While it is true that I have owned many horses and each share a special place in my heart, there are those that stand out for one reason or another. Duke is such a horse. He stands out not because he was a pure-bred, fast or exceptional in any commonly measurable way, but because he was a gentleman.
In 1977 as the first pre-trained horse I ever rode, Duke was a true learning experience. His stature was only about 15 hands tall and stout. I had never ridden a horse that neck-reined – WOW! The first time I touched the rein to his neck, I had to hang on. Lucky for me he had a long, thick mane.
To look at the pictures here, you would think that he was not all that remarkable. What you do not see in these pictures (well maybe except for the last one), is how he overcame his common background to be extraordinary in many ways. Duke was my first barrel horse, and while he was not the caliber of horse seen at the big rodeos, he was consistent and steady and won many awards for being more like the tortoise than the hare.
One of my first big speed events was the Little “I” International. This was an indoor competition held at the Colosseum in Madison Wisconsin. Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s the footing was not as good as it could have been and there were some mishaps. It is curious that during this first event I was wearing a helmet. This is a habit I quickly lost. Luckily, the one time I needed one, It was there. The picture that follows shows just what happens when you do a face-plant in rich dirt and slide into the wall. My helmet was cracked, my teeth were gritty but I had a smile on my face! Any tumble that you and your horse walk away from without too much pain is considered a success.
Duke was a horse of many talents. Not only was he my first mount for horse shows and speed events, he also was a solid partner for coon hunting. Back in those days, we hunted for coon on horseback exclusively. There is nothing like a ride in the dark of night with nothing more than the moon or a head lamp to light the way. Duke was unflinching as he walked ahead in the blackness and never budged when the gunshot rang out. I really do miss those days.
Finally, I had so much fun with Duke as a parade horse. Pictured here in the Adams-Friendship 4th of July Parade in the late 70’s, Duke was sure to please the crowd. He performed many tricks such as loping in place, rearing and prancing side to side. Then, with as much ease, he would relax for kids to approach and pet him.
Duke lived well into his 20’s. In the life of a horse, this is considered acceptable; however, there is never a good time to lose a great friend. It has been over 20 years since his passing, but I still remember all the barrel runs, parades and moonlit hunts that we shared together.
Do you have a remarkable old friend that has shared so many adventures?