Racing against time like he never had done on the track, Cruisin Dude crossed the most important “finish line” of his life, literally, by a nose.
It was in the 11th hour that he reached out with his velvet muzzle and touched Dianne Kingsland on the shoulder. A gesture that would save him from a suspected unhappy fate, as the deadline to vacate the premises ticked down on the backside of Colorado’s Arapahoe Racetrack.
“I had no interest in buying a horse that day,” Kingsland recalls. “A bunch of us were told about a horse who had a deadline of a week to leave the track, or face an uncertain future, so we all went out to look at him.”
Sire: Black Mambo
Dam: Lets Go Ona Cruise, by Weekend Cruise
Foal date: Feb. 8, 2007Standing among eight women in a loosely knit circle, the vacant-eyed gelding was led over to them by Joanne Pavlis, a trainer and Kingsland’s riding coach who had organized the meeting.
“We were all kind of standing in a circle when he walked over to me and put his nose under my arm, and then he put his head on my shoulder,” Kingsland says. “What could I do? I had to take him.”
Pavlis, who had worked with the Colorado track, and knew Cruisin Dude needed to land quickly in a new home, adds, “It’s always nice to see when a horse asks for a person, rather than a person trying to choose a horse who isn’t the right match.”
Being picked by a horse was an honor Kingsland took to heart.
Like a bashful school boy, he hung around her when she and her husband Richard first brought him home, preferring to hang back away from her other three horses.
“He was just so shy that he’d stand behind us and just hang around,” she says. “Then one day you could see the look on his face change, like he understood he didn’t need to be afraid, and he just took off running,” she says. “Once the others figured out that he could outrun them, that was it. They all settled down.”
As Dude settled into the herd, he also eased into a new routine with his new friend. They enjoyed trail rides and taking formal lessons as life ambled along pleasantly.
Then in June 2014, an innocuous looking bump Kingsland had been monitoring began to grow.
A diagnosis of low-grade melanoma soon followed, and suddenly Dude and Kingsland were tossed headlong into a scary, painful battle. The cancer was easily removed during a routine surgery, but two days after the procedure all hell broke loose.
Dude spiked a 104.9 fever and soon his legs started to swell like balloons, ultimately causing the skin to split open. He was in so much pain that the veterinarian treated his raw flesh with a burn cream, and for weeks the condition diagnosed as immune mediated vasculitis, wreaked havoc. “He’d seem to get better and then he’d have a relapse,” she says. “It went on this way for nine weeks. And during this time my vet consulted with many large-animal hospitals for guidance, and he was on so many drugs. His condition, we learned, happens sometimes when a melanoma is removed and it sends out feelers into the system, which shock it.”
Night and day Kingsland was by Dude’s side. She treated him with a an oral, liquid Banamine, and the vet worked diligently removing dead skin from his legs, and bandaging them again in fresh wraps. This went on for nine weeks. Dude wasn’t hospitalized because he was eating and drinking well, and Kingsland planted herself by his side. “I practically lived down in the barn. I kept a fan on him and kept him cool. And he would put his head on my chest and sigh,” she says. “I knew he hurt. I didn’t know what else to do for him—we had him on so many drugs—that I just scratched his neck and rubbed the tops of his legs.”
There was a point in the battle when Kingsland’s husband Richard was out of town, and upon getting the latest update on Dude’s condition, he quipped, “Just don’t let him sleep on my side of the bed!” It was the first chuckle she’d had in the whole long mess, but not the last.
Just when Dude appeared to be on the mend for good, Kingsland awoke one morning to find the gentle horse walking very slowly and stiffly. Thinking the battle lost, she phoned the vet, who rushed out to examine the tired animal. Like her, the vet was suspicious that the infection, which would abate and return, had come back with a vengeance.
And then they realized it wasn’t the infection at all this time. It was just an abscess in his front hoof! And they both let out a huge laughing sigh of relief. “An abscess I could handle. After all we’d been through, it was a cakewalk!” she says. “We soaked him in lavender Epson salts.”
A few days later, the Thoroughbred who first touched her heart on the backside of Arapahoe Track was tearing around his field like he’d rejoined another horserace.
“Some people ask why and how I kept him going. But watching his transformation, from when I first saw him as a withdrawn shell of a horse to what he became, well, I just love that horse,” she says. “During the worst moments, he would have his head in my chest, and I felt like he said to me that he knew I loved him, and I should do what I needed to do” to make him well.