This is Dusty. Dusty isn't his real name, but his real name is really weird (Spanish Straw DJ) so when we bought this horse for K, we asked him what he wanted to call him and Dusty became Dusty. True, changing an animal's name after 20 years seems mean, but the horse is smart and never missed a beat. I think he hated the other name. The horse comes up to the gate when you call, especially if you have a feed scoop in your hand, so I'm thinking he made the transition without any lasting crisis of self image.
Dusty is an old show horse, which is what you want for your young cowboy in training. The idea is to get a horse who knows more about showing than the child, then you just plop the child on the horse and blue ribbons start falling out of the sky. We had no intention of showing when we purchased the horse, but we did want a calm ride who knew a thing or two. We got that plus a few extras. One of Dusty's selling points was that if you got drunk on the Dixie National Trail Ride and lost your seat, the horse would stop, wait as long as it took for you to regain the saddle, then mosey on down the trail and get you to the next stop. We haven't tried this, but if he throws you, he won't run. The crazy old coot will stand there, patiently, until you dust your britches and remount.
That brings me to one of Dusty's unadvertised and not so positive traits. He can lose a rider in 10 seconds or less if the rider delivers a miscue. With vocal signals, if you kiss when you should click or vise-versa, you get the stop and duck. With rein and leg signals, if you lift and tap, rather than lift and squeeze you get the ouster. If you tap too many times you will be sent sailing. In fact this training tool is one of the reasons K doesn't train anymore. Besides that quirk, Dusty is a stellar horse. We love him so much that we frequently use the wrong relative pronoun.
Anyway, before Thanksgiving I was out in the barn and Dusty came up and nuzzled my neck. I turned around and started rubbing his head. Something was not right. He had a small swelling right where the side metal piece would be if we haltered the horse. I grabbed the swelling and mashed it around. It didn't hurt him so I let Thanksgiving and The Nutcracker pass before I checked it again. The thing was bigger so we called a few vets. The vets thought it might be cancer, a fatty tumor, or an abscessed tooth. Every one of them reminded us that at 24, he could have a lot of serious problems. They talked about needle aspirations, dental work under anesthesia, and other scary "What if he dies during the test?" type stuff. During all this, the best (only) horse vet in this area gets sick. We wait, scared we will wake up one morning to a dead horse.
Finally, we get the appointment, get a halter on the horse, which is difficult because of this growth thingie, haul him to the vet, and leave him for the procedure and recovery (overnight). Thirty minutes later the doctor calls and says to come get the horse. The cancer, the tumor, the big scary thing was nothing more than a wad of hay that had become trapped in the space that once housed a tooth. Dusty was so good that the vet didn't have to use anesthesia to dislodge the wad or to grind the adjacent tooth so that it would be less likely to happen again. All this worry, all this planning so that biopsies could be sent to the university, all this money, all this hoodoo for a wad of hay.
When Dusty got back home, I turned him out in a rye grass field. I decided our geriatric horse didn't need any more coarse hay. He has been back there happily grazing for weeks, only coming to the gate each morning for his scoop of oats. He doesn't look so old when the sun is setting on him in his winter coat and the bright green of the rye. Yet, age is there. When taking a closer look the gray tinges around his mouth and the developing cataracts in his eyes certainly tell a different tale. I suppose we need to trade his registration in the AQHA for one in the American Geriatric Horse Association.
Though, I suspect he has a few more years left to graze on the rye.