What’s the secret to remaining vibrant into your elderly years? Two women who share my love of horses have the answer. Both these ladies, despite their age and infirmities, would sooner be 6-feet under than give up riding.
Betty Wagoner, at 86, still rides every chance she gets on her black-and-white pinto. She might need help mounting up and is strapped into her saddle, but she never complains, obviously enjoying herself sporting her signature smile, a grin like the Cheshire cat in “Alice in Wonderland.”
Betty is a local, growing up on a ranch off the grid up the Twisp River, working in packing sheds in Pateros and graduating from Twisp High School, now the Methow Valley Community Center. She is also something of a local celebrity. Methow Valley News reporter Marcy Stamper did an interview with her in 2022 that can be viewed on YouTube. Ashley Ahearn, in the April 25, 2018, issue of the Methow Valley News, wrote an article about Betty’s involvement with the Methow Valley Back Country Horsemen (MVBCH), an organization that she founded over 30 years ago and for which she’s been a tireless officer, member and organizer of trail rides and social events.
Besides trail riding, Betty snowmobiles in the winter, volunteers at the Methow Valley Senior Center, organizes the famous Western Sale for Senior Thrift and much more. Given that she still has her finger in many pies, and equestrian activities at 86 are not without significant risk some might question why she continues to ride. Some might — Betty doesn’t.
Jackie Iddings celebrated her 90th birthday last summer at the North Summit Horse Camp up at the Loop. This irrepressible dynamo lives with her horse — sort of — her house is connected to the barn. Jackie’s background is much more urban than Betty’s. She grew up in the South Seattle area but had access to her grandfather’s plow horses. As an adult, she rode with the Woodbrook Hunt Club, competed in dressage trials, and took her fancy thoroughbreds up into the high country saying, “they made great trail horses because they were so responsive to the aides.”
Since moving to the Methow in 1993, Jackie has been an active member of MVBCH and has embraced trail riding, joining MVBCH organized rides, horse camping at the Loop or up Twisp River and taking trips up into the backcountry with outfitters and friends. She tells me she’d like to go into the Pasayten or Sawtooth wildernesses again, totally pooh-poohing the potential hazards that I recite to her that anyone of any age might encounter.
Jackie recently signed up for a Buck Brannaman clinic in Ellensburg. Buck is renowned for his horsemanship skills and for being the inspiration for the lead character in the movie, “The Horse Whisperer.” He travels the world giving horsemanship clinics that demand attentive riding often under the hot sun for three plus hours a day and camping near your horse at night. All I have to say is “look out Buck.”
Like the words from a song by Mary McCaslin, I imagine Betty and Jackie riding off into the sunset where “the wild, flying things soar above them on their wings, the stars fill up the night sky and the moon lights up the plains, carrying all they own in the pouches of their saddlebags with their bedrolls tied behind.” Dauntless, plucky and an inspiration (and sometimes an exasperation) to those who know them, Betty and Jackie will lead the charge on horseback to that “prairie in the sky.”