When Red Baron wandered off to horse heaven last week, he left a town to mourn -- folks accustomed to the aging appaloosa who ambled Monument's streets, free as you please and welcome everywhere.
"He's been part of our town, part of the Fourth of July parade, part of hay rides and sleigh rides," said deputy town clerk Irene Walters. "People knew who he was and loved him."
The 38-year-old horse's informal reign as town mascot ended last week on June 11, when owners Si and Dorothy Sibell had him put down. In past weeks, Baron -- who was partially blind and mostly toothless -- had deteriorated rapidly.
"He didn't like to stay in a pen, so in the morning, we'd just let him out; he loved to wander around town," Dorothy Sibell said. "But lately, he wouldn't come out of the corral. He would just kind of whirl around. He was disoriented, and his backside was getting so weak it was hard for him to stand."
The amiable equine had stayed close to home in recent years. Each morning after breakfast -- a specially formulated ration -- he would have a roll in the Sibells' sand pile, then walk half a block to a vacant lot where he noshed alfalfa and clover.
"He knew where he wanted to go," said Cindy Kailey, who works at the Coffee Cup Caf, which looks out on the lot. Concerned tourists who saw the halter-less horse would often try to round him up, much to the amusement of residents.
"Sometimes people would come in and say, 'Did you know there's a horse just running loose?' " Walters said. "And we'd say, 'He's probably just going to lunch or coming back from lunch.' "
Over the years, Baron -- whom the Sibells purchased for $50 in 1968 -- became as well-known locally as any two-legged townie. A barrel racer in his youth, the gelding was later a fixture at town to-dos and was featured on the cover of the Monument phone book. Gentle and unflappable, he once performed in a Denver opera, pulling a gypsy wagon onstage.
"People are talking about his death and crying," Kailey said. "We were just so used to seeing him every day."
But no one will miss the old horse more than the Sibells.
"We had five children, and they all learned to ride on him," Dorothy Sibell said. "We had 10 grandchildren, and they all learned to ride on him. And we've had one of the great-grandchildren on him. ...
"He was just the best horse I've ever seen."