The Riding Family

Bringing together a multigenerational family under one barn can reap big benefits for all. Here's why it's important to one Colorado family.

There’s something special about sharing your horse passion with your family members—parents, grandparents, and children, sometimes even beyond. In today’s trend toward multigenerational living (18% of all U.S. households include grandparents, parents, and children, according to Pew Research Center analysis of census data), equine partners help build bonds, provide family fun, and offer common ground for understanding each other. 

The Swanson family, based in Sedalia, Colorado, exemplifies this in the family’s horse life. Patriarch Dr. Terry Swanson, DVM; matriarch Elaine “Peachie” Swanson; their son, Roy, and his wife, Betsy; and their kids Quincy (12) and Waylon (10) come together to build their dream life with horses while supporting each other, encouraging their budding riders, and letting every family member strive to achieve goals of all kinds.

Here, you’ll learn how the Swansons make it work, why it’s worth the effort, and tips for navigating your own multigenerational horse life.

Roy Swanson grew up in the thick of the horse world, from roping in 4-H to being part of the West Texas A&M University rodeo team to jackpotting in both calf roping and team roping. Today, his focus lies on helping his father, Terry Swanson, DVM, realize his roping goals and immersing his kids in all the benefits horse life provides to growing children. 

Meet the Swansons

Terry and Elaine both grew up horseback, Terry on a ranch in Chugwater, Wyoming, and Elaine around Colorado Springs, Colorado. They passed on their passion for horses and the Western way of life to their son, Roy, bringing him up in youth rodeo and advancing to college and amateur rodeos. Terry and Elaine moved to Littleton, Colorado, in 1968 where Terry became a partner at Littleton Large Animal Clinic (now Littleton Equine) and still practices today. Although Terry and Elaine lived in town, they built an arena and pens at the clinic in 1972 and kept and rode their horses there until their move to Sedalia in 2012.

Roy and Betsy met and married in 2008. Betsy didn’t grow up around horses, but she sees the value they bring to her family’s life. Once Roy and Betsy started having children in 2010, the discussion about buying a single property where the entire Swanson family of six could live, raise animals, and ride horses took form.

Quincy and Waylon have varied experiences with horses. Quincy took right to it early on, and it’s the center of her life, participating in 4-H Western horse projects, ranch horse versatility, and gymkhana, as well as dog agility and shooting sports. Waylon dabbles in riding, is a budding artist, and loves tending to his chickens.

Growing up, Roy reaped countless benefits of having his father’s lifetime of horsemanship knowledge and veterinary expertise. They both get mile-wide grins watching the Swanson youngsters ride and enjoy horses.

“When you grow up in this environment, it’s just natural,” Terry shares. Betsy understands that position.

“When you don’t grow up in it, there’s a little more fear around it,” she shares. “No matter how much you try to overcome it, the uneasiness is still there. But that’s why we’re out here—to help the kids to be comfortable with all of the responsibilities and challenges having and riding horses brings.”

The Swansons have worked hard to bridge that experience gap. Elaine explains, “We knew we could make this work, and it’s worked out perfectly. There’s no way Terry and I could have this many horses, the roping steers, the land, just the two of us. It’s a real team effort.”

The Core Values That Make It Work

Families can disagree on everything from politics to vacation destinations, which could make the Swansons’ situation difficult in times of disagreement. But their shared core values around their horse life keep them tightly bonded and working together in the same direction. →

If you’re considering transitioning your life to a shared residence with parents or grandparents, keep these four values in mind, as well as any others your family might hold dear. Open, honest conversation is crucially important to keep everyone comfortable and honor each other’s boundaries.

Read More: Balancing Horses and Family

Core Value 1: Teamwork

Every one of the six Swansons in the household plays a vital role in keeping their lives in order and moving forward, allowing them time to ride and enjoy their horses, which can be tough to manage with so many busy schedules.

“We all throw our hats in the ring and try to help each other wherever we need it,” Elaine says.

