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Old work horse still hot to trot

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- He's put in 40 years of government service. He's never taken a sick day or whined for a raise. Stubbs is 46, and still hot to trot. "I've never seen a horse that old," said Billy Jack Barrett, manager of the Air Force A...

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- He's put in 40 years of government service.

He's never taken a sick day or whined for a raise.

Stubbs is 46, and still hot to trot.

"I've never seen a horse that old," said Billy Jack Barrett, manager of the Air Force Academy Equestrian Center that Stubbs calls home. "He's in exceptionally good shape for a horse his age."

The average horse's lifespan is about 25 years. The oldest horse on record was Old Billy, who was born in 1760 and lived to be 62 years old in Woolston, England, according to www.ultimatehorsesite.com .


Stubbs still gives riding lessons at the academy stables. He hitched a trailer ride to town a few days ago to do a celebrity stint at a pro rodeo show for special needs kids.

"He's up-and-at-'em, ready to go," Barrett said.

The graying appaloosa turned 46 in the spring, but summer was a better time for a party. The celebration is 1 p.m. Aug. 6 with two cakes, one for the horse and one for the humans. At his 40th bash, he had a 'Lordy, Lordy, Stubbs is 40" cake. Barrett isn't sure how to top that.

"Stubbs and I go back 40 years," he said. "We've grown old together."

Both started in the Army.

Barrett was in the color guard with Fort Carson in 1968 when on a horse buying trip to Montrose he spotted the dark blue 6-year-old gelding in the sale ring.

"He had good, calm eyes," Barrett said.

Soldiers named the $400 horse Stubbs and it stuck.


The military careers of man and horse took different paths, but they were reunited in 1980 when both wound up at the academy stables, Barrett as a civilian and Stubbs active-duty.

"He's a good safe mount," Barrett said. "He has taken care of a lot of people for a lot of years, from little children to some of the elderly. Three generations of families have grown up riding him."

Stubbs brings in about $2,000 a year giving riding lessons. "He's probably made about $50,000," Barrett said.

Stubbs has been saddled up for more than 20 trips with Pikes Peak Range Riders. These days, he stays on trails close to home, no shoes required. "He's mostly happy barefooted," Barrett said.

He's a therapeutic ride for kids terrified of horses as well as wounded Fort Carson soldiers.

Stubbs shows some signs of aging. His teeth are well worn. He has a cataract on his right eye. "To my knowledge, I don't think we've ever called a veterinarian for him," Barrett said. "In recent years he's been on the food for mature horses."

He also eats grass and hay. No sugar cubes. No carrots -- Barrett, ever the doting dad, is afraid he'll choke.

He thinks diet, good care and attitude keep the horse going.


"He doesn't let stress get to him," he said. "He has a way and demeanor about him. He gets along with everybody."

Horses like him, too.

"He's like the old soldier and they all know that," Barrett said. "They give him his space and treat him with respect. You never see the other horses biting him or kicking him or bothering him like they do each other."

A general presented Stubbs with a "Horse of the Year" medal in 2002, but most of his heroic strides are in the ring and on the Make-A-Wish circuit.

Barrett tells of a guest rider a decade ago with a life-threatening illness.

"The little boy said, 'I always wanted my own horse.' At that time Stubbs was old, so I said, 'I'll tell you what, this can be your horse. We'll keep him here and take care of him for you,'" Barrett said.

"Well, the little boy survived. The family felt like just the excitement and the horse meant so much to him that it gave him that little extra boost. He hasn't come back to claim him. He'd be a young man now."

As for Stubbs, he's content with his lot in the barnyard.

"He doesn't want to go out to pasture," Barrett said. "Stubbs thinks he's already in horse heaven."

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