‘Red’ still in the saddle at 23-years
At 23 years of age, Fandango, or “Red,” as he is affectionately called by the riding students at Laurie Alden’s Zephyr Ranch in Washoe Valley may be the oldest horse still cantering around the blue-ribbon circuit, but he’s no nag.
The heavily built, burnt-auburn colored Thoroughbred looks through the thoughtful darkness of his large black eyes as 13-year-old Rachel Allazetta of Reno leads him into the stable to unsaddle him. The swollen veins in his hind legs evidence of the animal’s steadfast power. On his back, a perfect, saddle-shaped section of matted, discolored fur proves his years of service.
“I’ve only been riding him for about a month,” she says, patting his head and scratching his chin as she leads him to a large bucket of straw-colored water. “I outgrew my last horse.”
The heat is thick and dusty, tinged with the smell of baking earth and the musk of fresh manure. As though he’s done it a million times before and knows he’ll do it a million again, Red quietly sets his head down and laps up a long, slow drink, like an old man at a water fountain. He’s earned it and he knows it.
A woman’s voice comes over the loudspeaker. Rachel and Red have won 5th place. Rachel takes the florid pink ribbon and holds it to his head like a third eye. “Pretty pony,” she coos, the sweetness of her praise likely encouraging the old workhorse to keep on trotting.
Earlier in the day, 10-year-old Ashley Dotson of Pleasant Valley took first in a jumping contest with Red. Her normal horse was lame with a sore ankle. Red turned out to be a convenient last-minute replacement. Riding since she was just 2-years-old, Ashley is something of a prodigy, jumping aboard a huge animal like Red is second nature to her. Together, the diminutive equestrian and the horse that owner Laurie Alden says “was too big to be a race horse,” make quite a pair.
“You’ve got to use a lot of leg to steer him,” notes Dotson, expertly. “And you’ve got to give him a few good kicks to get him going.”
So what’s Red’s secret to longevity?
“We feed him lots of carrots,” says Alden. “But of course, he really loves cookies the best.”
And he seems to love his job.
Contact Peter Thompson at email@example.com or 881-1215.