“I want to ride a horse,” says Marie Nordyke of Independence. “And it better not be a half-dead one, either.”
For her 100th birthday, Marie just had one request: To be able to ride a horse once again. It has been many decades since she was last in the saddle, but becoming a centenarian in December didn’t discourage her one bit.
Marie’s son Dwight Wages tried to dissuade her from getting on an actual horse by compromising with either a carousel or pony ride. But she remained adamant and insisted on a full-sized equine.
Nordyke vividly recalls her days living on a homestead in southeastern Wyoming near the Nebraska border during her youth. She says the first time she got on horseback was 87 years ago; helping her father corral cattle on the ranch.
“If you put your foot in the stirrup, be ready to get on the saddle,” deadpanned Marie. “And the horse better not be too slow where you have to kick him.”
Marie’s family was wondering if any stable would even consider allowing their 100-year-old matriarch to get on a horse again, says another son, Gary Wages. He says they called a number of ranches and stables, and fortunately found a couple who offered to let his mother ride a horse once again. Marie’s family ultimately chose a ranch in Lexington, Mo.
“We were totally ecstatic,” says Robbie Maupin, proprietor of Big River Ranch in Lexington. “It was an honor to have the opportunity to check off an item on someone’s bucket list.”
On Dec. 14, Marie’s wish for her 100th birthday was fulfilled. Her family and friends brought her to Big River Ranch’s indoor arena to ride.
“And she didn’t want to get off,” said Gary.
Donning her pink cowgirl hat, Marie rode Doc, a quarterhorse who loves to visit children’s birthdays and also is a bit of movie star himself, being featured in several Civil War documentaries and an upcoming feature film starring TV show “C.S.I.” actress, Angela Bettis.
“Marie was laughing the whole time,” said Maupin. “She had a blast while her friends were cheering her on.”
How Marie returned to the saddle was a careful process. A vehicle was parked very close to the arena in order to shorten the distance Marie would have to walk to reach the horse. Once Marie was out, two big mounting blocks with platforms on each step were placed on the sides of Doc with her climbing one side and an assistant helping her mount on the other. Another assistant helped her footing in the stirrups, and once she was positioned in the saddle, she trotted about five to 10 laps around the arena with Maupin guiding Doc.
“She was absolutely outstanding,” said Maupin about Marie’s horse ride.
Marie says she enjoys horseback riding because that’s how she was raised. “It was nothing new to me.”
“They gave me the whole works,” she said thankfully.
Saturday’s ride evoked memories of when Marie was living on her father’s ranch in Wyoming. Her son Gary tells about the homestead where she used to reside was located in the town of Albin, Wyoming; named after her grandfather’s brother.
Marie was the oldest of four children. Although the only girl, Gary says his mother still had an active part in helping her father tend the farm.
“I milked the cows and fed the hogs,” says Marie. “You had to like it back then.” She fondly remembers when she used to milk the cows by hand, she would squirt milk at feral cats who kept visiting the barn.
“Now when you (ask) a kid where milk comes from, they say a grocery store,” Gary says.
She says at 6:30 a.m. every morning she would wake up to feed the farm animals. By 8:30 a.m., she would get on a horse and help her father corral cattle. That time of the day was when she developed her passion for horseback riding.
During her teenage years, she met a hired hand who worked on her family’s farm by the name of Fred Wages.
“You can’t marry him until he finishes high school,” Marie recalls her father telling her about Fred.
With Gary's help recounting specific events in his mother’s life, Marie says Fred had the option of choosing to attend college on a scholarship or to marry her. Fred ultimately decided to marry the boss's daughter. He later became a U.S. Post Office employee and they moved to Cameron, Mo., in 1950 where they stayed the next 37 years and had three boys of their own: Sherrie, Gary, Dwight.
“I got married and didn’t have to work on the farm anymore,” Marie adds.
In 1987, Fred passed away. Two years later, she relocated to Independence and eventually moved into The Fountains at Greenbriar, a retirement community in town.
“It’s a great place,” adds Marie.
Marie has been a resident at The Fountains since around 2007, according to Fountains director, Jason Barrett.
"She's still pretty independent. Her family comes and helps her a lot," says Barrett. He also mentioned that she especially loves travelogue sessions offered by the retirement community. Her attention is held greatly whenever a traveler visits to share their experiences.
Marie met her second husband, Dalton Nordyke, at the apartment complex as well. However, she lost him in 2003 and is the only surviving member of her siblings.
The 100-year-old horse enthusiast kept active throughout these years by becoming a Red Hatter, making crafts, engraving copper and using her green thumb; her potted plants can be seen on her porch. She still plants during the springtime, add Gary and Lynette Wages, Marie’s daughter-in-law.
“She would take a slit of stock from a plant, put it in the ground, and make it grow,” Gary recalls.
Asked her secret for living such a long life, Marie replies, “It is the Lord’s blessing. I just take one day at a time.”
Marie’s 100th milestone birthday spanned three consecutive days this past December. She rode the horse on Dec. 14, had a birthday celebration at The Fountains the following Sunday and finally a private party with family after that.
“Relatives from all over the country came to celebrate her birthday,” says Gary.
All of her children attended the occasions, and grandchildren who are stretched from California to South Carolina came to visit her in Independence as well.
But will Marie Nordyke ride a horse once again in the near future? Without hesitation, she answered with a resounding “yes.”