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  • Mary Fichtner

Saying Good-bye to Rusty

Updated: May 20, 2020

I never wanted that day to come…but we all know when an animal owns you it eventually comes.

Rusty was a one of a kind horse; this was apparent from the first time our eyes met. His kind eyes were soft and full of stories to share. He reminded us of Dudley Doolittle’s horse as he always stood at attention, like a military horse. That is how he looked the first time we saw him.

He was born in Laramie, WY and only had one owner before us. I will never forget when I asked his owner if he had ever bucked or bolted, he quietly looked into the distance and thought for a moment or two. Then he shook his head and replied, “Nope, no he just doesn’t really have that kind of attitude.” No truer statement about Rusty was ever made.

As we got to know him over the many years he quickly became the “go to” horse and most people’s favorite.

Part of Rusty’s mission was to give me my confidence back which I had lost after a few scary experiences.

That he did.

When it was time to round up our small herd of calves Rusty was always the chosen mount; usually bareback and in a halter.

When Roslan decided to give an English saddle a try he was the best choice every time; he always qualified her for the state finals.

If you just wanted to look like a cool cat he would be the steed for you.

When we hosted Equine Assisted Learning visits with the veterans he was always the chosen one. He loved and accepted each one for exactly who they were; but he also nudged and challenged them for his cooperation. He lived life on his own terms.

Rusty was very popular with his herd mates as well. While he was usually the boss was also willing to play. Lots and lots of playing, kicking, chasing and general “horsing around”.

This is most likely where the problem started.

One morning, around six years ago, Rusty came limping in from the pasture. After a trip to the vet and x-rays it was discovered that he had a stifle injury, which is the same as a horse’s knee. After three weeks of stall rest…which he absolutely hated…he was better.

Off we went on our adventures once again. All the while Rusty continued softening the hearts of everyone he met. Doing what he excelled at…being a friend, being kind, trustworthy and lovable. But over the next few years he started to go in and out of lameness; steadily getting worse over time. We kept consulting the vet and managed his chronic injury the best we could.

About this same time, I was closing the door on a long sales career and ready for a new beginning. Rusty was filling my soul with love every day and at the same time my heart was heavy as I watched him deteriorate. I found myself reminiscing. I grew up with parents who are incredible storytellers…so many stories, never ending unique characters, belly laughing tales, each one changing your heart and never leaving you. I thought of how privileged I was to grow up with parents that valued the western lifestyle and took us to a rodeo every weekend; how horses had changed my life and basically saved me from myself. Rusty was that horse now.

With prodding from my family, who each claim that I will tell a story to anyone who is willing to stand still long enough, I decided to pursue storytelling as a real thing.

With my daughter’s new found skill in watercolor, I knew I had my illustrator. With Rusty on my heart I knew my stories needed to start with him.

So off we went on the grandest adventure of my life…me writing in rhyme and my daughter illustrating Rusty the Ranch Horse. Roslan’s illustrations capture perfectly the many different looks of Rusty from the way he stands to his true character.

Naturally lots of kids wanted to meet the real Rusty so he attended many events where he stood at post , with his gentle face, receiving a million pets, thousands of hugs and never-ending kisses. He excelled as a book character and star. The reason for all the attention, treats and photos didn’t matter to him, he just loved every minute of it. One day we are pretty sure he ate close to 20 pounds of carrots. He never denied anyone the chance to love him.

He was on the news, RFD TV and the radio. He attended Cheyenne Frontier Days, Bucking Summer Nights and other special events. And he loved every minute of it.

Unfortunately, his injury continued to worsen. It was getting harder and harder for him to get around. Loading in the trailer was no longer something he was willing to do. After many more vet visits it was determined that a bone spur from the injury and arthritis was the diagnosis. Most likely from an accidental kick during the hours and hours of horse play with his friends.

One day in the deep snow, Rusty could hardly move. His face was sad as he watched the others get along while he struggled to keep up.

Another vet visit determined his lack of strength in that leg had caused him to blow his knee out. The ligament that holds his knee in place could not even be found. Oh the heartache!

With no desire to see him go down and not be able to get back up we made the most difficult decision to let him go with dignity. His eyes and demeanor told us he was ready.

With broken-in-half hearts and an ocean of tears we said good-bye to Rusty. One of the most beautiful souls I have ever known. The hearts he touched will never forget him, he will live on through his books and we thank each and every one of you who loved him too. Thank you for mirroring back to him the love and acceptance that he was made of.

It reminds me that new beginnings can be scary, good-byes are always sad, but it is everything in the middle that counts the most.

As Rusty runs free across the rainbow bridge we have decided to rename our series as a tribute to him.

“Rusty’s Remuda” will honor the life of Rusty and introduce many new characters that are part of the herd. Thank you to all who have chosen to ride this trail with us.

RIP Rusty until we get to see you again and give you another big hug!

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