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Visit from a gentle giant

Ole and a rodeo clown keep FD residents grounded in their humanity

-Messenger photo by Elijah Decious
Cindy Noble pets Ole the bull Monday at Fort Dodge Health and Rehabilitation.

You’ve heard of a bull in a china shop, but have you heard of a bull in a residential care facility?

Until Monday, the residents at Fort Dodge Health and Rehabilitation hadn’t, either.

There, residents gathered around Ole, the 1,850-pound gentle giant, to do what most of them didn’t know they would be doing that day: climbing on top of him. It’s an accomplishment that most there had never imagined doing, even prior to their golden years.

There, seniors and residents in rehabilitation from surgery marvelled at how calm the animal — who managed to fit through a regular door — was.

“That’s something,” said resident Willie Schmidt, 99, marvelling at how calm Ole remained despite the constant stimulation.

-Messenger photo by Elijah Decious
At 99, Willie Schmidt is officially the oldest person to sit on Ole the bull. Schmidt, a resident at Fort Dodge Health and Rehabilitation, said he used to ride bulls as a kid, but at 1,850 pounds, Ole was much larger than the ones he rode.

With the encouragement of others, Schmidt became the oldest person to climb on top of Ole that day, raising his hands up in the saddle like it was a rollercoaster to pose for pictures with Ole’s handler, Jason Dent. But this wasn’t Schmidt’s first rodeo. He rode on horses and smaller bulls as a kid.

“We just rode ’em to see how long we could stay on ’em,” the Gowrie native recalled, remembering Queen, one of his favorite horses as a young man.

This bull was the only other animal he ever recalled seeing at Fort Dodge Health and Rehabilitation in his residence of about five years.

“I’m the only other animal they’ve brought in here,” he joked.

Dent, a former bull rider turned rodeo clown, now showcases Ole, the bull bred to be a “super bucker” that didn’t like bucking cowboys like Dent. That’s what led Dent to get Ole for a bargain about 11 years ago.

-Messenger photo by Elijah Decious
Ole the bull visits with residents at Fort Dodge Health and Rehabilitation with handler Jason Dent, a former rodeo bull rider and reality TV star from “Big Brother.”

Dent originally intended to use Ole as a stud, with a certified lineage that has proven to be fruitful, despite his own shortcomings as a bucker. After an incident that scared him out of riding, Dent became a rodeo clown and ended up touring with Ole to places like this one in Fort Dodge.

“I climbed down in that bucket chute and I was like… I just had a terrible fear all of a sudden,” Dent said. “My legs went numb. I rode for 13 years, but I was terrified. After that I couldn’t do it.”

But it turns out Ole’s ironic shortcoming was a perfect match for a rodeo clown, who goes by the stage name “Whistle Nut,” no longer interested in the dangers of bull riding.

“I spend more time with this guy than my wife,” the former ”Big Brother” contestant joked with residents.

At 14, Ole is nearing the end of his expected life span, but has managed to tour upwards of 90 cities since 2010. In that time, he’s given joy to many, young and old — the reason that Dent makes the drives around the country.

-Messenger photo by Elijah Decious
Willow Groff, 1, and Kim Myers, of Fort Dodge, take the saddle first on Monday, when Fort Dodge Health and Rehabilitation residents got to see the giant up close and personal. Handler Jason Dent, who goes by his rodeo clown name, “Whistle Nut,” tours with Ole all over the country.

In those visits, he said Ole’s appearance is more than just a means of entertainment for an hour or two. When residents — many confined to wheelchairs or limited by walkers — climb up the stairs or are lifted up with Dent’s lanky but strong arms onto the saddle, they feel an energy that parallels the one he felt as a rider.

“I get a lump in my throat a lot,” Dent said of witnessing their pure, joyful reactions, as residents manage to smile wider than they have in a long time.

“Their smiles are paralyzing,” the Humeston native said.

Overcoming the fear and succeeding in getting on top of Ole gives them a confidence that carries them with a renewed energy that few other activities can do.

“You’ve just renewed their own self-courage. It re-establishes humanity for them,” he said.

And though it’s not the same rush of adrenaline he got as a young buck that rode bucking bulls, he said it’s an emotional revelation unlike any other.

“It makes you feel like you’re learning something that nobody else is,” he said, about the people he helps up and down each time. “You don’t wear a cape with that kind of power.”