“Better late than pregnant,” he said, exhibiting his unique brand of diplomacy on the morning of our 10 a.m. late-summer trail ride, when a group showed up a half-hour late at his Gray Head stables.
“Ain’t no horse ever kicked or bit a horse they couldn’t reach,” he was soon telling them as he untied the horses from the fence where they waited patiently, a few paces apart.
“Now, common sense will tell you,” he said, offering a hand as we mounted, “to turn those horses around every time so you get on on the uphill side.”
An hour into the relatively gentle two-hour trail ride, leaving the citrus colored aspen stands below, he stage-managed a photo-op at a lookout point high up on Gray Head taking full advantage of the snow-dusted Sneffels range.
“You can’t all be on the same postage stamp,” he said, getting the group to scatter.
“The mountains haven’t changed,” he said of the view, “but they’re different every day.”
Heading back down, talk turned to a certain former U.S. president, leading Roudy to opine: “If you’re going to disparage people, then at least you need to say, ‘Bless their hearts.’”
He learned that bit of etiquette, he said, from a client a few years back.
The onetime Jesuit seminarian Roudebush offered up more than a few “bless their hearts” as we wound our way through scrub forests and high-alpine meadows back to the stables.
Think about that Jesuit education as you listen to the steady stream of “aint’s” and double negatives on your trail ride, because this is a cowboy with degrees in English, history, journalism, marketing and “a minor in that teaching thing, whatever,” who uses the English language almost as artfully as Mark Twain, “my earliest hero.”
Those with a literary bent come away from a Ride with Roudy full of bon mots like this, from Twain, “Who said, of course, ‘You must use the right word, not an approximation of the right word.’” And from Ernest Hemingway, “Who said, ‘American Literature begins and ends with Mark Twain.’” And William Faulkner, critiquing Hemingway by saying: “He never used a word anyone would have to look up in a dictionary.”
He stops for a minute. “That reminds me I’ve got to get my Faulkners out – that’s awfully good stuff.’”
Back When ‘Folks Still Thought Horse Poop Was Cute’
Like most 1970s arrivals to Telluride, Roudebush arrived in town back when “there wasn’t a car on main street, and folks still thought horse poop was cute.”
Like many 70s’ arrivals, he’ll tell you, “I came to this beautiful valley with a ring in my ear, a ponytail, a hippie chick on my arm and a big old bag of weed.”
And while 21st century Roudy takes plenty of potshots at liberals – “Liberals do not answer direct questions” might be his softest pitch in the game – don’t think for a minute he’s lobbing these softballs thoughtlessly.
“I was a liberal when I came to Telluride from the University of Wisconsin,” he’ll say, when pressed, “but you people have cured me of it, thank you.”
Today, Roudy and his wife, Joanne – and, in winter months, their 21 horses – live at the old Nelson Warren homestead just south of Norwood, which he describes as “very much like” his native southwest Wisconsin, where he grew up, “in a lot of ways,” full of folks “who take care of the ranch, salt-of-the-earth people.
“These wonderful open spaces,” he mused. “In the world situation, we’ve got too many people.
“Our problem is, our planet is overcrowded.”
And that leads nicely into his story about the liberal who went to county officials, upon hearing that Roudebush was moving his trail rides to Gray Head, to tell them how “he worried about global warming, ‘with all that horse manure.’
“Bless his heart.”
The Telluride Unstables
Back in the 70s, Roudebush found himself living in Telluride Town Park, in former Marshal Everett Morrow’s old house, a two-story wood structure that’s home to the Telluride Nordic Center today, with a lawyer-roommate who was “fond of wearing [under]-shorts and cowboy boots” and “often substituted good intentions for ability, like a lot of liberals.”
By 1973, the Wisconsin farmboy found himself before the Telluride Town Council, asking to start a business – “the aptly named ‘Telluride Unstables.’
“Go ahead; the tourists will just love it,” the mayor told him, adding, he said, “‘Keep it tidy out there.’
“That was really good advice,” recalled Roudebush, whose stables and offices, then as now, are picture-perfect.
