Got Courage?

Meet some Region Two AQHA exhibitors who ride for the cure.

By Christine Hamilton
The American Quarter Horse Journal
September 22, 2012

AQHA exhibitor and Region Two treasurer Mary Roes hasn't let breast cancer keep her down.

Mary Roes, AQHA exhibitor and Region Two committee-member, hasn't let cancer keep her down.

In the midst of planning for the 2012 Region Two Championship, the show committee was hit by an unexpected blow – two of its members were diagnosed with cancer. Mary Roes, treasurer, learned about her breast cancer early this year; and Todd Iszler, show co-chair, found out he faced Hodgkin’s lymphoma in early summer.

It made the committee think of other regional exhibitors and volunteers who’d also faced cancer in some form, and thought it was time the Region Two honored them. To that end, the show is holding a “Ride for the Cure” class September 22.

For a $10 entry donation, people can ride in memory or honor of a loved one, or to share their own battle with the disease. The proceeds from the class, along with the sale of $5 pins, will go toward cancer research. There are also several silent auction fundraisers at the show to benefit specific cancer fighters.

Here are two exhibitors courageously enjoying life with horses and horse friends.

A Living Goal

In January, 2011, Rosie Elmore of Hot Springs, South Dakota, was diagnosed with colo-rectal cancer.

“I came home from having surgery and the Region Two Championship (promotional) postcard came in the mail,” she remembers. “And I said, ‘I’m going to live long enough to make it to this show.’”

A longtime horse show manager herself, Rosie had encouraged numerous 4-H kids and open and regional Quarter Horse people in their showing aspirations – but she’d never earned a buckle herself. It was time she went for one.

“Every time one of those Region Two things came in the mail or I saw the ad in the magazine,” she says, “I’d clip it out and put it on the refrigerator just to say to myself, ‘I’m going to make it to that show.’”

Between riding and work as a dietary manager for the local veteran’s administration, Rosie had a long 2011 spring and a tough summer, making it through chemotherapy. She was so weak and sick it was a struggle to ride A Special Way To Zip, “Jake.” Her daughters, Leslie, 19, and Gina, 16, would saddle Jake and get him ready for her. AQHA Professional Horseman Bill Bormes coached her.

“And then in September, the first day of the (2011 Region Two) was my first checkup after chemo, and I was 100 percent clean and I was floating on air,” Rosie said. “And then our very first class was novice amateur western riding and we won the buckle!

“They called my number and I was thinking, ‘That’s not my number, that’s not me! And when they handed me the buckle, I was shaking and dropped it.”

Jake was retired shortly after that; an old campaigner, the miles had gotten to him. Rosie and her husband, Marty, a saddle maker, turned to focus on letting the girls show. While Leslie attended school at South Dakota State University, Rose continued her studies to become a social worker.

But this summer, Rosie got “a funny feeling in July” as she went in for a checkup. The cancer had made an aggressive return.

“The cancer has metastasized to my lymph nodes,” she says, her eyes blinking. “I’m Stage Four.”

But Rosie is at the 2012 Region Two, enjoying going to dinner with horse show friends and watching Gina show Premiere Edition Bar. She is so happy that her youngest daughter, who’d always been busy scribing and ring stewarding at Rosie’s shows, is finally getting her time in the pen.

“It’s all about just showing up, no matter what,” she says, and smiles as big as life.

Staying Motivated

Mary Roes just couldn’t do it. She called her trainer and told him not to sell her halter horse, Justa Shady Guy.

She was in the middle of intensive chemotherapy after a bilateral mastectomy and reconstructive surgery at the end of March 2012. She was worn out and thought it might be a good idea to sell “Shady Guy.”

Instead, she gathered her strength and went to a horse show in Broken Bow, Nebraska. And then to another one in Rapid City, South Dakota. She found it too hard to show both halter in the morning and her reiner, Chex Spinnin Smoke, in the evening, so she just did what she could.

“I had to have something that motivated me beyond sitting there feeling sorry for myself,” Mary says.

Mary and her husband, Richard, farm in Hemingford, Nebraska. Doctors discovered her cancer after a routine mammogram in January, and a follow-up MRI. On top of her struggles through treatment, her father passed away unexpectedly just two weeks after she finished chemotherapy.

“It’s been a year,” Mary says, “but we caught the cancer early. My prognosis is good.”

She adds, “Throughout all of this, I’ve got wonderful friends, and my trainer (Dean Johnson) is super. It teaches you to just keep going and appreciate things more, to have a little more fun in your life and not take it so serious.”

Mary serves on the Region Two Championship Committee as treasurer, helping out with sponsorships, getting ring stewards, etc. She decided to volunteer after showing at the first Region Two, and seeing how much it meant for people to come to the event.

Her horse show friends have been an inspiration to her.

“Everywhere you turn, there are so many people who’ve been affected by cancer,” she says. “(Horse show photographer) Larry (Larson) was an inspiration. He told me he never missed a day of work. Rosie (Elmore) has just had a good outlook on things.

“They just kept themselves going. I looked at them and said, ‘They faced this with style and grace. I can do it too.’”

And she is. Mary can’t ride right now; she’s only three weeks out from her last reconstructive surgery. But she’s getting back in the saddle as soon as she can. It’s high time she started on her next goal – boxing!

Region Two Journal Roundup:

  • September 25: Entries up and all-arounds awarded at the 2012 Region Two Championship.
  • September 23: A good American Quarter Horse can come a long way in just one year – ask Tracy Harl how he knows.
  • September 21: Ranch pleasure – and the class winner – make a big AQHA Region Two Championship debut.