‘In Bruce’s Words’: Weld County rodeo legend Bruce Ford reflects on life, loss in new book
The Bruce Ford File
Bruce Ford had a trademark style of riding bareback horses — leaning back as far as possible with his feet up for greater leg extension.
His style helped him earn membership in the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame and the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.
» Shattered or tied every bareback riding record.
» He earned more than $1 million in career earnings and was the fist pro cowboy to earned $100,000 in one season in one event.
» Ford won five PRCA world bareback titles and won 10 Mountain States Circuit bareback riding titles.
» He won the National Finals Rodeo aggregate title in 1979-80, 1982 and 1987.
» Ford’s PRCA world titles were in 1979, 1980, 1982, 1983 and 1987.
» Author of “Walk Like A Man,” available at amazon.com.
Bruce Ford was used to making what could be life-altering decisions.
Every time, as he settled in on a bareback horse rearing up like he was possessed, Ford would offer “Let ‘er fly.”
So, several years ago when his doctor told him it was either his left leg or his life — the result of an ongoing battle with sugar diabetes — the legendary bareback rider said “Take ‘er off.”
You see, there was too much life left in the 63-year-old former world champion from Kersey who made his living riding wild horses and spent his spare time teaching others to do the same, the proprietor of riding schools and head honcho of buying, trading and selling horses.
Now, in his spare time, Ford puts his literary skills to work — one’s he really didn’t know he had.
The author of “Walk Like A Man” uses a cane to get around, but figured he had a lot of horse tales to tell and took to writing a book.
“Heck,” Ford said, “I wasn’t even that good in English in school. I was just happy to get out of school. I majored in chasing girls and I wasn’t any good at that.”
He was good at riding bucking horses — and obviously at keeping some mental notes about what it took to be the first professional cowboy to earn a six-figure salary in one season.
“He has three-ring notebooks and spiral notebooks that he wrote all of his memories in,” Ford’s wife, Sherry said. “He finally put it all together, and it’s all in Bruce’s words.”
Ford was never known for being a chatter box, but Sherry, 63, ratted him out when adding “Sometimes when we’d drive down the road and he’d see a horse, he’d talk. And there’s always young kids who come by who want to meet Bruce Ford and he starts telling them some of his stories.”
“Walk Like A Man” entails Ford’s career as a cowboy in 80 pages, an idea that came from editor Thad Beery.
It entails his life on the road en route to five World Championship bareback titles that included qualifying for 19 National Finals Rodeo performances — 18 straight.
Ford competed until he was 46 and was the first pro cowboy to earn $100,000 in one season in a single event (bareback) and had career earnings of more than $1 million.
The book includes some of the pranks Ford and his colleagues played on each other while on the road in a career that spanned several decades until he hung up the riggin’ gear in 1992 and helped his son, Royce, claim a handful of world titles and a pocket full of money.
The book brings a tear to your eye, makes you laugh out loud, shake your head in disbelief and thank your lucky stars all at the same time.
From the chapter titled “The toughest bronc I ever rode,” Ford talks about overcoming a fire in 1977 that burned down his horse barn, and then the flood of 2013, the source of several catastrophes.
“While working to clean up the clutter and debris, Bruce stepped on a nail. The wound to a toe on his right foot got infected. Having battled the ravages of diabetes for most of his life — even back during his rodeo career — had the infection more dangerous than it otherwise would have been …
… “The toe landed Bruce in the hospital. When it refused to respond to treatment — the infection growing — the toe was amputated in the fall of 2013. Bruce’s response was to praise his doctors for their skill and wave goodbye to a toe he ‘had no more use for anyway.’ ”
Back home working on his house, Ford’s balance was off and he fell and landed on his left knee. After babbling about the pain for several days, Sherry put her foot down and told the tough cowboy he was going to the emergency room.
“My blood sugar went to 1,800. They took me to the hospital, laid me on a table and I literally died. My heart quit beating and they shocked me and brought me back to life.”
Today, Ford jokes that he doesn’t remember if he went to hell or heaven, but definitely doesn’t remember any of it.
He was diagnosed with a staph infection that spread to his right arm and left shoulder.
The surgeries began to pile up and when doctors cut into his left shoulder, the infection oozed out.
Eventually, Ford was told that he’d either have to give up his left leg or give up his life.
His response: “Well, take ‘er off then. I’ve got a lot to live for.”
THANKS, BUT NO THANKS
While recovering from losing his leg, Ford was moved to a nursing home where he was fitted for a prosthetic leg.
However, he quickly figured that his stay was no way going to be longterm.
“Them nursing homes is for old people. It was more like a nut house than a nursing home … but I was there and away from my family. It was pretty hard trying to learn to walk with that prosthetic leg.”
Fast forward three years and Ford still jokes about his time in the nursing home.
“All them old folks would sit around and sing. Five or six of ’em couldn’t wait to sing with ’em. We all knew the words from everything from ‘Home On The Range,’ to ‘Jesus Loves Me.’ ”
FAR FROM A TRAVEL AGENT’S DREAM
Ford is known for trading horses, trucks, vans and cars like trading cards.
He’s left broken-down vans on the side of the road, hitchhiked his way to his next destination and somehow lived to talk about it.
In his book, he writes about a plane ride from the Weld County Airport to Prescott, Ariz., via Crownpoint, N.M.
“Lonnie Hall, Bob Logue and myself employed a local farm boy with a pilot’s license to fly us to Prescott. For no particular reason, I was in the co-pilot’s seat.
