Thursday, May 3, 2012

RIP Rufus

I got the news this week that Rufus died, succumbing last weekend, as too many horses do, to the intestinal malady called equine colic. Rufus was the big, handsome chestnut in the photo above (credit Carol Reynolds, The Riding Coach).

I first met Rufus while taking riding lessons in the '00s. He was a proud, confident horse who always led our riding school group on the trails, stepping out smartly and swishing his tail impatiently when he had to wait for the slower horses to catch up.

He was also fearless; horse people call it "bomb-proof." Where a blowing leaf or skittering squirrel might make other horses freeze or bolt, Rufus never twitched. He would simply take a look at the trouble, toss his mane at all the fuss and keep walking. Riding Rufus, I always felt completely protected; I knew he would get me home safely.

But I didn't get to ride him right away. Because he was much more willing to move out than some of the other lesson horses, he was generally reserved for instructors and more advanced students of The Riding Coach. The first time I got up on Rufus, the sheer energy radiating off him was palpable - and a little scary!

As soon as I learned to relax and handle him calmly, even when he was dancing around with adrenaline, he was a sheer pleasure to ride. All it took was the slightest hint of a heel on his flank, and a subtle loosening of his reins, to ease him into a smooth, comfortable canter.

Rufus was not a cuddly horse, being more interested in playing with his stable mates than pleasing his humans. But he had good ground manners and was generally polite.

There was one special trick he had, though, and he invariably pulled it anytime a newbie was assigned to tack him up (i.e., groom, saddle and bridle him). As soon as the bridle came out, he would clench his teeth and refuse to take the bit until a horse cookie was produced. On his best days, he could manage to suck the cookie into his mouth and still escape the bit, something I am certain gave him great delight.

The day I was able to slip the bridle over his head with enough confidence to cause him to automatically open his mouth for the bit, was the day I knew I was becoming a good horsewoman. He never tried his trick with me again.

I'm sad that Rufus is gone, but happy that he had a wonderful life, regular exercise and meticulous care. He managed to make many people fall in love with him, including me, and he brought joy to us all.


  1. What a beautiful horse, Karen, and such a moving tribute to him! I remember the first horse I was assigned to when I took lessons as a kid. His name was Sir Thomas, a roan with a long, dark mane, who wouldn't cooperate at all until given a treat of a sugar cube. I learned to keep a pocketful with me at lesson time. Thanks for reviving those memories!

  2. He was a rascal and a looker, that's for sure, Lori. :-)

  3. Anyone who thinks animals don't have full, individual personalities has no experience with them.

    Okay, maybe not worms or bugs, but I won't say--I don't have much experience with them.

    Seriously, though, they may not be humans, but they are definitely people.

  4. Crazy enough, I read a study a year or so ago that showed even bugs - I think it was stick insects - have individual personalities. Some were bolder, others more timid, etc.

  5. I just got a funny mental image of stick insects with tiny saddles and fairies riding them ... ;-)