How the West Was One
Hundreds of teenagers. A herd of mustangs. One man with a vision. In the foothills of the Rocky Mountains rides a cavalry that just might change the world.
When he ponders the future, Keller believes he's made some changes around the Fort that will outlast him. And he's not just talking about the new buildings. "I've tried to keep the Westernaires the same as I found it, for the most part," he says. "But I've had to move with the times. If I keep the Westernaires too rooted in the past, the organization can't continue. You have to move with the times, or it will die."
Keller's not the only one who looks toward the future with concern. Young Mike Ulshoffer is a sparkplug of a rider, small but powerful. On his horse, he's a rock star: commanding, confident, powerful, often riding in oversized aviator sunglasses. By contrast, on the ground, he patrols the periphery, quietly watching from behind those darkened lenses. When lonely riders hang back from the group, intimidated newcomers join Red Team, or discouraged boys mutter to themselves, Ulshoffer notices and he reaches out-he includes, he welcomes, he listens, pulling them all back into the Westernaire fold.
The young Red Team rider sees a generation gap between the men like Keller who've volunteered for decades and the younger parents who stick around only as long as their kids ride. He wonders if the new generation of Westernaire parents really understand the leadership and commitment it will take for this group to continue. Although Ulshoffer hasn't graduated yet, he has already asked to enter the ranks of the volunteer posse.
None of this is lost on Keller. Usually he prefers riders take some time off from the Westernaires before they become volunteers. A few years away helps distance the riders from their red sweaters before assuming the Fort's mantle of adulthood-a white hat. But Ulshoffer has asked to come back early, to help teach the next generation of riders, and the director will bend the rules. Perhaps Keller sees more than just a good kid with a crackerjack talent; perhaps he sees a bridge to the future.
"Please allow me to introduce today's teenagers, the pride of the Westernaires-Varsity Big Red," Keller's voice booms from the announcer's booth. The annual Trinidad Roundup is a small stop on the professional rodeo circuit and one the Westernaires have traveled to each year for the last 47 years. In Trinidad the Westernaires are special guests. Keller, dressed a little sharper than usual in kerchief, studded plaid shirt, and the ever-present white hat, stands above the arena in a small booth opposite the grandstand. His wife, Liz, cues the music, a grand symphonic medley, on her small laptop. Dads in red shirts and white hats grab the heavy arena gates, run forward to swing them wide, and dash aside.