“After about 50 miles in the air, the radio began squawking that we were on an unannounced flight going over the Denver airport. We got lined out just in time to be told we were in an area over Colorado Springs that was restricted. Finally we started heading across the mountains.
“Farm Boy decides we need to land in Alamosa, Colo., for a new map. After we landed in Alamosa without clearance we get a new map. Bob (Logue) is the new co-pilot and our ride gets pretty bumpy with Bob at the controls and Bob is getting pretty green.
“Finally, Farm Boy says, ‘There’s Prescott.’ As we get close to the ground, I see a water tower that says Crownpoint, N.M. Farm Boy hollers ‘Oh no,’ and about 45 minutes later we find Prescott.
“Planes are flying everywhere, and Farm Boy dives right in like he knows what he’s doing. I said ‘It’s OK Farm Boy, they’ve got you on radar.’ The only radar he was on was probably a missile to blow us out of the sky.”
A HOT SHOWER ANYONE?
Ford tells a story about remembering when maids clean motel rooms, they usually unlock several doors.
This information came in handy on a rodeo run to Texas, where slipping in through an unlocked motel room door allowed everybody to take a quick shower.
Except, one of the cowboys, “being too clean for his own good,” according to Ford, went to the front desk and asked for clean towels. They had to make a quick exit.
On another rodeo run — this one from San Antonio, Texas, to Baton Rouge, La. — Ford and world champion Marvin Garrett (who was one of Ford’s students), arrived back in San Antonio before the sun came up, wondering who was going to reserve a hotel room.
Ford remembered he still had a key to the room when they were in San Antonio two weeks prior.
“I told him I had a room and they all thought I was a hero. As soon as we got in the room, everybody but me found a place to lay down. I jumped in the shower, brushed my teeth, got dressed and started waking up the cowboys for their turn in the shower. They all thought I was pretty clever.
“When we got to (Garrett), he thought we were playing a trick on him by telling him this was not our room. He realized it was no joke and got pretty upset at ol’ five-timer (Ford).
“I said ‘I did (rent it), but it was about two weeks ago.’ I didn’t see the harm. We all had a good laugh and got clean.”
A LITTLE WATER NEVER HURT A COWBOY
Along with losing his leg, Ford has persevered several other battles in the past years, including recovering from the floods of 2013, which left the Fords’ little spread northwest of Kersey under water in some areas.
“It wasn’t deep water, but it buckled the floors and we lost some stuff,” Sherry said. “Fortunately, we didn’t lose any livestock or pets or anything like that.”
Several years later, the Fords are still getting their house in order, but are thankful for the help they received from Brethren, who traveled from all over the nation to help the victims of the flood.
“They came from all over … Iowa, California, Maryland, New Hampshire, Indiana, Missouri and Pennsylvania,” Bruce said. “Our entire house was put back together with volunteer labor. It was absolutely amazing. We’d say ‘Thank you’ for working on our house and they’d say ‘No, thank you for letting us build your house.’ ”
COLORADO’S FAVORITE COWBOY
Ford was the first professional cowboy to be inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame and is arguably the best bareback rider ever.
In his heyday, Ford rode a 150-rodeo schedule, traveling by plane, train, pick-up truck or just plain hitchhiking.
He eventually decided that five world titles, a PRCA-record 18 appearances in the NFR, 10 Mountain Circuit bareback titles and more individual rodeo titles to even count was enough.
By the time Ford stopped competing, he had earned $1,043,224, and at the time, put him in an elite list of pro rodeo cowboys to achieve such a feat.
He’s got enough champion belt buckles — some the size of manhole covers — to open a retail outlet.
Retiring from competition hasn’t left Ford forgotten among those in rodeo circles. Several years after he retired, a movie producer chose him to be the subject of a full-length motion picture, a rodeo documentary called “Colorado Cowboy.”
If all that seems pretty remarkable, consider the fact that as a child, Ford was told by doctors to quit riding horses for fear of a possible head injury after surviving a school bus-train collision in 1961 that took the life of his oldest brother, Jimmy, and 19 other children.
Years ago, when discussing the accident, Ford said, “The fact that my mom and dad were the first to show up and start helping the kids. … I think from that point forward, we became a closer family. We’ve had a good walk with the Lord, our family has. You can either toughen up, or get weak on a deal like that, and it makes us tougher, I think.”
THE ONE-LEGGED HORSEMAN
By Ford’s standards, he’s lucky to be alive, minus his left leg and the big toe on his right foot.
“You know, the thing with my leg was just me being sloppy,” he said. “I fell on a board messing around the house and hurt my leg.
“About a year before that, I had some tight boots on and realized my toe hurt,” Ford added. “It was the result of sugar diabetes. My grandmother had it and they say it skips a generation. She lost a leg and a toe. When they took my toe, I told them that was all they were getting.”
Ford said his eyesight isn’t as good as it once was, but added, “I’m doing well. It’s been a little bit of a rough battle learning how to walk again.
“I fall once in awhile,” he added. “I have two canes. I can walk with one, but it feels better to use two. I have one of those little carts you ride around on, too.”
Getting on a horse was another battle, but with the help of a neighbor and a special boot for his prosthetic leg, he saddled up on Christmas Eve in 2014.
“I’ve ridden several horses since then,” Ford said. “Now Sherry, she can ride anything. You’d laugh if you see me trying to get on the horse, though. I’m getting it down pretty good. I’m progressing every single day.”❖
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