Diesel: Returning home
"Big Deeee!" yelled 5-year-old Kaiya Groth as she ran in delight toward a giant Clydesdale horse, reaching to unlock his gate and lead him into the barn.
Her father, Tyler Groth, followed close behind with Kaiya's baby brother, Knox Groth, harnessed against his chest and a smile broad across his face.
Diesel had lived with the family before joining the Portland Mounted Patrol Unit in 2010. The horse is now back home in Port Orchard, Wash., and he still wears his old patrol halter with a small gold emblem on the side where the Portland Police Bureau engraved his nickname, "Big D."
"Mom always said whenever we had grandkids we'd get him back," Tyler Groth said. "Now, my 10-month-old kid gets to ride him."
When Tyler and his twin brother Travis Groth bought Diesel, about 11 years ago, they said they fell in love. At first, he was "a straight legged fuzzy little guy," Travis Groth said. Yet even before joining the mounted patrol, he was more noticeable than most horses.
"Everybody's got a horse," Tyler Groth said, "But not a Clydesdale."
Clydesdales are a giant breed of horse built to pull heavy loads with their large hoofs and featured in class and current Budweiser beer commercials. Kathryn Kleinwatcher, Tyler and Travis Groth's mom, said they've even given Diesel a beer before so he'd fit the part.
Kleinwatcher said it's come full circle now that he's home in time to be a part of her grandchildren's lives. Kaiya, Knox and Axle Groth ride Diesel multiple times each week. And when they're not around, Kleinwatcher said neighborhood kids from both sides of her 10-acre property come over to help feed and bathe Diesel.
"It's the easy life!" Tyler Groth said, laughing. "He walks out to the pasture, walks around and eats grass all day. … Now he just needs a swimming pool."
When Diesel first came home, Kleinwatcher said, he walked right back into his stall as if he'd never even left. And after years of patrolling, the giant horse still scared of lightning, too. His best friend Cupcake, Kleinwatcher's miniature horse, is always there calming him down and easing his urban-to-country transition.
Travis and Tyler Groth said they used to keep tabs on Diesel's life in Portland. "Whenever we'd see there were riots we'd be like 'Oh, I bet Diesel's going to be in a picture somewhere!'" Tyler Groth said. "He makes a positive out of a negative."
With Diesel home the family is whole and the kids are always excited, Kleinwatcher said.
"Now Knox has a Clydesdale, so he'll be the cool kid in school," Tyler Groth said.
As Kaiya led Diesel toward the barn and into the arena, Axle ran in, ready to hop on the horse. Kleinwatcher said they start all the kids riding young, noting that Knox "sat on a horse as soon as he could hold his head up enough." After Axle rode him for a few loops, he trotted over to his aunt Nicki saying, "Can we give Big D sparkly water?" He handed her a half-drunken can of raspberry seltzer water and showed her a big grin.
"What are you talking about? Horses don't get sparkly water!" Nicki said, laughing with her nephew.
The three kids giggled and hung on the metal arena gate with treats hidden behind their back while Diesel came closer to them, sniffing.
"Somebody here has treats, I can smell it," Tyler Groth said, narrating for Diesel while Hattie and Hoss, the family's dogs, ran around barking excitedly as if they were part of the conversation, too.
"I hope this reassures (Portlanders) that the horses they loved are OK and happy in retirement," Kleinwatcher said. She said she recognizes that, even though Diesel is part of their family, he was part of the Portland family, too.
Travis Groth hopped onto Diesel next, riding him in a few loops around the arena before stopping in the center and letting dust float around them while Diesel stared proudly into the distance.
They ran for a while more until abruptly stopping again to play with Troublemaker, a black cat who watched Diesel from atop the fence. Troublemaker flicked his tail while Diesel nuzzled the feline's face, and the pair amused each other for a minute or so. Groth started Big D into a gallop again and the pair moved faster and faster, running as if they didn't have a care in the world.