I wasn’t even aware Dessie was still alive. He was retired when I met him, and that must have been fifteen years ago.
He and his companion came to visit a family in the parish for a few days and their hosts invited friends around to meet him. Quiet and almost shy, it was hard to imagine him gracing the screen in front of millions of television viewers. His companion stayed close to him, worried that the stress of meeting a crowd of strangers would upset him.
We stayed at a respectful distance watching as knots of people gathered and then dispersed, eventually there was a lull and Dessie was standing by himself with just his companion talking to him. We took the opportunity to go to have a few words with him. It was hard to imagine one so gentle coping with the action he had faced.
Perhaps there was another side to him; perhaps the tranquil exterior concealed a fiercely determined character who desired nothing more than to be ahead of his rivals.
Certainly, watching him on television left you with the impression of great reserves of strength and an undaunted spirit.
I don’t remember the time of year Dessie came to the parish. I remember wearing a coat and a thick woollen sweater, but that could cover most nights of the year in the North of Ireland. Dessie did not venture out into the yard, where some people stood and chatted, preferring the warmth inside, so it probably wasn’t summer.
There was a tinge of sadness as I listened to the RTE news on the radio and the correspondent reported that Dessie had died peacefully at home. He was 27 years old – which is a good age for a horse. I laughed as I remembered the gathering that evening, I’m not sure Desert Orchid was a party animal.