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Arizona’s Singing Cowboy and his horse

Arizona’s Singing Cowboy and his horse

Gary Sprague and DustyOn a trip back to our former home state of Arizona, we spent a little time being tourists, including a walk around Old Town Scottsdale. Scottsdale promises a place Where the Old West Meets the New West, and by golly that’s what you get, in addition to a lot of jewelry and art stores. I found some neat southwest souvenirs at Mexican Imports on Brown Avenue but my favorite find was a singing cowboy on a beautiful horse named Dusty. Or maybe I should say a beautiful horse named Dusty with some guy on his back because Dusty is apparently more popular. More on that later. Gary has resurrected the once popular character of the singing cowboy in the style of Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and others, performing the not-so-easy task of balancing guitar strumming, singing with a smile and maintaining control of his well-behaved horse, while keeping an eye on fans who don’t always think before running towards Dusty and don’t always ask permission before reaching up to poke his nose. And sometimes Gary does this all while Dusty is walking down the sidewalk or through a bar. Yes, literally through the doors of a bar. If you think riding a horse can be tricky sometimes, think how hard it must be to do it under those conditions. The key is having a well-trained horse with a good disposition and tolerance for people and their unpredictable behavior, and having a strong and trusting relationship between horse and rider. And the fans are amazed. This kind of attraction seems totally appropriate for a town trying to stay in touch with its Old West roots. Judging by all the people who took pictures with Gary and Dusty while I was there, chances are good you’ll find a picture like that in many a slideshow of friends or family returning from an Arizona vacation.

As I listened to Gary play his guitar and sing, someone driving down Scottsdale Road slowed, rolled down their window and yelled “Hi Dusty!” and drove off. Gary tells me that happens all the time and in fact, most people don’t seem to remember his name, just the name of his horse. He didn’t seem to mind, though. Gary seems to be the kind of guy who isn’t looking to get rich doing this,  instead enjoying the chance to bring a smile to people in this modern world who would otherwise never experience an avatar of the fantasized Old West cowboy good guy.

Gary singing “Give Me My Boots and Saddle” from Dusty’s back

Gary Sprague has had this gig during the cooler months in Scottsdale (November through April, Saturdays 1-4 PM) for a number of years  but also mounts up for appearances at schools, events and even parties. Gary sings, tells stories, recites cowboy poetry and does educational speaking about the real cowboy way of life. His trusty horse Dusty does more than just patiently stand there, too. Gary has taught him a variety of crowd-pleasing tricks like crossing his legs, bowing and giving high-fives. Okay maybe not high-fives but after seeing this duo, that wouldn’t surprise me.

I love that there are cowboy entertainers out there still. For many people, this is the only exposure they’ll have to horses and I think it’s a good one. For horses to continue to be admired and respected, kids and adults need to be able to see them, touch them, learn about them and appreciate what they are. It’s too easy for people to ignore equine issues if they’ve never met a real horse.

For more information about Dusty and his trusty cowboy, Gary Sprague, visit their website – (heads-up – music auto-plays when the site loads).

Have you seen Gary and Dusty in person or a duo like them?

Vacationing with horses on my mind

Vacationing with horses on my mind

Saddle in the sunset

I just got back from a mini-vacation to the west coast that involved visiting family, spending a few days with a good friend, a couple of days of driving across the desert southwest and even some horseback riding. My thanks to Mikki for doing all the horse chores herself and to the Kid for keeping her company while I was gone. I’m sure there is a trip for her coming up that will have me in the barn doing all the chores alone for at least a few days.

Wherever I go, I usually bring a camera. Hey, I like to take pictures. I also knew I’d be driving (riding as a passenger, actually) across Arizona and California and thought I’d be able to snap some photos of horses and horse property along the way. I ended up spending a good deal of time with horses on my mind. Over the coming days, I’ll post about some of the interesting things I saw/did, horse-related. One of the funny things I noticed myself doing is wondering how my horses would like it where I was visiting. I have this habit of thinking about what it would be like to live in the places I visit. I’ve lived in both Arizona and California so this wasn’t much of a stretch. Except this time I wondered how I would get my horses there, where we would put them and what we’d have to do to keep horses in that climate. Oh, and how much it would cost to have horses in these places.

I had the opportunity and privilege to hang out with Gary and Jennifer, friends of my step-son Chris in Maricopa, Arizona who showed me just how different it was managing horses there compared with what’s common in Tennessee. For example, hay isn’t cheap in the desert and the hay available locally in Maricopa was of poor quality. Instead, they feed their horses pellets made from alfalfa and molasses. Also, this time of year, horses in the low desert don’t really need much in the way of shelter. In fact, most of the horse property I saw there didn’t include any overhead shelter. It just doesn’t rain there much and it doesn’t get very cold. And boy is it dusty! The dust is fine, like powder. I’m not sure if I prefer thick dust or the slimy red clay we have here in Tennessee.

Saddled horse

One thing I realized on this trip is just how many people have horses in Arizona and the desert portions of southern California. I just never noticed it before. It’s kind of like buying a car and from that point forward noticing how many of those you see on the road. One of the neatest things about owning a horse in the desert is the sheer amount of space in which to ride. You could ride for days through state or BLM land on horseback. Gary and Jennifer were gracious hosts, allowing my step-son and I to ride a couple of their horses. This was one of the highlights of my trip. It was freezing cold, the sun was going down fast and Chris and I got to ride off into the sunset on “our ponies,” singing “Should’ve Been A Cowboy.”  Except for the temperature, it was perfect. The sun went down and the stars lit up, one by one. Chris and I shivered in our boots but it was worth it. How many people got to ride horses into the sunset in the beautiful southwestern desert today? Not many. I will remember that ride fondly for some time to come.

A couple of other horse observations during this trip:

  • Desert horses seem to enjoy eating dry grass and tumbleweed.
  • Desert horse manure dries fast.
  • Desert horses seem to enjoy eating their own manure.
  • I prefer horses that neck-rein.
  • It’s exciting riding a horse in the dark.

More on this later but I do want to say thanks to Gary and Jennifer for saddling up their horses and entrusting one of them to me. Thanks to Chris for humoring me by agreeing to ride horses in the cold and dark.