Last original member of KMP celebrates birthday

Rocky turns 32

Catherine Litt / Kamloops Daily News
April 6, 2012 01:00 AM

Rocky the horse hears some kind words from owner Rick Wanless before getting his morning snack. Rocky turns 32 on Sunday. He's the last of the original Kamloops Mounted Patrol horses.

His home is extraordinarily beautiful.

He lives on 20 sprawling hectares of ranch land bordered on one side by the North Thompson River and on the other by Highway 5 - a picturesque and serene landscape just a 20-minute drive from Kamloops.

It is, in many respects, the ideal setting in which to spend one's retirement years, which is why the 10 horses that live on this property known as Hacienda Caballo may be the luckiest, happiest horses in Canada.

Especially the horse named Rocky.

"Oh, you're a character, yes you are," said ranch owner Rick Wanless as he tried to coax the elderly horse for a morning treat.

"Come on over here . . . come on over here. You've untied yourself. Now come on."

On Sunday, Rocky turns 32 and it's a big deal.

He is the last of the original group of horses that helped give rise to the Kamloops Mounted Patrol - that friendly posse of riders and mounts who greet visitors each summer in downtown Kamloops.

Rocky was just a young buck when he arrived from Washington state in the late 1980s with the registered quarter-horse name of KCS Bug. He spent his first Canadian days on a farm in Clinton before being acquired by Wanless for the newly formed mounted patrol.

Wanless never knew what the KCS initials stood for, but it didn't matter much because the new horse was quickly renamed Rocky.

"It was a lot easier for the kids to pronounce," said Wanless.

"And it was just before the Rocky Mountaineer started, so it became a good tie-in. Some people actually thought we named him after the train."

Rocky was a busy horse in his early days on the patrol, part of a regular rotation of mounts giving visitors a warm, western welcome to Kamloops.

Just a few steps from Rocky's stable are the names of horses he has outlived - familiar ones like Sultan and Bravo, Texas and Bonanza. "He's the survivor of the group," said Wanless.

Rocky's name should have been up there long ago, but this aging steed has a knack for surprising his human friends. He's managed to cheat death at least three times by overcoming illnesses that would have killed a lesser horse.

"He's like this little old gentleman you go to visit in the nursing home and he tells you stories about how he didn't get on the Titanic or something, you know," laughed Wanless.

In many ways, the ranch at Hacienda Caballo is Rocky's nursing home. It's here that he gets the gentle care and companionship befitting a senior. There are nine other mounts that share the stables and pastures with Rocky, but he is the oldest of the group.

His most elderly companion, Texas, died a couple of years ago at the age of 30 and so he is left with equine friends that are about half his age, though they seem to respect his position as elder statesman.

"He has a couple of buddies that he chums with all the time," said Wanless.

Trooper, 16, and Max, 8, follow Rocky around the property like little brothers. He lets them share his food and often trots across the pasture with them.

Rocky is slowing down, though. At 32, he's an old horse; there's no denying it; in human terms, he's well past 100.

Still, Wanless hopes to bring Rocky to at least one or two Kamloops Mounted Patrol events this summer, probably special events where the horse only has to be out for a couple of hours.

In the meantime, Rocky the senior will continue to live out his days on one of the most scenic horse farms in the region.

When his time comes, as it eventually will, Wanless will be at his side. It will be a gentle end to a long and happy life for this working horse.

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