As the resident lameness expert and equine veterinarian, Terry is the family vet and keeps all the horses sound and ready to ride. In his free time, Terry competes in AQHA select team roping classes and has successfully shown at multiple AQHA Select World Championship Shows. Elaine handles all the paperwork for the horses and shows—registrations, transfers, brand inspections, and the like—ensuring that every truck and trailer has copies of whatever paperwork they might need. She’s also the family videographer, whether it’s at home during practice or at events.

“Gran gives really good advice,” Quincy shares. “In showmanship, she makes sure my horse looks pretty; she’s good at the grooming.”

Betsy keeps the kids’ projects in line, managing their many school and 4-H activities, and is a great cheerleader and role model in positivity.

The kids head up the evening chores department, including cleaning pens and preparing feed. Terry and Roy lend a hand in this department, too, but the kids have found other helpers who make it extra fun.

“Last night, Waylon started out doing pens,” Terry begins. “Then the neighbor boys came over, and he enlisted their help. Waylon likes to show them how to do it, and it’s always great to have help!”

While Waylon agrees that getting everyone involved is fun, he admits he often looks forward to one-on-one time with Papa in the barn. “I was glad they helped, but I kind of wanted it to be just me and him,” he says, smiling at Terry.

Feeding in the evening is a group effort, but morning feeding is usually a solo endeavor for Terry and Roy, with one tending to the horses and one to the steers before they head into work. 

“It takes all of us,” Elaine asserts. “For these kids to do all they do, and Terry to do what he does, we all have to help. It teaches the kids that hard work at whatever you love to do will pay off in the end—in all aspects of life, not just with horses.”

Safety is a key element in the Swansons’ horse life. This includes getting the kids on the right horses, wearing helmets, and teaching safe riding skills. This helps Betsy, the kids’ mother, feel more comfortable with the horses since she didn’t grow up with them.

Core Value 2: Safety First

When it comes to kids and horses, safety has to be the top priority. This includes choosing the right horses for the kids and helping them make safe choices when horseback.

“We’re pretty conservative about what we put them on and how they ride,” Roy says. “They wear helmets the majority of the time when we ride at home, and always at gymkhanas. Now that Quincy’s 12 and a pretty savvy rider, she’s graduated to wearing a cowboy hat at the shows and cattle classes.”

“The kids are very aware,” Elaine concurs. “And I think our commitment to safety helps Betsy be more comfortable with what the kids are doing. You could say, ‘This is all too dangerous,’ but then get hit by a car or crash on a bike. We teach the kids to use good judgment in everything they do. It’s just our way—to be a little more cautious early on and let the kids get bigger and more mature before we add more risk.”

Choosing horses for the kids has had its ups and downs. They had the customary pony—Paddycakes—when Quincy was a toddler. They’ve had “family legacy” horses, passed down from one rider to the next, including one called Rusty that Roy rode starting as a teen. Quincy and Waylon both rode him, and Quincy remembers him as “one of the greatest horses I’ve ever had.”

Waylon currently rides a gray mare named Blueberry (a hand-me-down from Quincy), and Quincy splits most of her time between Toad and Woody. While these have proven to be stalwart, reliable mounts, both kids have tried horses that just didn’t work out. The Swansons swiftly move those horses to more suitable homes to honor the kids’ safety.

Core Value 3: Perseverance

“Quincy didn’t pass her 4-H Western Level 2 test right away,” Roy remembers. “We took her to a few lessons, she worked really hard for a month, and then she re-tested and passed.”

That perseverance is a key component to the Swanson framework: just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s impossible. They try to connect the kids with resources they need to learn and improve so they can reach their goals.

“She’s just so teachable,” Elaine says of her granddaughter. “She gets it, and it makes us really proud. Our village helps her get where she wants to be.”

Terry saw this firsthand when Quincy started working on lead changes with NRHA Professional Shane Brown. “We have a gelding that has trouble with his right lead—we joke that team ropers don’t need a right lead,” Terry shares. We put her on that horse, and I told her to remember what Shane had taught her when she was changing leads every stride on a straight line. With a little work, she got him all set up and got that lead. I was so proud of her.”

