An old rope horse gets a new owner, along with a special purpose.

Walker Roberts’ laughter is joyous as he trots around in his family’s big roping arena on a quiet sorrel gelding called Bob. Walker’s brother, Jackson, is on the ground, holding the reins and jogging alongside. It’s a scene that’s been played out with many young children as they learn to ride.

But this isn’t an ordinary lesson. It’s a life-changing experience for 10-year-old Walker, who is autistic. Before Bob came along, Walker was essentially non-verbal, having spoken few words, and cared little about horses. Something about this ordinary looking gelding, though, drew his attention and made him want to ride—and speak.

Bob is Jackson’s team roping horse, one purchased through a series of events that Larry Lentschke, DVM— one of the key players in the horse’s story—says “no doubt it happened for a reason.” Lentschke initially leased the gelding from a client for his son, Wyatt, to use in high school rodeos. The horse was returned after the rodeo season, but his owner eventually decided to sell, and called the Meridian, Texas, veterinarian.

“This was a neat horse, and I was a beginner roper,” says Lentschke, who quickly agreed to buy the gelding.

His ownership was short-lived, however. Not long after his conversation with the horse’s owner, Quinton Hayden, another client, Raymond Roberts, stopped by the clinic. Their conversation turned to team roping, and Roberts mentioned he was looking for a solid heading horse for his son Jackson. Knowing Bob well from the horse’s time with his own son, Lentschke told Roberts that he had just bought a gelding that would work for Jackson. Another deal was made, and Bob went home with Roberts to Walnut Springs, Texas.

“Jackson had only thrown a rope o one other horse before Bob, and it was a horse we owned, but he was too much for Jackson at the time,” Roberts says. “I needed to get him something so he could concentrate on the roping and not the riding.”

When he took Jackson and the gelding to 10-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier Kevin Stewart in nearby Glen Rose, Texas, for lessons, Stewart told him he had “hit a home run” when he bought Bob, a seasoned, steady rope horse. The 1995 gelding is registered as Lads Watch Jo, by Lad’s Zero and out of Miss War Leo Jack by Watch Joe Jack.

Jackson and Walker riding special team roping horse Bob
When Walker Roberts started riding Bob, with his brother, Jackson, leading the gelding, it brought out new emotions and words for the autistic 10-year-old.

Jackson, now 13, made quick progress on Bob, winning his first team roping in February of 2016 and
qualifying for the Original Team Roping Association finals in Abilene, Texas. But at home, the family—
including Roberts and his wife, Jennifer, and daughter, Presley— noticed that Walker seemed to have a special awareness of the horse. When Jackson finished practicing, Walker wanted to ride. And when Jackson urged the horse into a trot, Walker laughed.

Autism includes a spectrum of disorders that affect brain development, and is characterized by difficulties in social interaction and communication. Walker has been non-verbal for most of his life.

“For some strange reason, he had an interest in this horse,” Roberts says. “We would put him on Bob and Jackson would lead him around, and there’s a laughter that comes out of him that words can’t describe. Not only that, but you can walk him out there and he’ll say ‘Bob.’ ”

Lentschke, who often ropes at the Roberts’ arena, says “Bob” was the first word he heard Walker say.

“I still get choked up about it,” he says. “If you don’t think horses play a role in therapeutic riding, and mean something to handicapped kids, seeing how this little boy responded [to Bob] sure makes a believer out of you.”

Although Bob has been a rope horse for most of his life, he has taken a circuitous route to where he is now. Lentschke had been told that Bob previously belonged to two-time Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association world champion heeler Patrick Smith, but Roberts says he never gave that much thought until later that year, when he ended up taking a job for an oilfield service company owned by Smith and his frequent team roping partner, Trevor Brazile. He had been working there about six months when he had to go to a business meeting at Smith’s place in Lipan, Texas, on the way back from Abilene. With Bob in the trailer, he stopped for the meeting. Smith told him he could put Bob in a stall, and Roberts mentioned that he had heard Smith might have owned the gelding.

“I hear that a lot,” Smith says with a laugh. “But I said, ‘Let’s walk down and look at him.’ I could tell from 100 yards away exactly what horse it was. It was crazy.”

Smith had bought Bob—whom he called Jedi—in 2006, and he was more than a practice horse. The first time he stepped on him, he won a go-round at the prestigious Cheyenne Frontier Days.

“When I bought him they had headed steers on him, and I bought him as a heel horse,” Smith recalls. “I got in a jam because I had to send my horse to a rodeo that I was flying to, and Jedi was the only other horse I had with me because I had just bought him. I decided rather than borrow a horse, I would give him a shot. I won the go-round on him. It was the biggest rodeo of the year, and his first run at a pro rodeo that I was aware of, and for sure in heeling. I rode him for quite some time.”

Smith eventually sold the gelding to his brother-in-law, who competed on him and then sold him. Smith lost track, so he was pleasantly surprised to see the horse again.

“He’s a super cool horse,” he says. “He’s always been pretty special.”

For Bob, who has proven to be special in more ways than ever dreamed, home is now—and always will be—with the Roberts family.

“Bob means the world to us,” Roberts says. “He will live with us the rest of his life. I can promise you that.

This article was originally published in the May 2017 issue of Western Horseman.

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