Horsin’ Around: The season
April 14, 2006
by Roger Thompson
Fort Collins, Colo.
When you’ve lived most of your life outdoors as I have you learn to look forward to most of the seasons. Some, like when you’re fighting deep snow to chop open a water hole and get hay to a bunch of cows, you would just as soon as forget. Others, like gathering and moving cows down from high mountain pastures, through colorful red and yellow aspen groves while jumping fat deer and elk from their beds, are the ones held high in the memories of your mind.
The summer seasons were always anticipated with bursting excitement. It was the time for my favorite sport of rodeo. It was also time when the cows were on summer pasture and a guy could get the weekend off and travel to some town to test his skill, since there was rodeo everywhere. But, back then, it was a time when you got practiced up so you could win.
But the special thing about summer was the 4th of July. Like most rodeo contestants, I tried to make two or three rodeos on that holiday because it was tradition in every little town to have a rodeo to commemorate the occasion. What made July 4th so special was that it was my birthday. Now, I try to forget that I am getting a year older, but when I was young my family and friends of the family gathered for watermelon, hot dogs, potato salad, games, and then ended the day at dusk with fireworks. It wasn’t until I was about 6 years old that I realized that the whole country was not celebrating my birthday.
I have now reached an age where I am trying to just enjoy each day of life as it comes. But, I still enjoy the summer season (even though I am no longer trying to make a name for myself riding bucking broncs and bulls) because I get to load my horses up and travel to Rodeo Bible Camps around the state. There I get to work with young people, ages 8 to 18, who are filled with the same dreams I can remember. I try to make a difference in their lives … whether riding broncs, trying to get a handle on their rope or barrel horse or just with everyday life.
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Having returned from a series of camps in June I can’t help but think about a boy who had grown up in a hard life. He watched his mother being murdered as a 2-year-old, then matured (to a point) on the streets of Denver. The only knowledge he had about horses were the ones he had ridden at a stable two or three times ” you know, the ones that stay in line one behind the other from the time you leave the barn until you come back.
A relative of his came to me and asked if would teach him about horses. Three days is not enough time to teach anyone about horses when you are starting from scratch. But, keeping in mind this would be a tremendous challenge, I said “yes” because of the pull on my heartstrings, even though I had not yet met this boy. I made it very clear that I would not schedule any specific horsemanship instruction and would put him on my 32-year-old rope horse that I trust.
For three days the boy followed me around. We visited bronc riding, roping, barrel racing, and trick riding classes, all the while I was giving instruction about his riding and what was going on in the different arenas. I taught him how to saddle and unsaddle, then let him get into a wreck or two, where I knew he would not get hurt, just to make a point. I treated him like the old cowboys treated me when I was learning, because their gruff lessons were the ones I never forgot. Then at the end of the day (unlike the old-timers) I would roughly hug his shoulders and tell him he was doing a good job. By rodeo time, I didn’t know how much had sunk in, or if the boy had even enjoyed his time with me. But he was able to ride into the arena alone to show the spectators how he could stay in the saddle at a walk, trot, and lope. The grin on his face at the applause told me he knew what he had accomplished.
Because a cowboy hat and long sleeved shirt is required in the arena, someone had given him an old straw cowboy hat that he seemed proud of when they said he could keep it.
At the awards I saw a light come on in his eyes when I handed him the belt buckle for his improvement in Horsemanship.
I don’t know how much I was able to touch this boy but I have seen the hearts of tough kids melt when they get to know horses. When I got home I sent him a card of encouragement along with a copy of my book, “Cowboy Preacher.”
Along the way, in some of the other camps, I heard folks talking about what I had done with this boy. All I can say is that God and my old dun roping horse deserve all the credit if we did reach this boy and made a difference in his life.
Roger Thompson is a CHA certified instructor of advanced Western horsemanship and beginning English riding.