Read More: Every Horse Has a Story

Core Value 4: Limitless Opportunities

All horse families—multigenerational or not—face varying levels of interest in riding and competing, and it can ebb and flow as kids grow up, and adults’ lives and abilities change. The Swansons provide a great example as all six family members recognize the importance of the kids—and themselves—having opportunities to pursue other interests rather than force a fit with horses. They also agree it’s not productive to push too hard or too fast.

When Waylon rides, he enjoys running the chutes and tracking steers when Roy and Terry are roping, and can usually be talked into running barrels and pole bending when his sister practices.

“Waylon’s legs are getting longer, so he’s getting better at riding Blueberry and holding her on a circle more naturally,” Roy shares. “He’s never had any lessons other than from Papa and me. He doesn’t crave riding the same way Quincy does, but once we get him out here and his mind is on it, he always has fun. He’s a natural at pressure
and release.”

Quincy is all in with the horses. On top of setting her sights on one day becoming the family veterinarian, she takes lessons from various professionals in the area, all of whom align with the Swansons’ standards for what horse life should look like. The bonus: Terry admits he learns from her lessons, too.

Roy’s involvement opens the doors of opportunity for all of his riding family members.

“My main motivation is keeping horses legged up and ready to go for everybody. It’s fulfilling to rope for my dad, to help him get ready to go to the AQHA shows,” Roy says. “And same for helping Quincy and Waylon have what they need to do what they want with horses now that they are getting older and riding well.” We enter a few jackpots and rodeos here and there, but there’s not much more interest in it for me other than fun. I have a friend that calls it a work-to-farm operation, and I agree. We work so we can farm.”

Elaine Swanson loves being part of granddaughter Quincy’s horse activities, from helping her prepare at home to videoing Quincy’s runs at events. Elaine strives to teach both grandchildren that it’s not about ribbons and awards, but living the Western way of life.

Why It Matters

When you grow up with horses, as an adult you begin to realize all the lessons your equine partners taught you—about horse care and riding, but more so about life in general. The Swansons are no different in this respect, and their experiences as young horsemen and as parents keep this way of life near to their hearts and make horse life important in raising Quincy and Waylon.

“After pushing hard with rodeo through college and few years after, I sold it all off and took a break,” Roy recalls. “But five to six years later, I wanted to come back to a life like this for our kids. There are so many life lessons built into all this. Overcoming adversity, responsibility, compassion—it all matters in the grander scheme of life, not just in the saddle.”

Roy recalls visiting with young Pony Club neighbor who was horseback in the easement and reiterated just what all this means.

“The whole time we talked, that big warmblood was wallering around in a little 10-foot space between two barbed-wire fences, and here she is in this tiny English saddle just as calm as can be and totally in control,” he recalls. “All I could think is, ‘She’s more of a cowboy than I’ll ever be!’ But it also makes me think about all the life skills she’s learning—self-confidence, adaptability, thinking through any situation. That’s the important life stuff that riding horses teaches you.”

Elaine and Terry might get the most intrinsically from this mixed-family horse life.

Read More: From Tragedy to Triumph

“As a grandma, I’ve done my thing,” Elaine shares. “Hopefully, I’m passing on what my dad taught to me. I offered it to Roy, and now he’s sharing it with his kids. We do this for fun—not for prizes. We try hard, but we don’t get
a bad attitude. We help our friends. We say thank you to the gate person and mean it. We enjoy the camaraderie. It really is the best way for the kids to grow up and learn about life, how to treat others, and caring for animals. That’s the biggest thing we want. Winning prizes is fine, but not why we do it. I have a saddle in a shed that I won many years ago, and the mice have ruined it. I don’t care about the saddle; I remember everything I did to win it, the fun that effort created, and how hard I worked. The memories stuck; the saddle doesn’t matter. This isn’t the only way to learn these qualities that make great humans, but the Western way of life sure is a great way to get there.”

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