Louisville Magazine

APR 2019

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 4.19 101 DERBY 145 A fiercely independent stallion learns to trust humankind. By Jenni Laidman Photos by Mickie Winters Can a horse have regrets? If this one did, this muscled black stallion with the dread- locked tail dragging the sandy ground, it would be that day in December 2017, that day he did what he knew was wrong. Had it been any mare other than Chocolate, had it been Julia, say, or Little Filly, he would have stayed put. But his weakness led to the mistake of a lifetime. Karen Slone, the woman with a ponytail that frizzes into a halo behind her head in the summer humidity, could tell you. She would drive up from her house in Floyd County, rattling over the rutted road to the mountaintop in eastern Kentucky. She and her husband, Dwight, could tell you that this stallion was never so careless before, never so frivolous. He was always watchful, head up, alert, ears rotating like satellite dishes, sensitive to the slightest sounds, his nearly 360 degrees of vision sweeping all horizons, all the time. In the three years Karen and Dwight had come up the moun- tain to feed the often scrawny herd that ranged on this grassy rolling plain — an ar- tifact of the Wolverine Coal Company and the strip mine it once worked there — the black stallion had never come near them, never let himself be turned into a pet, a creature. It took months for this dominant stallion to even let the mares near. Even in February, when the pickings were lean and From the Top of the Mountain so was his herd, he held back. A car door closed and they flew, the stallion pushing his mares and their babies away, up onto the knoll where he could see everything: the couple's blue truck, the treetops waving be- low, the hills rolling away into bruised blue smudges along the horizon, the mountains of clouds pressing across the valley toward them. In time, he let his mares graze the hay the Slones brought. e mares would clop forward, babies shyly watching from behind their mothers who, tentatively at first, began to eat. But the stallion would only stand and watch. e other stallions on the mountain and their little bands lacked his caution. ey ate. ey let their babies wander up to the humans. And the colts were foolish, stretching their necks until the long sensitive hairs on their noses sized up the warm human hands, letting those hands stroke their necks, rub their faces. So care- less had the others become that sometimes another stallion would wander away from his own band and approach the big black stallion's, drawing first the larger stallion's sharp gaze, then his trotting approach, and finally, if they hadn't the sense to turn tail, his attack, reared on hind legs. It never lasted long. ey all backed away. Some 70 horses occupied this restored strip mine — a "strip job" in eastern Kentucky parlance, this one dubbed Ruff-N-Tuff — a mixture of abandoned pets and wild-borns like the black stallion. And he held sway over them all. Karen, who named all the horses, called him Rocky for the movie prizefighter when, week after week, she'd find him on his knoll, like Sylvester Stallone atop the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, ready for all comers. Mary Rose Cissell and Rocky on the farm in Shelbyville.

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