On the Web: http://barnyardbanditssaddleclub.webs.com
For Stencil “Doc” Stokes, riding a horse is the best sort of therapy.
“You can be having the worst day, but then you get on the back of that horse and everything just melts away,” he said. “Horses make a big difference.”
The 70-year-old Army veteran who served two tours in Vietnam is among the guest speakers making presentations to students at Cresset Christian Academy in celebration of Black History Month. On Wednesday, he told about 45 third, fourth and fifth graders about buffalo soldiers, a female frontier postmaster named Stagecoach Mary and rodeo star Bill Pickett.
When he was a child, Stokes said, he used to watch the movies of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. His adoptive father, he said, was Ben Miller.
“He was blessed to be trained by Bill Pickett,” Stokes said. Pickett gained fame as the first African-American bull riding champion. Back then, the top prize might’ve been $500. These days, big winners can take home as much as $250,000.
He told students about Pickett’s trademark move, biting a bull on the lip to neutralize it so he could wrestle the beast to the ground. They gasped as he shared the story of how Pickett used that trick to stop a stampeding bull that got loose in Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Stokes never hit it big on the bull riding circuit himself, but he has always had a place in his heart for riding and rodeos. He once led the Federation of Black Cowboys in New York. Now he works with the Barnyard Bandits group in Smithfield, hosting trail rides and sharing the lifestyle with the next generation.
Clad in blue jeans, a blue shirt, brown leather vest, dark boots and a black cowboy hat, on Wednesday he showed off the saddle and reins he uses for rides.
“Kids look at cowboys in the movies and they see bad guys,” he said. “It always seems to be about the guns. I want to try to keep kids away from guns. I don’t carry a gun when I ride. They see it, they want to do it.”
He wants children to follow through on their education and to live life to the fullest.
“Don’t look down your nose at anybody,” he said. “Reach down and try to pick them up and bring them along the way with you.”
Hannah Burnett, a 10-year-old fourth grader at Cresset, said that she has been riding for about three years. She doesn’t have her own horse yet, “but the one I ride feels like mine.”
Stokes asked the students what they wanted to be when they grew up. Some didn’t know. A few wanted to be Navy SEALs, doctors, professional bowlers and veterinarians. One said she wanted to be either a reptile hunter or a meteorologist. One wanted to be a cowboy.
“Being a cowboy is hard work,” Stokes said. “Honest work.”
He urged students to “be the best that you can be.”
“Not everybody is an A student or a B student,” he said. “If you’re going to be a C student, be a good C. You can push up and be one of the best Cs you can be.”
Stokes doesn’t plan to give up that equine therapy that he enjoys so much anytime soon. If he can make it into the saddle, he’ll see where the trail takes him.
“As long as I can still get up there, I’m going to ride,” Stokes said.
Follow on Twitter at @HS_WesPlatt. Connect on Facebook at facebook.com/wesplattheraldsun.