Dover horse rider spreads smiles for miles

Vietnam War veteran Dwight Johnson rides Romeo on North Bradford Street in Dover Monday. “I’ve been riding (horses) since long before there was much asphalt in Dover,” Mr. Johnson said. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

DOVER — “Clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop” went the horse for several hours Monday.

Vietnam War Marine Corps veteran Dwight Johnson and Tennessee Walker Romeo covered plenty of territory to begin a new week, first paying tribute to fallen Marine Staff Sgt. Christoper Sluman on a trip from Dover Air Force Base to New York City.

Mr. Johnson saddled up early and watched as the procession for the veteran who died with two other Marines when a roadside bomb detonated in Afghanistan on April 8.

After that, the plan was to brighten some kids’ day in downtown Dover. The next scheduled stop was on New Street for a visit.

Romeo was clearly the star of the unscripted show.

“He was born to look good,” Mr. Johnson said of his riding companion with a chuckle.

“When you’re as ugly as I am, you have to have something to (take attention away from me.)”

In-between, 3-year-old Chloe Mills, mother Nicole and sister Savannah happened to look out of their Bradford Street home near Wesley College around noon and see Romeo trotting by on the pavement.

The family of course rushed out on the front porch and down the stairs. Romeo slowed his gait, then stopped in front of the home.

Chloe seemed pensive at first, then quickly dazzled as she fed an apple to Romeo with a bright-eyed smile.

“It’s already Monday and she’s had the highlight of her week,” Ms. Mills said of her lucky daughter.

Chloe Mills, 3, and her mother Nicole enjoy visiting with Romeo on Monday in front of their Bradford Street home in Dover.

“(Chloe) loves horses and unicorns in her picture books, but is not used to seeing one in real life.”

Said Savannah, “I love horses, though I’ve only ridden them once. You can’t help but be a little happier when you’re around them. They’re unique, very nice, loyal animals.”

Mr. Johnson “always stops for kids. For them it’s a wonderful experience when they interact with Romeo.”

A self-described “country boy from Sussex County,” Mr. Johnson has ridden horses since he was 4 years old.

“I’ve been riding them since long before there was much asphalt in Dover,” he said.

Since returning from the war, riding has provided relaxing therapy in trying times.

“When things get stressful you can always go for a ride,” the Lewes native said. “A horse is always good for making you smile. They’re big but very docile.”

Fittingly enough, Mr. Johnson reaches out to military veterans to experience what he does in the saddle,

“When you come home from the service, you can feel very alone,” he said. “Getting up on a horse can provide a great deal of companionship.

“I try to pass that along to veterans whenever I can and will keep doing it as much as I can.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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