by Laura Crum
Those who have read this blog for awhile will know that I have an old friend who boards his horse with me. I have known Wally since I was a child; he is the person who taught me to rope, many years ago. He and I have been partners on several horses, I have trained young horses for him, and for the last fifteen years or so, I have kept his horses here at my place. Many of the trail rides I have done with my son have included Wally, not just because I felt safer with two competent horsemen to support my kid in the event of an emergency, but also because Wally was always keen to go on any horseback adventure.
Wally turns eighty this summer, and sadly, age is finally catching up with him. For the last two weeks he has been unable to ride or rope. Those who actually know Wally will know what a big statement this is. Wally would ride and rope when he had pneumonia (yes, literally). He is one tough old cowboy and if he hurts enough that he won’t climb on a horse, he really hurts.
So I was both sad and somewhat surprised when Wally told me awhile ago that his right knee was so swollen and sore that be could barely walk, let alone ride. He tried to rope, but he said that every time he put weight in his right stirrup, it felt as if he were being hit in the knee with a hammer And he got off. Since then, he hasn’t climbed on his horse, or even come out here to mess with Twister. He’s been too busy going to doctors, and being in and out of the hospital, as the medical establishment tries to figure out what is wrong with him. He’s on crutches. He hurts.
We all know the truth. Very few horsemen keep riding, let alone roping, into their eighties. I know it; Wally knows it. And yet I think, in a little hidden corner of our minds, we were all in denial, hoping/expecting that Wally would just keep on going, sort of like the Energizer Bunny.
There’s a reason for this. Not only is Wally a tough old cowboy, he’s also one of the most enthusiastic horsemen I ever knew. Wally really ENJOYS his horses. He likes being around them and competing on them and riding them outside. He isn’t bothered if they act up a little. He’s unfailingly cheerful and having fun every moment he’s on a horse. (Well, except when he misses—or his partner misses—in the course of a roping run. Those of us who have roped with him know all about the Wally “scowl” under certain circumstances.)
I’ve learned a lot from Wally, and one of the biggest things I’ve learned is that ability to truly enjoy my horses. To forgive them their mistakes and failings (we all have them), and enjoy what they give me, and just to take delight in being around them. To be grateful for every moment. Wally has demonstrated this skill over the years, and I have found it a great inspiration.
For my part, I’m the one who takes care of the details (Wally isn’t terribly good at this). I make sure that all our horses get wormed/trimmed/fed..etc in a timely fashion. I insist that the old ones get retired. I take care of Wally’s horses just as if they were my own. Wally’s current horse, Twister, has lived with me since he was six. He’s now fifteen or sixteen (I lose track). Twister is a member of our family, and I will keep taking care of him, no matter what.
We've shared so many horseback adventures together. For the last five years, Wally and Twister, my son and Henry, and Sunny and I have been all over the place. On our local trails--
To the mountains.
On the beach.
It feels like a very sad change not to have Wally riding with us. Both my son and I are a little adrift. Its not that we can’t ride-- and we still ride a couple of days a week-- its just that Wally’s enthuiasm, and his drive to go roping, were a lot of our motivation. We rode at the roping practice and helped gather and herd the cattle, because Wally wanted to go. Since Wally’s been laid up, the roping practice is on hold. It feels like everything is changing.
Of course I hope (we all hope) that Wally will make a full recovery and be back to riding and roping. And I think it will happen. But he is almost eighty. Eventually the day will come when he can’t ride or rope any more. And that is going to be a sad change for us all.