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Korean War Vet­eran W.T. Rid­ings’ love af­fair with team rop­ing has roots in 1940s Oklahoma. W.T. Rid­ings was go­ing to school at Oklahoma State Univer­sity in Still­wa­ter when he got a let­ter May 20, 1958, from then-Pres­i­dent Dwight D. Eisen­hower, telling hi

Spin to Win Rodeo - - Features - by Chelsea Shaf­fer

W.T. Rid­ings was go­ing to school at Oklahoma State Univer­sity in Still­wa­ter when he got a let­ter May 20, 1958, from then-Pres­i­dent Dwight D. Eisen­hower, telling him his ser­vice was needed in a con­flict on the Korean Penin­sula, some 6,614 miles away.

“I had never even thought about the war at the time,” Rid­ings, now 81 and the grand­fa­ther of five and great-grand­fa­ther of five more, said. “I didn’t even know I was reg­is­tered on the draft board. I had a 1.9 grade-point av­er­age, and if I’d have had a 2.0 they wouldn’t have drafted me. I had two classes that were killing me. One was chem­istry—I had no back­ground in it. I should have got­ten out of the class and taken some­thing else.”

Rid­ings might have been blind­sided by the draft, but the ROTC trainee was pre­pared when he showed up for ba­sic train­ing. He knew the com­mands, and he’d grown up rid­ing Zan­tanon Jr colts raised on his fam­ily’s ranch in Fort Sup­ply, Okla., so he was ready for the hard work that started at 6 a.m. and didn’t end un­til 10 p.m. Some 625 Ok­la­homans died dur­ing the Korean War, but Rid­ings’ ed­u­ca­tion helped in­sure his safety.

“When I got to Korea, we got off the ship by climb­ing down ropes onto LSDs (dock land­ing ships, or small boats that sailors take from the larger ships to the land),” re­tired Spc. Fourth Class Rid­ings re­mem­bered. “We landed on the Korean beach just like we were in­vad­ing the coun­try. First thing they did was process us to see what kind of ed­u­ca­tion we had. I had enough at that time, the one thing that saved me is that I learned how to type re­ally well. They put me in the fi­nance of­fice on a 1,500-man pay­roll. I was in the Head­quar­ters De­tach­ment of the 83rd Ord­nance Bat­tal­ion

for the U.S. Army in Anyang Ne, Korea. I was on my way to the DMZ (the De­mil­i­ta­rized Zone, or the border be­tween what’s now North and South Korea) when my ed­u­ca­tion saved me.”

Rid­ings made it back to Oklahoma in the spring of 1961 and got a rope back in his hand as fast as he could. He quickly went to work start­ing colts on a ranch north of Wood­ward mak­ing $75 a week.

“I didn’t have money to com­pete be­cause I was work­ing to get an ed­u­ca­tion and have a fam­ily. That’s where I was at un­til I got crip­pled in 1966 and had to have my back op­er­ated on. In 1967 I was at my mother’s place and in the fall of 1968, I en­rolled at North­west­ern Oklahoma State and fin­ished my de­gree in busi­ness ed­u­ca­tion with a mi­nor in phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion,” Rid­ings said.

He spent the next few decades rais­ing his two daugh­ters, Kel­lie and Shelly, and teach­ing busi­ness and phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion in Alva and Wash­ing­ton, Okla., as well as coach­ing track and bas­ket­ball. He took a teach­ing break in 1984 to move to Gru­ver, Texas, to train race horses, but when the sta­ble he worked for went broke, he went back to teach­ing for four more years be­fore re­tir­ing. But in 2004, Rid­ings de­cided he was ready to re­join the work­force and got a job with the De­part­ment of Cor­rec­tions in Fort Sup­ply, Okla., teach­ing GED cour­ses.

“It’s the best teach­ing job I ever had,” Rid­ings said. “No prob­lems with par­ents, no prob­lems with stu­dents. It was 12 months a year. It was a good job with not near as much pres­sure as in the pub­lic schools.”

Now re­tired, Rid­ings spends as much time as he can with his first love—team rop­ing—and still rides horses who go back to those orig­i­nal colts in the 1940s.

“My fam­ily’s horse busi­ness goes back all the way to 1942 when we got our first three filly colts given to us boys when we were lit­tle guys. They were all three out of Zan­tanon Jr—a half-brother to King P

234. We kept all those good mares.

That’s where all those horses come from. I get tick­led when I hear of guys breed­ing horses for 15 or 20 years. I’ve been at it ever since I started rid­ing when I was 5 years old.

The most plea­sure I’ve ever got out of any­thing is rais­ing my own horses and train­ing them and team rop­ing.

It’s one of the great plea­sures I’ve ever had. I ap­pre­ci­ate what the West­ern style of life has done for me in the part that I’ve par­tic­i­pated in. It’s been a pretty in­ter­est­ing life.”

Red—Rid­ings’ 9-year-old roan geld­ing reg­is­tered as Jines Cat that he raised and trained—has helped Rid­ings be­come a steady con­tender across Amer­ica’s Heart­land.

In May 2016, Rid­ings paired up for the first time with re­tired Ma­rine Shawn Day to win the #8 Pick/Draw at the Kansas Cham­pi­onships for a cool $2,525 and a brand-new sad­dle. But just a few days later, Rid­ings was on a plane to Oklahoma City fight­ing for his life.

“He had kid­ney cancer and two heart at­tacks,” Rid­ings’ daugh­ter Shelly ex­plained. “He had to be off his blood thin­ners, and he was in the hos­pi­tal for over a month in Oklahoma City. He needed his gall­blad­der out—it was re­ally in­fected. They did an ul­tra­sound on his gall­blad­der and found this tu­mor on his kid­ney. They wouldn’t have found it if he didn’t need his gall­blad­der out. You usu­ally don’t know you have it un­til it’s too late.”

Rid­ings was sup­posed to be do­ing in-pa­tient ther­apy to help him re­cover, but that life wasn’t quite for him. He bought a stair-step­per to build up the strength in his legs and thighs, Shelly said, and he was back to rop­ing be­fore the year was up.

“I’ve kind of re­ha­bil­i­tated my­self to rope again,” Rid­ings laughed. “I’m damn lucky to be alive, let alone to be able to rope.”

Just this Au­gust, Rid­ings heeled three steers in 27.74 sec­onds for Cale El­lis to win the #8 Pick/Draw at the Chisholm Trail Clas­sic in Enid, Okla.

“He’s prob­a­bly go­ing to die with a rope in his hand,” Bob Bat­tisti, Rid­ings’ son-in-law, said. “Peo­ple his age, they didn’t grow up with re­mote con­trols or mi­crowaves. They grew up with ba­si­cally noth­ing. He grew up tough. If I could think of one way to de­scribe him, it’s old school.”

“My dad grew up in that era of hard work,” Kel­lie Thiesing, Rid­ings’ daugh­ter, added. “He’s a very mo­ti­vated, driven, hard-work­ing per­son. He thinks if you quit you die. He says, ‘You know what they say hap­pens when you quit.’”

“He’s prob­a­bly go­ing to die with a rope in his hand. Peo­ple his age, they didn’t grow up with re­mote con­trols or mi­crowaves. They grew up with ba­si­cally noth­ing. He grew up tough. If I could think of one way to de­scribe him, it’s old school.” – Bob Bat­tisti

RID­INGS HEEL­ING ON RED AT THE 2014 WSTR FI­NALE

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