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February 2024

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Courtesy Photo Darwin Longfellow riding the late, great Poco Disco Dude, American Quarter Horse.

A Love Story: Poco Disco Dude

I will always count it amongst the biggest honors in my life to have been given the responsibility and humbling task of being Disco’s person for 19 years. He came into my life fast and unexpected, just as he always was.

The interest with horses started in me at birth but grew into an undeniable obsession by the time I was 12. Growing up in the suburbs of the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul Minnesota meant having a horse was never going to happen, but I persisted nonetheless. I started to observe my parents and what worked best on them individually: my mom was a sucker for the emotional appeal, but she also needed to be assured that she wouldn’t be strapped with the daily responsibilities; my dad needed research,  research, research.

I dutifully put together a 3-ring binder and added pages as I learned more and more about the realities of horse ownership. I wrote out monthly budgets: how frequently ferrier visits were called for, and how much two shoes cost vs. four, how often horses needed to be dewormed, what they ate, boarding costs, and more… Trailer costs. Purchase costs. Breeds and their relative strengths and weaknesses. Conformation. Training methods. Fodder. Alfalfa. Hoof picks. Blankets. I already had a saddle, so I smugly deducted that expense from the ledger before presenting it to my parents.

They hoped the obsession would go away, but humored me nonetheless. Although the answer to my request for a horse was still a firm “no,” my mom drove me to a number of barns to look at some horses I had found in ads at saddle shops and in the newspapers. But none of the horses ever sparked that feeling of “just right.”

Back to DISCO. 

He was a plain looking sorrel gelding with a star—nothing like my 14-year-old self imagined her first horse to be. I was more obsessed with flashy pizzaz… maybe a buckskin paint, or perhaps a dun leopard Appaloosa? But there he was, plain and unassuming. Simple, bordering on boring. But to ride him? Oh my, he was a rocketship running on atomic energy!

His former person, Kristi, a high-school senior headed off to college that autumn, posted an ad for him on equine.com. Back then it was still the early days of the internet and this website had two ad types: 1) paid photo ads with unlimited text; and 2) free ads—no frills, no photos, and a description limited to three lines.

An 18-year-old horse seemed old, but I had kept my mind open and I’m sure glad I did. Kristi agreed to meet me at the Washington County Fair—she even offered that I could test drive him in an event or two if I wanted!

Now, when I first laid eyes on him it really was love at first sight. My intuition told me this was the horse for me. He was stunningly and intimidatingly well muscled, and he had a spark in his eye that hinted towards a little bit of—was it insanity? Or maybe a relentless passion for speed? Either way, the lackadaisical, gentle mare I had been riding for the last four years had not prepared me for the Formula 1 grade rocketship I was about to hop onto.

We signed up for a simple event called keyhole: a down and back race bookended with a laser timer to 1/1000 of a second. The only thing you had to do was avoid knocking over the narrow aisle of poles as you ran through, turned around, and returned through at the far end of the arena. I was accustomed to celebrating a 17- or maybe occasional 16-second run on the previous mare. Imagine my surprise when Disco entered my life. The warmup on him was intimidating. The guidance I received from Kristi was to avoid touching my legs to his sides at all costs, unless I wanted to accelerate at a meltingly fast pace. My heart pounded through my chest and my body buzzed with an overwhelming sense of fear and anxiety while I tried to play it off like I somehow was fit for a horse with such power. He pranced nervously through the sand of the warmup arena, sometimes trotting entirely sideways when the gate opened up, thinking it was his turn to run.

We were “in the hole,” then “on deck,” then finally the arena announcer said my name, also introducing also the horse I came in on: DISCO. This was it, our chance to see if the intuition that me and this horse were meant to be—to see if it was true.

What follows is a blur. A very fast blur. By the time my adrenaline began to settle, my dear friends were remarking what a great job we did, and the words from the announcer finally settled in—“that’s a NEEEEWWWWWW LEADER!”

What is really crazy is that not only did we end up winning a blue ribbon for our 14 –17 age group (which was historically the most competitive age group), not even that we had the fastest time for the whole day—it’s not even all that crazy that we had the fastest time for the entire weekend, and it’s not even beyond the realm of wild that we had the fastest time of the whole country Fair.

What is really crazy is that we set a new arena record that day. We somehow blitzed through the time-space continuum and had a score of under six seconds. I had never seen a winning time even CLOSE to the low six seconds. The fastest I had ever seen in my four years of competing was a mid- or high-six second score. Never ANYTHING in the five second range.

Floating in an aura of delight and disbelief, I dismounted and walked Disco back to Kristi’s trailer. I tied him up with confidence. This. This was my horse. All those false starts. All those long winter nights wondering if I would ever find the right horse for me. The doubts, the concerns, the questioning. It was all for naught. This was Disco. He and I—well, we simply were meant to be. Long story long: I got my pony.

The more nuanced and appropriate version might be to say that we finally found each other. Poco Disco Dude, thank you for adopting me, my friend


  • Darwin Longfellow

    Poco Disco Dude, her American Quarter Horse, who was the ripe old age of 36 years when he was laid to rest on October 15. In the author’s 19 years with Disco, they traveled far and wide together, from Minnesota to Colorado to New Mexico and Wisconsin. You can find more horse stories on Darwin's blog: backcountrycowgirl.wordpress.com