November 20, 2010
By Laura StevensThe American Quarter Horse Journal
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Making it to the 2010 AQHA World Championship Show takes talent, dedication, and maybe a little luck. According to some horsemen, just making it to the World Show is lucky.
Just ask AQHA Professional Horseman and judge Elsworth Harrison Jr.
For 34 years, he has trained reining, cow horse and roping horses out of his facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Together with his wife, Kathy, he stands former senior heeling world champion stallion OSU Pistol Pete.
After years of hauling and training, Elsworth and Kathy have some good stories to tell. However, Elsworth’s broken pelvis takes the cake.
With a glint in his eye, Elsworth explained that – like all the best stories – this one gets better with every telling.
It was the spring of 2008. Before loading horses to travel to the Redbud Spectacular, Elsworth decided to longe a young horse. But when he swung up his leg getting onto the colt, things quickly went downhill.
“The minute I hit the saddle, he just broke in two,” Elsworth explains.
Without his stirrups, Elsworth was at a major disadvantage as the colt began jumping and bucking. Elsworth was rammed against the front of the saddle several times, and his right leg went limp upon impact. When the dust settled, Elsworth was on the ground and his pelvis had separated an inch and a half.
The prognosis wasn’t good. Surgeons planned an operation to fix the broken pelvis, but Elsworth’s wife requested a second opinion – from a doctor experienced with injured rodeo riders. Luckily, he noted that Elsworth was a horse trainer. He chose not to operate, and Elsworth spent the next six weeks in a recliner chair.
Throughout rehabilitation and recovery, doctors warned Elsworth he’d likely never ride again.
“Of course, it was kinda scary,” Elsworth says. “Not knowing for sure at the time … you might not be able to ride again. And that was tough on me, because that’s what I love to do.”
With a cowboy’s determination, Elsworth surpassed the doctors’ every expectation. His pelvis healed normally, without pins or bolts that would make riding and training unbearable. After six weeks of rehabilitation, he began conditioning himself for riding, using a saddle on a 55-gallon drum and a fence rail.
Elsworth credits Kathy with his recovery – and with keeping their training operation going. Elsworth tried to send his clients horses home; he couldn’t ride them, and didn’t want to charge them. His loyal clients all insisted on leaving their horses.
Kathy took care of the feeding and barn duties, all while taking care of Elsworth.
“She had to do everything,” Elsworth says. “She was the one who kept it all together.”
Still, Elsworth was worried about the financial toll his accident would take. Kathy had just retired from teaching, and Elsworth insisted she remain retired. That was when the AQHA family stepped in the help. AQHA Professional Horseman J.D. Yates hosted a benefit roping for Elsworth, and he also received help from the AQHA Professional Horsemen’s Crisis Fund.
“(The accident was) kinda traumatic in that respect, because your income might be gone,” Elsworth said. “So (the crisis fund) was a real blessing.”
At the 2010 World Show, Kathy showed Marias Rey Of Light to a 10th-place finish in amateur heading.
Elsworth rode a 2006 red roan mare named Badgers Rodeo Rosie in the junior tie-down roping preliminaries, and after “an outstanding run,” will return to the finals.
“I’ve never actually won the world myself,” he says. “It’d be a thrill for me. If it’s my time, it’s my time. Let’s go out there and do the best we can do. Everything that happens is whipped cream on top, as far as I’m concerned.”
In fact, Elsworth is pretty generally optimistic.
“Everything in life’s a good experience,” Elsworth says. “It makes you appreciate what you do have. (My accident) could been cancer. My problem wasn’t anything compared to what a lot of people have, but it was enough to open my eyes to appreciate what I have and what I get to do.”
“I get to do what I love every day of my life.”
That makes for a good story ending, doesn’t it?