Longform

The Horse Soldier

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Back in her fire-breathing days in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Duxbury thought "horses shouldn't be ridden at all." But four years ago she "saved" a horse that had been abused, and because it was overweight, began riding it to get it back in shape. "I forced myself to ride him, and then I had to reassess," she says. That experience, along with a book by horse expert Jaime Jackson, now a Project Equus boardmember, prompted a change of heart.

Now Duxbury believes riding horses is okay--as long as it's done on a natural surface and the rider strives to study the horse's body language and emulate the animal's natural movements. But she still smells trouble down on the farm. Project Equus's chief aim is ferreting out horse abuse, which Duxbury breaks down into three areas: trainers who physically abuse horses to break them; people who use implements, especially bits, that are painful to the animals; and owners who don't take proper care of their horse's nutritional and health needs. Project Equus is also running a campaign to outlaw Premarin, a drug used to treat symptoms of menopause that is made from the urine of pregnant mares. Duxbury and others feel the manner in which the urine is collected is cruel--mares are confined to narrow stalls for months at a time, their intake of drinking water is restricted, and their urethras are fitted with rubber collection cups.

Few Colorado horse lovers share Duxbury's view of the horse as an endangered species--or as a species in danger. "As in anything, there are people out there who have chosen to abuse animals in some of their training process," says Stan Sours, a lobbyist for the Colorado Horse Council, which represents the horse industry. However, he adds that horse abuse in Colorado is very rare.

But Duxbury insists that "Project Equus is absolutely mandatory. Sheriff's departments, law enforcement--they don't know much about animal abuse or horse abuse. There aren't enough people to get into all the barns in the Front Range, let alone Colorado or the United States."

So she has made it her business to get into barns and wherever else horses roam. She and four other Project Equus "investigators" attempt to acquire evidence of abuse and turn it over to authorities.

Project Equus has failed to bring a single trainer or horse owner to court so far. However, the group has been called upon to provide prosecutors with information on horses and has been indirectly involved with two animal-cruelty convictions in Colorado. The most visible case occurred in Jefferson County in 1995, when trainer Jesus Quinonez was convicted on a misdemeanor animal-cruelty charge and sentenced to fifty hours of community service. Quinonez, a practitioner of a Mexican method of horse training called charro, kicked and whipped a slow-moving colt, witnesses testified in court.

To listen to Duxbury talk about horses is to recognize her sincerity and knowledge. It is also a bit like watching a professor lecture on an arcane subject dear to her heart while missing the fact that the entire class has fallen asleep.

Duxbury openly admits that she has no social life. She spends her spare time with her horse, she says. Once while on vacation, she saw a horse grazing too close to Highway 285. She got out of the car and took him back to his pen before continuing on her way.

Duxbury conducts herself as if she were one step ahead of an angry mob of horse trainers. There's no evidence to suggest that the horse industry has it in for her, but she's not taking any chances. "I don't think people are shadowing me, and they're not looking over my shoulder all the time," she says. "But I'm cautious. I'm dedicated, not paranoid."

It can be hard to tell. For instance, she won't reveal the name of her horse, a black gelding, or where he is stabled, lest her enemies catch wind and plot against him. "I have really good reason to be concerned," she says. "Some of these people are very unscrupulous. Horse people can be very ruthless."

The last time Duxbury was on TV was 1995, after the Quinonez trial. Today, she "prays that people will forget my name."

To that end, she does not divulge where she lives. She uses three cars when she goes out to investigate ranches, rotating them so that none become familiar. She's careful who she calls. "I don't have secure phone lines," she explains.

Duxbury uses a phony name, as well as a multitude of disguises. She has glasses and sunglasses. She has the arm sling. She has wigs, including one that is "semi-permanent" for extended jobs. There are days of no makeup and days of bright-red lipstick. Robin Duxbury with makeup, though, looks suspiciously like Robin Duxbury with no makeup.

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T.R. Witcher

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