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Horse that helped pull Rock Ledge Ranch wagon for 17 years passes on

Duke is the Belgian draft horse on the far side (Dan on the near side) pulling a hay wagon for ranch visitors in this photo outside the Orchard House at Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site in 2007. The driver is ranch manager Andy Morris.
Westside Pioneer file photo
A close-up of Duke, who recently died at age 19. He'd been at Rock Ledge Ranch since 1998.
Courtesy of Andy Morris
       Duke, a 19-year-old Belgian draft horse who had been at the Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site since 1998, passed away Jan. 17.
       A veterinarian told ranch manager Andy Morris the cause of death was colic, and there was nothing the ranch could have done to save him.
       Duke had been the oldest of the five horses at the city-owned, 1880s-style working ranch off North 30th Street and Gateway Road.
       Weighing 1,850 pounds and standing nearly 5 feet 9 inches from the ground to the top of his back, he was often seen in harness with Dan, a similar-looking Belgian draft horse, pulling a wagon with hay bales that ranch visitors could sit on for rides.
       In an interview, Morris remembered Duke as “my favorite. He was a leader, our alpha, but he never had to prove it by acting like a bully to the other horses. He was hard-working, smart and sweet, and everybody liked him.”
       He also valued what he called the horse's confidence, which helped him cope with the ranch's public exposure. “You have to have that, pulling a wagon in our environment,” Morris said. “We get kids running underneath the horses, people poking umbrellas at them. They have to be bomb-proof.”
       Morris had bought Duke and the original Dan as a team from an Amish farm in Iowa. When that Dan died in '04, Morris went back to Iowa for another (which he also named Dan).
       But he does not expect to look for a replacement for Duke. Two younger horses - black English Shires from Illinois named Winston and Victoria - were donated to the ranch five years ago. They are about the same size as the Belgian draft horses, and Morris thinks they can now step in as the wagon-pullers.
       The tentative plan is for Dan to serve as a “breaking horse,” alternately being paired with Winston and Victoria as a way of mentoring them. Before too long, “I'd like to see them step in and be the team” Morris said.
       The other ranch horse is Kava, who pulls the buggy.
       Morris's appreciation for Duke continues - and not just because he liked him so well. Although admitting it might not sound right and of course the animal had no way of knowing it, Morris pointed out that the sturdy steed picked a perfect time to pass - during the winter in the ranch's off-season, giving the manager the current window of opportunity to prepare another team.

Westside Pioneer article
(Posted 1/22/15; Outdoors: Rock Ledge Ranch)

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