Earlier this week, a great cowboy passed away. John Freese was the closest thing to a real cowboy that I have ever known. John was loved by so many, which was so evident at the beginning of May when I attended the benefit they had for John in his hometown of Raymond, Iowa. It was a who’s who of all the best horseman and cowboys from the state of Iowa. There were so many people and they were all there for one reason, to pay tribute to John and say their goodbyes. Now, two days from now, many of those same people will be gathering again to celebrate John’s life in the company of so many lives that have been touched by John.
I don’t remember ever meeting John for the first time. I have known him as long as I have had any memories. He has been a friend of my family’s since long before I was born. He was just always there. He has always shoed all the horses at the Triple JJJ Farm. For me personally, it was my two horses Doc and Pearl, who have had John work on their feet almost their entire lives.
I used to love it when John would come to the farm to work on the horses. We would gather in the barn and he would always tell stories as he was trimming and shoeing the horses and that made the time go so quickly. He loved to recall stories of when I was just a little boy and all the grief I caused my Grandma Rose and Mom. He would talk of the latest news in the community and he always had a good joke to tell. He would smile his characteristic smile, even though it was hard to see fully with his full cowboy mustache. I would talk to him about things I was doing with the training of my horses and he would always be willing to share any advice or insight he had that would help me in my efforts. I appreciated that so much.
I can remember coming home one summer after going through a farrier rotation at vet school and being out there in the barn with John. Instead of just plowing through and getting the job done and moving on to the next place, he took the time to let me try to trim the horses feet myself, while he was right there to help me every step of the way. It was like learning from the master himself. It was not until that moment that I fully appreciated the difficulty of the job that John did day after day of his life. He made it look so very easy.
My head is filled with memories of showing in the Black Hawk Creek Saddle Club at the Silver Spur Arena and the 4-H Fair at the Cattle Congress grounds. With each of those fond memories, John was there. John gave freely of his time to help others. If you had any interest in horses at all, John was there to help you.
The common bond that we shared, that brought us together was horses. We both loved horses. Horses and humans have had close relationships for thousands of years. In many ways we are like horses. God takes care of us in a similar way that we take care of our horses. We feed them, water them, and we love them. A horse, however, in relation to God is different from any of the other animals we might love and take care of.
You see, we ride our horses. Not only do we ride a horse, but we’re also guiding and leading it to wherever it is that the horse may go. If we direct our horse to somewhere that will put it in danger, it also affects the us, the rider.
When we put our souls in jeopardy, it hurts God very much to see us living our daily lives like this. I could tell so many stories of horses I have ridden through the years that made me angry at times because of them going somewhere they shouldn’t be going, or not stopping or not backing up and even sometimes bucking me off. However mad I would get during those times though, I knew I had a duty to lead them to the right place and keep them and myself safe.
God feels the same way. He has the duty to watch over us, guide us, guard us, and direct us to wherever it is we need to be. That is why He gave us His commandments to follow. There are times when you are riding a horse when they want nothing but for you to get off of them. When a horse starts to buck, that’s a pretty good sign that they don’t want to have any more to do with you. When we as humans don’t follow God’s will, when we put other things in our lives ahead of God, He often feels as if we are the horse trying to buck Him off.
I think that humans can be like horses and God is like our cowboy. We need to not try to buck Him off, put other things (like an apple) before Him, and always listen to whatever it is He may be telling you to do, because He knows best. And if we do a really good job of listening to God, He won’t need to use His spurs on us too much.
Doc and Pearl are still living today at the farm. They are nearly 30 years old. Eventually their time will come and they will pass on, just as we all will. One of the only things we can be certain of is that nothing lasts forever. We only get a short time on this earth to live our lives. As we are living our lives, people will come and go, but there are a handful of people who touch your soul so deeply, that your life is never the same. John was that type of person to so many people and that is why it is so hard for us to say goodbye to our old friend.
Growing up on the farm in Waterloo, I spent a lot of time in the saddle riding my horses. I considered myself a bit of a cowboy myself back then. I remember when the movie 8 Seconds came out in 1994. It was the story of Lane Frost, the bull rider who met an untimely death at the hands of a bull. There was a part in the movie when they were flying into the Cheyenne rodeo in a small plane. Cody Lambert recites a poem about a cowboy. You can see the clip from the movie here. The poem is originally from Baxter Black’s “Legacy of the Rodeo Man.” That part always brought a tear to my eye. It is simple and beautiful and it really is the essence of what a cowboy is. The first time I saw it and every time since, I thought of John, because he was the closest thing to a cowboy that I have ever known in my life. I never told him that, but I think if I had, he would have been honored to be known as such. That is what he was and those are the best words to remember him by.
Cowboy Is His Name
There’s a hundred years of history
and a hundred before that
All gathered in the thinkin’
Goin’ on beneath this hat.
The cold flame burns within him
‘Til his skin’s as cold as ice
And the dues he paid to get here
Are worth every sacrifice.
All the miles spend sleepy drivin’
All the money down the drain,
All the ‘if I’s’ and ‘nearly’s,’
All the bandages and pain,
All the female tears left dryin’,
All the fever and the fight
Are just a small down payment
On the ride he makes tonight.
It’s guts and love and glory,
One mortal’s chance at fame.
His legacy is rodeo
And cowboy is his name.
John, thanks so much for everything you have done and meant to myself and to so many people. It is a long way to heaven and it has been one hell of a ride.