If it’s horses, Tossie’s there front and center
by Frank J. Buchman
“I’m at a horsemanship clinic, just got on my horse. The barrel horse banquet is tonight, and a trail ride tomorrow.”
That’s the life of Tossie Kirkham. Going lickety split, chatting, right in the middle of everything horses.
Finally, a jiffy calming: “I’m always anxious to talk about horses, been busy,” she consented.
Go anywhere in northeast Kansas, around the Midwest, say “Tossie,” anybody attracted to horses knows her.
“I’ve always loved horses, and enjoy being around everybody who wants anything to do with horses,” emphatically proclaimed most-personable, always-smiling Tossie.
On the Valley Falls farm with Dean, her husband of 31 years, life revolves around horses. It’s been that way more than six decades.
“I was tiny, still in diapers, we lived in Arkansas. I’d hang onto the legs of the mules. I just love animals,” she reiterated.
In the first grade, Tossie remembers petting ponies owned by neighbors. “They said we could ride ’em if we could catch ’em. There six of us kids, I was next to oldest, had to look after the others. I wanted to ride that chocolate pony.
“I took all of our shoe laces, tied them together, like a rope. I had my sisters and brothers help me corner that pony, caught him and got on. He wasn’t broke, actually a stallion I found out, but I rode Pee Wee. He ran through barbed wire fences. I hung on and still have scars on my legs,” Tossie reflected.
Always wanting her own horse, she got one during sixth grade. “A horse trader came by with a thin bay gelding. I traded my bicycle and clarinet for Ranger. I loved that ‘wonderful’ horse,” Tossie glistens.
By then eight children were in her family living in Atchison County. “We were poor, very poor. I didn’t have a saddle. I made my own tack out of gunny sacks. Took a needle, thread, learned to sew, made my outfits, too,” Tossie related.
“I’ve owned horses ever since. After I got married, the good horses became my children’s horses. I really never had a good horse of my own until the kids started their families,” Tossie admitted.
“I still have him. Twoey was the best horse ever. He learned barrels when he was 17, won the year-end trophy saddle. Twoey is 27, will be here the rest of his life,” Tossie said.
Setback upon accident and passing of her first husband on their 15th anniversary, Tossie later married Dean, a lifelong horseman. “Combined we have five children, my three, his two, now 10 grandchildren,” she said.
“They all love horses,” Tossie insisted.
“Only a couple of them are showing, but two little ones soon will be,” grandma assured.
Active in horseshow organizations, Tossie has been a member of the North East Kansas Small Area Group 45 years, serving as president, secretary, now points’ keeper.
“We’re members of the Valley Falls and Lancaster Saddle Clubs, too. Dean’s dad started Lancaster,” said Tossie who with Dean have served numerous leadership roles.
Weekends find the Kirkhams somewhere horsing around. “Dean and I competed in shows everywhere for many years, but his health isn’t too good. He’s my helper, biggest supporter, best friend,” Tossie credited.
Generally hauling five head of horses, riding on trails, in shows and barrel racing competitions, Tossie is a winner. At the past year-end awards banquets, she collected literally dozens of awards.
Only Zippo Joe is her main show horse today, while her black and white Paint, Checks, wins barrel racing.
“I’m never too old to learn more about horses and riding,” Tossie revealed philosophy for attending the recent horsemanship clinic.
Crediting Karen Russell for initial horsemanship guidance, Tossie said, “I go to Terry Champaign now. She’s a big help.”
Producing their own horses, the Kirkhams have a black and white stallion, Rock, that they raised. “He’s a great one siring brains and speed,” Tossie acknowledged.
With 16 horses, everyone is close to her heart. “We sell some horses, but only when they’re safe and dependable for new owners. I have first option to buy them back,” she said.
A small indoor arena has her mirror collection, and all sorts of distractions. “My horses are desensitized so nobody will get hurt,” Tossie claimed.
Retiring from working for the state, Tossie operates Kirkham’s Western World designing and sewing horseshow wardrobes. “I like nice clothes and have my own unique styles,” she said. One design is worn by a Brooks & Dunn musician.
A special memory is going to a hospice so a 94-year-old woman could ride one more time. “How touching, the lady getting out of her wheelchair onto that horse. So happy, wanting to live again,” Tossie said.
“Owning horses opens up the world to you as you always know someone everywhere you go,” all-around horsewoman Tossie Kirkham summarized.
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