a willingness to carry me and respect for my leadership.

Twenty-one years with this horse.

Since this past summer, he's lost seven inches of girth -- that's the measurement around his chest just behind his legs. I've been ranting about it to the ranch manager since last July, but she kept saying, "Oh, you've been riding more, or maybe it's worms ..."

Last week I went to the pasture to get Dink for a trail ride. His pasture-mate, "Larry" was standing over their hay, and Dink was having to pick for bits underneath the much bigger (and fatter) horse. On the trail ride, up at Lake Camanche, at one point, Dink just ... stopped. Dink doesn't stop. Dink is the intrepid one who will keep on going eagerly into new places -- sometimes too eagerly. He just doesn't stop and stand, resting, unwilling to go forward.

After the ride, I grew a spine, and told the ranch owner I wanted Dink out of pasture and in a paddock until I could see he was all right. He agreed, as there were a couple paddocks open. I bunged Dink into one and gave him some "senior feed."

The next day I went to see him around noon. The ranchers had brought "Larry" up out of pasture into the next paddock (Larry screams and screams if Dink isn't nearby) and I saw that Larry had eaten all his hay -- but Dink was still grazing at his. Duuhhhhhh. Dink is old and not eating fast, and Larry had been chowing down most of their feed.

It's not been a full week yet, but Dink is already looking better. I rode him on an easy trail ride, and in the arena a few days later, and his energy level is already much improved. The ranch manager has agreed with me that Dink should be given extra rations until he fattens up again.

Maybe he will, and maybe he won't. I hope he does, but he is, as I said, 23 years old, which is quite a venerable age for a horse.

I love seeing his head lift quickly, with ears pricked, when he hears me whistle for him and shout, "Duquesne!"

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