I met Tony in the spring of 1987, when he was purchased by the
New Riders of the Golden Age, a
performing troupe which re-creates Renaissance jousting tournaments. The
troupe is owned by friends of mine, and I worked for them at the local
Renaissance faire for several years.
Tony was a green and strong-minded four-year-old when the troupe bought
him. He went through the usual training routine as a jousting horse, and
performed in tournaments at faires in various parts of the country for the
next couple of years. However, he was always a bit difficult, having a
fondness for speed and a certain lack of respect for human authority.
By 1989, I had decided I was ready to adopt a horse of my own. I had
taken a liking to Tony while working with him at the faire, and I knew that
the jousters had a considerable part of the year when they weren't using
every horse in the troupe. So, I suggested that I might take care of Tony
when he wasn't needed for the jousting, thus giving me a horse and relieving
them of one of their many mouths to feed. They agreed, and he moved into
a boarding barn under my care in autumn of 1989.
I arranged to take riding lessons with an experienced dressage teacher,
since I knew I would need help learning to deal with Tony's strength and his
rather opinionated nature. We had a few wild rides, but I gradually learned
how his mind works and was able to anticipate and--usually--forestall his
tricks. In the spring of 1990 I jousted on Tony at the local Renaissance
faire; he was a holy terror during rehearsals, but behaved perfectly in
the performances. I also rode him in gaming shows at the faire.
After that, Tony was my horse for most of each year. The jousters
had a very busy period in late summer and early autumn, when they needed
every horse working, so for many years he usually went to a Renaissance faire (often the
one in Kansas City) for a couple of months at that time. Other than that,
he stayed with me and lived the comfortable life of a pet horse. He
boarded at a place with plenty of open fields for him to spend his days in,
and a stall at night or during bad weather.
By his early twenties, Tony was slowing down and had mellowed from
the speeding dervish he was in his younger days. Our riding for his last few years under saddle was mostly of
a recreational nature, trail riding and a bit of dressage practice. Tony was an excellent
trail horse, steady, level-headed, and fond of exploring. He had good
barn manners and was generally popular with the barn owners and other boarders;
his chief fault there used to be that he tended to be aggressive when turned out
with other horses, but he settled down as he got older and behaved himself.
Age finally started to catch up with Tony in his twenties, when he developed ringbone in his front
legs. (This is osteoarthritis in the pastern joints.) It's a fairly common condition in older draft horses, since
their weight puts a lot of load on those joints, and given Tony's penchant for galloping in his younger days, he was
probably lucky it didn't set in earlier. He was often stiff and halting in his gait when he first came out of the
stall, but limbered up when he'd been out moving around for a while, and usually looked fairly sound in the pasture.
Because of this condition, though, I decided to retire him from saddle work and let him just be a pet horse for the
rest of his days. The following are pictures taken of him at age 25:
Supplements, medication, and special shoeing on his front feet helped to keep Tony comfortable
for several years. Arthritis is a progressive disease, though, and while his front legs remained
fairly stable, the condition worsened in his hip joints. Finally, during the summer of 2012, he
started having episodes where he wasn't able to get up after lying down. Getting to their feet
puts a big strain on a horse's hip joints, and his had apparently degenerated to the point where
they just couldn't take it any longer. He got through a couple of incidents, with extra medication
and a lot of help, but finally he went down for the last time, and there was nothing more I could
do except let him go. He was 29 years old, a good age for a horse, and especially for a heavy horse
who had been as athletic as he was.
Tony had been part of my life for 25 years, and losing him left a huge empty spot. He was a
lively, intelligent horse who took a lot of interest in people, and was a great companion.