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Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014

Duke the Wonder Horse

Duke was a five-gated pinto.

A pinto is a horse that has a coat color of white and any other color. For those of us who are not horse experts, many different breeds of horses have pinto colors.

Anyway, when I was a young boy, Duke lived just up the street on Kingshighway in an attractive red barn trimmed out in white. It was surrounded by a dirt yard and a high, wire fence.

Next to Duke lived Jackie Long with her parents.

Duke "chats" with one of his many admiring neighbors. His barn stands in the background. [Photo courtesy of Jackie Long Ingham]
Duke owned Jackie. I know, usually it is the other way around where the person owns the horse, but in this case Duke was clearly the owner.

Duke loved Jackie.

Jackie would bound out of the back door of her home to attend to all of Duke's many wants and needs: a treat, oats, hay, grooming his mane and tail, giving him a bath and brushing him down, or buying him a new pair of shoes. You seldom saw one without the other nearby.

I was somewhat afraid of Duke; he was so big and he had big teeth. When giving him a treat, I feared he would take my hand, or at least a few of my fingers, with it. He never did, or course. Instead, he would gently curl his lips across my hand and scoop out the treat. You hardly ever felt it. It was a great relief to see all my fingers still there when I pulled my hand back through the wire.

He couldn't talk. He would whinny, snort, blow through his lips, and drag his hoof through the dirt. He talked with his eyes. They said, "thank you" and you could tell he'd like to give you a pat on your head--which he couldn't do--but you felt as if he did. Duke had a big, warm heart.

He would take Jackie for rides. He would allow her to saddle him and stirrup up. Duke would carry her around the neighborhood and take her on trail rides with others. Sometimes he would take her to a show or rodeo where he would show her off and win her a few ribbons in the barrel race or other rodeo event.

One very cold day near Thanksgiving in 1959, Jackie was riding Duke down Kingshighway. It was still a gravel road then. Duke broke through some iced gravel on the road and fell throwing Jackie to the ground in some nearby bushes. There she lay, hidden from view, with a severe concussion. Duke regained his stance; his ribs were badly bruised and his mouth deeply cut from his bit. Most horses would have run back home (his barn was just a half of mile down the road) but Duke stayed, standing guard over Jackie.

A logging truck soon came by and saw Duke standing next to the road without a rider. They stopped, looked around, and eventually discovered Jackie lying unconscious off the road, hidden in the bushes. They tried to approach her to help, but Duke, loyal and true, would not let the strangers approach. They drove into town with the news of the rider in the bushes and the horse on guard. Word spread, and soon Jackie's parents arrived. Duke was still there, standing silently over Jackie. "He saved my life by staying with me; otherwise, they would have never found me on that cold day, " remembers Jackie.

A group of Jackie's high school friends later made a sign for Duke: "Duke the Wonder Horse," it read. It stood by the back door of Jackie's home for years. Indeed, he was.

Duke lived there in the red barn for many more years.

I remember when Duke died. I can't recall the exact year, but I remember hearing of his death. I was saddened. Neighbors whispered to each other about his death with all the reverence of being in a funeral parlor. It was a blow to the neighborhood.

After he died, his home and yard stood empty. Each time you saw it, you were reminded of the days that Duke lived there.

Jackie moved to Colorado, and, after her parents died, the house and barn were sold. The fence came down fairly quickly, but the barn stood for years. It fell into disrepair and was torn down several years back.

On vacation several years ago I stopped to visit with Jackie in Colorado. She has a new owner now who lives in a beautiful brown mountain barn. But, she will never have another owner as good as Duke.

Duke was a five-gated pinto and a good neighbor dearly missed.

Behind the scenes