Dustin Egusquiza has now headed at three Wrangler National Finals Rodeos. But he’s only gotten to spin steers at Rodeo’s Super Bowl once in the three years he’s been there on his main mount. And this time, an eye infection that has Dude at least temporarily blind in his left eye is threatening the future of his rodeo career.
“I’ve had Dude since he was 4, and he just turned 17,” said Egusquiza, 25, who’s a native of Marianna, Florida, and now lives in Mineral Wells, Texas. “I couldn’t ride him at the 2017 NFR (where Egusquiza headed for Kory Koontz), because he had navicular. Then I got him nerved. He was fine, and I rode him at the Finals in 2018 (where Egusquiza again headed for Koontz) and since then until this summer. This year’s been hard on him.”
After finishing 16th in the world in 2019, Eguisquiza just headed for Travis Graves at NFR 2020 in Arlington, Texas. Dude stayed home.
“The eye issue started at the rodeo in Spanish Fork (Utah) in July,” Egusquiza said. “I got him out of the stall one morning and his eyelid was puffy. It stayed like that for about a week, then it went away and his eye looked normal. The eyelid puffed up again, and I gave it a few days to see if it would go away on its own again. One morning, the other eyelid was swollen, too. Neither one was bad, just a little bit of inflammation.
“After about three weeks—the first part of August—a vet in Dodge City (Kansas) sedated Dude to take a good look at his eye. She said his eyeball had started getting a film over it. She called it an ulcer. She told me to keep treating it six times a day with the ophthalmic cream I’d gotten right before that from another vet. Dude’s the only good horse I have, and it didn’t seem to be bothering him much, so at that point I was still riding him.”
The eye aside, Dude finally just healed up from an injury to his left hind leg in August.
“I was second and fourth callback at the All Star Roping in Guthrie, and when I ran up in there on the fourth callback, something happened when I was turning the steer,” Dustin said. “Dude just bogged down pretty bad, and couldn’t pull the steer. He was three legged, and barely made it out of the arena. I took him to Josh Harvey at Outlaw Equine in Decatur that night, and Dude spent three months there before I brought him home in November. They said he strained muscles high up on his hind quarter on the left side, so he did a lot of water therapy and rehab.
“Dude’s leg was OK after about a month of treatment. He stayed at Outlaw Equine the extra couple months because of his left eye. Josh agreed that Dude’s eye problem was an ulcer, and he continued to treat it six times a day. Poor Dude got so head-shy that he didn’t even want us putting a halter on him. Keeping that eye doctored got a little tricky, and required some creativity.
“Short of a miracle, it’s looking like Dude will likely be blind in that left eye. If you have to lose vision in a head horse, better the left one than the right one. But Dude doesn’t owe me anything. I’m going to give him some more time off, and hope for the best. Dude’s definitely looking at semiretirement. He’ll only come back if he wants to.”
As a fun aside, Dustin and Dude go way back. Dustin bought Dude—who was originally a reined cow horse—as a heel horse from big brother Manny. Dustin heeled and roped calves on Dude in high school. His high school heel horses were Dude and Manny, who’s the big sorrel horse his current heeler, TG, rides now (the Egusquizas called him Tarzan). Dustin didn’t start heading until 2014, and was the 2016 Resistol Rookie Header of the Year riding a horse his dad got him named Duke. Duke had to be put down after his kidneys shut down in October of 2016, so Dustin moved Dude from the heeling box to the heading side in November of 2016.