Avid roper Don Billings suffered
a medical problem that resulted in the amputation of his right
leg at the knee. Many of us would have wallowed in self-pity.
An inspirational example to all of us, Don wants to keep being
active, riding horses, and team roping. Toward this end,
he was thinking of having a special saddle designed for him.
His prosthesis does not work in the correct way to use in a
stirrup like a real leg. Instead, Don has fabricated a
leather scabbard attached to his current saddle for the amputated
leg. Here is his story in his own words. The photos
were taken by his wife Laura Billings.
Nuts and Bolts of the Situation
by Don Billings In
October of 1999, an ongoing problem I was having with pain
in the calves of my legswas causing me more and
more discomfort. I had pain whenever I walked and even had
trouble just feeding my roping steers. I went to my family
doctor for a physical and, after several tests, learned
I have hardening of the arteries. Doctors performed
a procedure called angioplasty, where they clean out the
clogged artery and put in stints to keep the artery open.
But, doctors were unable to fix the right leg with this
procedure. In the right leg, I needed a new plastic artery
to replace the bad artery. The bypass artery reached from
my groin to my knee. Everything was going fine and I never
felt better. I was back roping within a couple of weeks
and practicing up to go to a USTRC roping in Scottsdale,
AZ. Then, two months after the bypass surgery, I started
getting pains in my right leg and the lower part of my leg
lost color and felt cool to the touch. Within hours I was
in extreme pain. My wife, Laura, rushed me to the emergency
room in our little town of Wickenburg, AZ. From there, I
was flown by helicopter to Phoenix.
I woke up three
days later in intensive care and realized I was late for
the big USTRC roping. And, I saw that my leg had been cut
up both sides. After doing tests the doctors found that
a blood clot had formed in my leg and cut off all blood
flow. They removed a vein in the back of my leg to graft
to the damaged, blocked artery. The graft produced adequate
blood flow, but not until too much damage had been caused
to the muscle in my lower leg. I was given the option of
letting the doctors try to save my lower leg (but
they didnít give this possibility too much hope and even
if it could be saved I would never be able to walk on it).
My other option would be a through the knee amputation.
This was what I chose to have done because I would be able
to get around better with a prosthesis than by dragging
around a dead weight.
a limb is like loosing a member of your family. And,
after being home from the hospital a week, I received the
news that my sister died. This felt like a double whammy.
I went through several emotions relating to these very difficult
events in my life. Anger, frustration, etc. I went through
a two week spell where I couldnít stop crying. I think my
wife and my friend Anson Thurman (an old time roping hero)
were ready to send me to the "Booby Hatch".
I felt I needed to make changes in my life style. I sold
my roping steers and two of my horses. I came very close
to selling my best horse, JW Hobbit. But now, Iím thankful
I didnít. Gradually, as the pain started lessening, I began
healing and knew I wanted to ride again. My physical therapist,
Rick Blakely, gave me great encouragement to get back to
a life as close to what I had before, as possible. And,
my friend and neighbor, Albert Duell, simply wouldnít take "No"
for an answer about having us be a roping team. I had to
have my wife saddle my horse, and found that by hopping
up on the fence I could get myself onto my horse. People
have always told me "when you fall off your horse,
get back on." I found this to be true in all
of lifeís setbacks. Once I started riding again, ideas started
popping into my head faster than I could control them, as
to how to get around having one leg. I was 66 years old.
I knew I had to do something. My love for horses and roping
I found that my prosthesis
didnít work well for riding and I started looking for a
saddle maker to build me an apparatus for my saddle. I wasnít
having any luck, so some friends of mine, Darryl and Sherrie
Jack, showed up at my house with some leather and fleece.
They said, "Here is some material, build it yourself".
My wife and I started measuring, cutting, and punching holes
for lacing. Four hours later we had it attached to my saddle.
We put a bolt through the inside of the scabbard and into
the saddle skirt at the swivel point of the leg. We attached
a car seatbelt to the back of the saddle seat and threaded
it through the scabbard to go around my waist, for added
security. Bucking rolls were added to the swells of
the saddle to provide more control. We also removed
the stirrup and stirrup leather from the amputation side
of saddle so that the saddle is less cumbersome.
So, I am back to roping again. And, after
less than three months of being released from the hospital,
I am almost back to peak performance. I have made a lot
of new friends and realize how much my old ones care about
me. I am having trouble with being patient. And, learning
to walk again on my prosthesis is harder than it looks.
Driving my 6-speed, manual, diesel pickup gives me a little
bit of a problem, too. But, I am learning how to accomplish
these things, as I will all others.
Success in the
This technique worked for Don, but all riding can be a dangerous
activity and you should consult your physician and a trained saddle
maker before starting on a project such as this.
External links are listed as a convenience. We
take no responsibility and give no guarantees or
warranties, implied or otherwise, for content or
accuracy of third-party sites. External sites are not
necessarily endorsed by Cowboy Showcase.