Christine: Here at EQUUS we talk a lot about how to care for horses, but let’s not overlook the horses who take care of us. In this episode of Barn Stories, we meet one such remarkable horse.
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Laurie: Welcome to the Barn Stories podcast. I'm Laurie Prinz, editor of EQUUS magazine.
Christine: And I'm managing editor, Christine Barakat.
Laurie: This podcast features our favorite essays and articles published in EQUUS over the past 40 years. Although EQUUS is known for articles on horse care and veterinary research, our editorial mission has always been guided by the bond that exists between horses and people. And each issue has featured a real-life story that celebrates how horses enrich our lives and touch our hearts.
Christine: We've searched our archives, chosen the stories that resonated with our readers and given them new life in this audio format. Longtime subscribers may recognize some of their favorite pieces. And if you're new to the EQUUS community, these stories will confirm that no matter what sort of saddle you sit in, a deep emotional connection to horses is something we all share.
Christine: This episode of Barn stories tells the tale of a horse named Frosty, his owner Dale, and their extraordinary relationship. If a strong partnership is built on each half offering the other what they need most, Frosty and Dale are a duo for the ages. Frosty helped Dale regain his mobility after a stroke and then, when the gelding had his own challenges, Dale stuck by his trusted friend and found a way to sustain and even strengthen their very special bond.
Laurie: I like that their story is told through the eyes of a photographer, someone trained to observe—oftentimes in a somewhat detached way. This photographer, however, cannot help but be profoundly touched by what she sees between Frosty and Dale, and the experience enriches the relationship she has with her own horses. There’s just so much to love about this story.
Christine: I agree, it’s incredibly uplifting. Let’s listen to "The Power of Two," written by Linda Gordon and read by Taylor Autumn.
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Taylor Autumn, reader:
Even over the phone, the story sounded intriguing. The caller invited me to drive down to St. Louis, Missouri, to meet a man named Dale Ludwig and his Appaloosa gelding, Frosty. I’m so glad I accepted. As an equine photographer who travels the country, I hear many wonderful stories about the special relationships that develop between people and their horses. Few, however, have touched me as much as this one.
After a six-hour drive, I arrived at a boarding stable that looked just like so many others that I’ve seen. It was a gloriously warm spring day, and many of the boarders were out riding. The air was full of the sounds of hoof beats with the occasional soft whinny—music to a horse lover’s ears.
I found my way to Frosty’s stall and lingered in the aisle as the gelding heard the unmistakable shuffling gait of his friend’s approach. He pricked his ears and turned toward the stall door, waiting for Dale to greet him with soft, kind words and the gentle stroke of his hand. Dale Ludwig, now 73, and Frosty, 29, go out on the trails together six days a week. But that’s only the beginning of their story.
Dale’s love of horses began around the age of 10, when his father bought a farm in Hawk Point, Missouri. He continued to enjoy riding for four decades—until 1991, when at the age of 52 he had a stroke that severely limited the use of the right side of his body. Dale’s life had changed forever, but horses were never far from his thoughts. Finally, after five years, Dale’s daughter sought out a horse who could help her Dad with his special needs.
Frosty, then 14 years old, was known to be sure-footed and steady on the trails. And when Dale tried him out, the gelding turned out to be a perfect match. As Dale’s daughter told me, “Frosty seemed to know that Dad needed special care and compensated for his limited mobility.”
From the beginning, Frosty always stood patiently, not moving a muscle, to allow Dale all the time he needed to get safely into the saddle. The gelding’s calm good nature never failed his rider on the trail either. But on horseback, Dale once again had the freedom to move without inhibition and at his own pace. The pair spent hours together, wandering through the forested hills of Missouri, across streams and up to the high bluffs with the breathtaking views that had been out of reach since Dale’s stroke.
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Taylor: For a time Dale and Frosty joined a group of riders who called themselves “The Wild Bunch.” They were a rambunctious lot, who enjoyed their fast-paced jaunts over the countryside. Dale’s eyes twinkled as he spoke of their camaraderie and the many great rides they shared. His physical limitations were of no consequence—Frosty was more than capable of keeping up with the group, and he kept Dale safe at the walk, trot and gallop. Many years have passed and most members of the Wild Bunch are gone now, but Dale’s fond memories remain.
Frosty, too, has felt the passage of time. By the age of 26 the gelding had gradually lost vision in both of his eyes. For many horsemen, this might have been the end of the tale. But not for Dale. Because of his blindness, Frosty can no longer be turned out with the rest of the herd. And so, with Frosty’s safety and well-being in mind, Dale now arrives at the barn every day to care for him. Unable to use his right arm, and slightly dragging his right leg, Dale leads Frosty to the grass to graze.
And, yes, they still go on trail rides together. I watched as Dale led his trusted old friend from his stall and opened the tack box to retrieve a brush and curry comb. He spoke to Frosty in a soft voice as the brush gently slid over the sleek coat to remove bits of shavings. Then, with his tack in his left hand, his right arm pressed to his side, in one swift motion Dale placed the saddle pad and then the saddle on Frosty’s back. The gelding lowered his head to accept the bridle and in moments, the two were ready to head for the trails as they have done for years.
“I depend on his legs, and he depends on my eyes,” Dale told me, making a slow and deliberate effort to speak. Love, loyalty—such simple words seem inadequate when describing the bond between this man and this horse. The profound sense of trust these two friends have in one another is nothing short of miraculous.
We said our goodbyes, and the pair headed toward the trail. As I watched them go, I stood in awe as I realized that I saw only the steady, confident gait of a healthy horse and the relaxed, balanced seat of a rider with years of experience. There was no visible sign that either was physically challenged. Frosty picked up a slow, steady trot as they disappeared into the woods.
When I pulled into my drive at home, I stopped at the barn before going to the house. I went to the gate and whistled. My own horses Tammi and Toby came running, sliding to a stop in front of me, brimming with youthful exuberance. As they looked at me with their soft brown eyes, all the emotions of the day came pouring out at once.
Through tears, I smiled with gratitude for the relationship I have built with my horses over the years, and I was filled with appreciation for all of our good health. And I now have a fresh perspective on my own travels in life. I now know that, as we grow older, we can overcome any challenges that come our way—as long as we have trust in one another, and we never stop believing that anything is possible.
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Christine: Thanks for listening to Barn Stories. We hope you enjoyed this episode. If you have a favorite article or essay from the EQUUS archives that you'd like us to feature in a future podcast, let us know. You can reach us at EQUUSBarnStories@gmail.com.
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The Barn Stories podcast is a production of the Equine Podcast Network, an entity of The Equine Network, LLC.
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