And then he’s off on a soliloquy, comparing that easy approval – the mayor, as he remembers it, “just kind of looked up the road, and everybody kind of nodded,” to the “four-to-10-step planning process” of today, with all those “liberals who’ve come to the county planning office,” and moving on to how he had to quit as a volunteer with the Telluride Fire Department after some liberal decreed “the volunteer firemen couldn’t drink during our meetings.
“When that came out, I thought, ‘Well, there goes the neighborhood,’” he said, and “I quit.”
Three decades later, Roudebush quit drinking altogether. “I spent 30 years falling-down drunk,” he said, matter-of-factly, stopping to thank “my good wife, my good horses and my good health” for his sobriety. These days drug and alcohol abuse is not a subject from which he shies away.
“I was at the University of Wisconsin in the 60s, dear; it’s in the history books.
‘If the Children Love Me, I Don’t Have to Be Nice to the Grownups’
“I tell the kids, ‘There’s no need for you to experiment with drugs and alcohol – all you got to do is ask your parents or me,” he said.
With candor like that, it’s no wonder that kids love him.
“I was at the clinic the other day, and the doctor wanted to talk to me about his daughter – she’d come out for a wagon ride, and since that ride, he said, she hasn’t talked about anything else,” said Roudebush, a gifted self-promoter.
“As a child, I had those same things,” he said, that he now offers children today (in Norwood and, to a lesser degree, at the Gray Head stables) – the sleigh and wagon rides, the trail rides, the horses, a sense of freedom that American children experience less and less.
For him, Telluride was a coming-home, of sorts.
“My mom said it was really nice I had found a place where people like me,” perhaps meaning, he went on to speculate, a place where sarcasm is an art form.
“It’s great to become what your dream was,” he said in a late-spring phone call from his Norwood stables, where he was shoeing horses, digging up the fields to plant new seed with the draft horses he’ll soon move to Telluride’s West Meadows, where he grows hay every summer.
“The way you’re raised is important,” he said, and on that front, “I’ve got it good. I’ve been a happy individual for a long time.
“There’s a new book out suggesting that people with horses and dogs are nice people. That is not news to me,” he said, adding it’s fine by him “if the horses think I’m all right, and the people think I’m bombastic.”
Talk turned to recent articles in out-of-touch daily newspapers lambasting ag-tax status for ranch-size estates like Tom Cruise’s in the Telluride region, and their significant tax breaks for allowing minimal grazing and growing on their properties.
“It’s not right to disparage the people who support us,” opined Roudebush. “Without our millionaire friends, we would not have anything here.
“I just get so tired of hearing about ‘abuses’ like how Tom Cruise grazes sheep on his land” for a few weeks every summer, Roudy said.
“He’s at 10,500 feet,” he said of the Cruise compound, an altitude at which “you can’t graze too long, or you’ll ruin it.”
It’s those danged liberals again, who “want the taxes, and they don’t want no sheep,” and they don’t understand that “if that stuff burns up ‘cause it don’t get grazed no more,” the Telluride high country could burn “just like California.”
He fumes about the media’s penchant for focusing “on all these celebrity names, to get attention, when the focus should be on the family farms and ranches kept alive by the Taylor Grazing Act …” He could go on, but he stops himself, because there’s a bit more promoting to be done.
“You’ve got to mention my wife, Joanne, the wind beneath my wings, my best girl,” he said, sounding like a newlywed.
“And my girls – right now, I’ve got five girls” working for him every summer, “who’ve been with me since they were 10 or 11 years old,” some for more than half their lives.
“Because girls try harder; they take my lectures better, and horses like girls better.”
On summer trail rides, children are welcome – “If the children love me, I don’t have to be nice to the grownups,” he explained.
There are free pony rides, as well, for kids too young for horses – “The minimum age is 7, with the insurance companies,” he explained. He doesn’t give riding lessons, per se – and he has a ready quip on the subject: “Ride with me – it will certainly be a lesson.”
For more information on a two-hour Ride with Roudy Horseback Adventure, call 970/727- 9611 or visit ridewithroudy.com.