By Tatum Keys Richey
Our horseshow community has suffered an unimaginable loss. It has taken me a week to find the adequate words to put to paper that would allow my pain and shock to speak. I’ve contemplated how we all can wrap our minds around this hole that will be left in our post-Bruce horseshow world. My heart beats fast, my hands sweat, and tears flow as I try to find my way through this sadness. This all happened right in the middle of finals at Baylor. I knew if I sunk into the gravity of what happened and allowed myself to feel my deep sorrow and this colossal loss I wouldn’t be able to get through, so I’ve tried my best to put this aside all week to try and make some sense of this horrific event.
I still don’t want to face this. I don’t want this to be real. I want Bruce to always be here for us all. Our community has shifted, and it will never be the same, but what now? This may not make sense to anyone other than us in the horse world that Bruce has dedicated his life to professionally since 1979, but I’m going to desperately try and articulate a way to honor this invaluable horseman that we all respect and love so deeply!
Here goes my take on how we move forward in his honor, but first, let me give you a little background on how my heart came to this conclusion!
Bruce Walquist was one of the very first trainers I met when I came on to the AQHA scene when I was nine. I rode with Nancy Cahill and Michelle Tidwell at the time, and Bruce was at every show we were at. He started picking on me relentlessly right off the bat. He always told me I looked like a boy and had some boy name he called me; he’d say, “Hey, Sam; what’s up Tom; good luck Henry; don’t trip, Joe; nice horse, Frank; better luck next time, Bill,” – you name it. He teased me relentlessly. Though I had hair past my waist and my name was Tatum, he loved picking on me, and honestly, I always looked forward to our banter back and forth. Reading so many tributes from our community, I’ve come to understand that Bruce loved to joke around with people. Mostly, he liked for everyone to know they were seen and special. That was one of his superpowers. Not only did he love horses, he loved horse people. He had a way of making all of us feel like we mattered, and to him, we all did.
Many years passed, and so did a lot of great moments with Bruce. He always had a smile, that twinkle that would emit from his eyes at you, a compliment that would come with a laugh, a giggle, and some backhanded funny remark. I never felt anything but assurance from him. He had a way of letting you know you belonged and he was proud of you.
While Bruce was always there for a good laugh and cut up, when it came time to show – he was all business. He judged me seems like hundreds of times over the past 14 years. If I messed up, he wouldn’t mind putting me last. He took his oath seriously. He knew that judges’ handbook backward and forwards, and he used it fairly on everyone.
So, in 2019 when I saw him on the judges’ list for AQHYA Youth World, though I knew he loved me, I knew he wouldn’t cut me any breaks. I’d have to bring my best. In fact, before the show ever began, he brought me outside and said, “Whatever you do in Trail, don’t throw your reins so low ok, Sam?” I said yes, sir! We both laughed and went on about our business.
Well, as you all know, it’s not until the day of that event that you find out who will be your judge. Sure enough, Bruce Walquist was judging Level 3 Youth Trail on Finals Day. I was draw 13. Ode (Ode To Zippo) had not been doing well in the warm-up arena, and it was our time to walk down the Champion of Champions tunnel. Bruce Vickery and Anthony Montes, my trainers, were giving me my final do’s and don’ts. All the judges were seated, and my heart was racing out of my chest. I said a quick prayer; I felt Ode make a shift like I’d never felt before. Right before I entered the arena, I threw my reins lower than I had ever in my life. I couldn’t see Bruce from the judges table, but I’m sure he must have shaken his head and took a deep breath. It had taken Ode and me a decade to reach that moment, and I went with my gut and put all my faith in what we knew. I could feel Bruce watching me intently; it was our career’s best go. Bruce rewarded me with the highest score he’d ever given up to that point – an 85. With the highest and lowest scores dropped, we won the World Championship that day with a 249. After it was over, he passed by shaking his head and saluting me. I smiled and saluted him back. It was a great moment for us both!
Not just because he judged me that day was I able to reach that ultimate goal and dream, but because of his decade of support, care, smile, and genuine love of our community that he shared with me since I was a child.
Fast forward to April 22, 2023, I saw him at a horse show in Waco. As fate would have it, the last horse show of his life. I was so happy to see him; he approached me and said, “Hey YOU, is that little grey horse yours?”. I said, “Yes, sir, it sure is,” and he saluted me and said, “Another one straight from heaven – my, he’s a beauty.” He smiled that Bruce smile and had that Bruce twinkle in his eye, still shaking his head, making sure he made me felt seen and believed in.
So as I have given this incredible man’s life much thought over the past week, the best thing we can all do from here on out is to always try our best to be like Bruce. Let people know they are important, even if it’s just a smile. Give support, even if it’s just a wave. Give encouragement, even if it’s just a little suggestion. Let people know they belong and are on the right trail, even if it’s a smile and a salute.
Bruce, thank you for your salutes. Thank you for loving and caring for each person in our community. Thank you for your unwavering love of the American Quarter Horse. Thank you for being one of the “GREAT” ones in our industry. I thought you and I had something special, but I see what was most remarkable about you is that every one of us felt the same way.
Until we meet again, Cowboy!
Find Bruce’s visitation information for today, and his funeral information for Wednesday, May 17, 2023 here: Funeral Announcement Honoring Bruce Walquist | Equine Chronicle
You can also find his GoFundMe details, and links for his AQHA Professional Endowment Fund and the NSBA Crisis fund here: Support for the Family of Bruce Walquist | Equine Chronicle