Golden sunlight bathed the Felde family farm as Lloyd Robinson made his way across the grass to meet a horse tethered to a trailer.
At 84, Robinson uses a walker, but there was plenty of spring in his step as he approached Mickey, an 18-year-old horse that belongs to his Spectrum Health Hospice nurse, Starr Felde.
“Do you want to pet her?” Felde asked.
Of course. Horses have been in Robinson’s blood as long as he can remember.
“I was riding a horse when I was about 4 years old,” he said. “I got my first horse when I was about 10. Up until I quit riding, I always had a horse.”
He ran his hand along Mickey’s smooth coat and fed her a molasses treat. And then he pointed his walker toward the enclosure out back that held Felde’s three other horses.
“I’ve got to see all these horses,” he said, setting off across the grass.
It was a field trip that seemed unimaginable just a year ago, said his daughter, Pauline Fuller. Her dad, coping with Alzheimer’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis, had lost weight and become weak and frail. He couldn’t stand without help.
He eventually moved into Royal View, an assisted living center in Mecosta, Michigan. And he began to receive care from Spectrum Health Hospice. Although he chafed at moving out of his home, he grew stronger and formed bonds with his caregivers. He started walking again this spring.
The day he met Felde, they immediately connected over their shared love of horses.
“I’m a cowboy,” Robinson said.
Felde talked to Haley Kadzban, a social worker with Spectrum Health Hospice, about bringing Robinson to her farm near Mecosta.
Kadzban, who has heard many of Robinson’s stories about rodeos, agreed it was a great idea.
“He is everything a cowboy should be,” she said.
Once they settled on a date for the visit, Brittany Bentley, home manager of Royal View, drove him over.
As he visited with the horses on the farm owned by Felde and her husband, Jason, Robinson shared stories of his days raising and riding horses during his childhood in the small town of Doniphan, Missouri. He rode bulls and broncos in the rodeo―”I wasn’t great, but I was fair.”
He talked about the time he got a chance to ride an exceptionally wild bull, “a big, ole motley-faced Hereford” and managed to hang on as it spun him around.
He trained horses, too. The secret? Reward them with sugar. “You don’t have to be mean,” he said.
Robinson moved to Michigan at 18, Fuller said. He worked at a refrigerator factory in Greenville until 62. After he retired, he bought some horses and moved to a farm near Sheridan.
It’s been at least five years since he has ridden a horse.
It seemed longer for Robinson. As he fed treats to the horses, he joked, “I haven’t seen a horse in so long, I don’t know which end to feed.”
After visiting the horses, Robinson sat down on a chair beneath a shade tree. In his plaid shirt and cowboy hat, he looked right at home on the farm.
“They are beautiful horses,” he said admiringly. “And you can tell they got brains by the way they stand.”
As he gets stronger, he hopes he might someday ride again.
“I believe I could get on a horse today,” he said. “I’d have trouble getting on it. I might have to get up on a picnic table or have somebody help me. But if I could get up on that saddle, I’d stay on that saddle.
“I could ride all day.”
His daughter said she appreciated the extra effort to bring joy to her father’s life.
“It’s just really special they would take the time to do this,” she said.
When her dad talks about horses, “he forgets all his worries,” Fuller said. “It’s what he was good at when he was young and strong. That was his passion. That was his great love in life.”
It goes both ways.
“I love listening to his stories,” Felde said. “He always makes me smile.”
Robinson beamed as he looked at the friends gathered for his visit to the farm.
“We need more people to know about horses,” he said. “The love for horses is something different.”