Dusty came into our lives when he was only 5 years old in 1985. We were looking for a pleasure horse for my husband to ride on field trials when a friend mentioned that he knew of a horse that might be suited for just that. I was able to go see the young gelding before my husband and was very pleased with Dusty; he was a handsome bay gelding about 15.2 hands and had a long beautiful mane and tail. It didn’t take long for me to make my decision about him. I rode for just a few minutes and knew he had to be ours. I went home immediately to get my husband so that he could evaluate Dusty for himself. Dusty gave another smooth ride and it was an instant match; he came home to spend the rest of his life with us.
In his early years with us he would carry my husband for 50 mile rides on some days, and thoroughly enjoyed his outings. Ears up, never tiring, and always wanting to be at the front of the gallery of other riders and horses. Dusty had a tendency to sometimes become frightened at the most unexpected times. We could be riding down a road that we had traveled on many times previous and he would suddenly spy something that really was scary to him. It might be a can or bag on the ground some 100 yards away. He would then stop abruptly and sometimes whirl around, run for a few feet, and then get over his fear and continue the rest of the trail for hours with no problem. Other times he would find something to worry about, maybe a noise in the bushes or bird flying overhead, and his eyes would widen and show white and then he would start prancing and get very nervous. A pat on the neck and some reassuring words would usually help him relax and we would continue on.
Soon after we bought Dusty we learned that he had been mistreated in his past and was head shy. He would tremble when we tried to put his bridle on. Clipping around his ears or head would cause him to shy and back up with the white of his eyes showing and feet spread apart and shaking. After years of gently, slowly approaching him for his trimmings, he managed to move beyond his anxiety and would actually lower his head for his bridle path and ears to be clipped. I remember the first day he stood still while I worked with him and clipped his ears and face. What a victory. One of the funniest “clipping” stories came about the year that he allowed us to clip his entire body (to remove his heavy winter coat since we had had an early spring and temperatures had soared sooner than expected) but then refused to let us trim his face and head. Well, to say the least he looked unusual but, he still gave the smoothest ride of any horse we had ever ridden.
Dusty was always a part of our equine team since the start of Canopy Cove in 1990, and he became a favorite of many of our participants. He enjoyed being a member of the equine team and would stand patiently to be groomed or braided. He loved the attention and would be quiet and cooperative with our equine assisted therapy activities. An interesting part of Dusty’s contribution was his ability to connect with those clients who had been abused. He would allow them to approach him in the pasture while when others attempted to move toward him he would shy away. Sometimes we were aware of the past abuse that had been experienced and other times we were not. But, any time he allowed this type of interaction we knew that eventually we would learn of the abuse.
For the most part, Dusty was very healthy. However, he did have a cancerous tumor removed when he was about 15 but, he was able to completely recover and remained cancer free throughout the rest of his life. He loved Equine Senior and ate that for most of his life. Occasionally, he would want to take a break from it and we would feed another type of feed for a while. But we would always come back to the old tried and true.
Dusty was an interesting fellow. In his later years we opened our Residential Treatment Center for Eating Disorders, and since it was set on a beautiful 55 acre property with wonderful pastures, I was finally able to deal with my feelings about him being away from our home and barn and allowed him to relocate to the Center. He was right outside the doors of the Residents and they had access to him and our other Equine Team Members on a daily basis.
For the most part he loved being at Canopy Cove and spending time with our Clients. Yet, he would sometimes become depressed and would stop eating. During those times we would bring him back home to his old Stall and he would spring back. He seemed to be happy again and things were familiar. It was special to watch him go right into his stall as soon as we unloaded him, even after being gone for several years, he always remembered and never hesitated or tried to go into the wrong stall. After a period of time usually six months or more we would take him back to join the rest of the team and things would go well for several years before he wanted to come home again.
Until the past two years Dusty had held his own even though he was in his early thirties. Always the quiet shy one he comforted those around him. Participating in Equine therapy was a weekly routine for him and he still loved to get his clipping and bath. But, about six months ago we all began to notice that he was isolating from the other horses and sometimes leaving feed in his bucked. We changed his feed and hay to see if that might help. No matter what we offered him he continued to have no interest in eating. We had his teeth checked and found that one of his teeth had become loose with his older age and that he needed to have it pulled. I was excited that we had might have found the problem and thought that this would be his answer. We made a soft mash for him out of his favorite Equine Senior feed; but he continued to appear uncomfortable and disinterested. Again, we brought him home and as always he walked directly into his stall and after a day or two he appeared content and his eyes were bright. Our veterinarian noticed his response and also thought he might make a turn and recuperate. Our two newest babies had just been weaned from their mom’s and they were very happy and excited to have Dusty to play with. He seemed to enjoy being with them as they moved around inseparable.
However, it just didn’t seem to matter what we did, he grew weaker. Our veterinarian came daily and offered all that could be done. We all recognized that he couldn’t continue this way and were realizing that we would have to make a decision to allow him to leave us gracefully. One Tuesday morning I spent time with Dusty and checked on him again at lunch, he laid his head on my shoulder and stood still for a long while. I left with a heavy heart and drove to Canopy for the rest of the afternoon. Driving home later that afternoon I was able to come to terms with the need to make a decision to help Dusty be at rest. I parked and walked directly to the barn to check on him. In the distance I could see that he was laying down in the shade of an oak tree with the babies standing nearby. They were motionless and somehow I knew from a far that Dusty had found his way to leave. In the few hours I had been gone he choose to leave this world, but not without forever being missed.
He had a loving heart and sweet spirit, our friend, our family.
We sincerely appreciate everyone’s love and concern for Dusty!
~Lynda A. Brogdon, Ph.D., C.E.A.P., C.E.D.S.