Piroutek’s horses and faith build a future
April 28, 2014
Lots of people have stood on the backs of their saddlehorses. Not many people use their horse for scaffolding though.
"The day before the sale I remember standing on his back to wash the outside windows of our house for my mom," said Danielle Piroutek of her horse, Charlie. She was selling the horse to help with college expenses in Washington, D.C., which, at the time, was a huge leap of faith for her. Piroutek is a young woman who has packed a lot of living into almost 22 years.
Danielle Piroutek is the oldest of eight children born to Mike and Faye Piroutek, who lived in Colorado when she was born. When she was three years old, the family moved to Sturgis, S.D. until she was six. At that point they moved to Milesville, S.D. to work for her great-uncle, Dan Piroutek.
"I remember, when we lived in Sturgis, driving down to the farm and riding the horses. I loved every minute of it and could not get enough of it. That's where my love for horses and country life began."
Danielle remembers her bucket-calf, Daisy, the first animal she was responsible for, Great Uncle Dan's pigs, playing in the mud in the family garden, and having to ride home in the back of the pickup because she was too dirty to ride in the front.
Her horse breaking and training got off to a rough start. "My uncle Dan bought me a colt of my own when I was seven, which we named Scooter. He got lame on us a lot and then when he was yearling and still a stud he went through a mean phase that I didn't know how to handle as a little 8-year-old. I was scared of him. When he was old enough, Dan had someone ride him for a couple of summers. When he was four I was allowed to ride him. I didn't have any experience with young horses. I remember Scooter bucked me off one of the first days I rode him. I was still scared of him but I got back on. One day he ran away with me and jumped a fence. He ended up with a bad cut. After that, I didn't really ride him."
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That fall, when she was 11 years old, she used the money from the sale of a bucket calf to buy another horse, in the process, learning a valuable lesson about auction etiquette. "I don't remember all the details but I ended up having to bid on him all by myself. My uncle Dan and the auctioneers knew I wanted him. The bidding started and there were a lot of bids right away. Uncle Dan looked at me and I waved my hand sheepishly with the intention of saying that I was going to let him go because with so much interest I thought I wouldn't get him. The auctioneers took it as a bid and he was mine."
Danielle will readily admit that she didn't know much about breaking horses at the time, but she was determined to learn how.
"My experience with buying, training and selling horses has also taught me to not be afraid to ask others for help, especially advice. I don't know everything, never will. I've found there is true wisdom, not weakness, in knowing your limits and when you need help. But with that goes not expecting people to hand you things. You've got to be willing to do what they say and continue to work at it."
She found a lot of that help and advice from her aunt and uncle Wayne and Jean Massar of Circle, Mont. She began spending summers at their ranch the same year, and spent the next four summers there.
"Uncle Wade helped me learn more about horses. I really wanted to learn how to rope and I'd been practicing for years on the ground, but because the Piroutek family knew little about horses, let alone roping, they would never let me do anything on my horse for safety reasons. Wade taught me safety. We went to many brandings and the second to last one he finally let me rope." The first loop she caught a calf by both hind legs, although it took several more loops to do it again.
After eight years of country school in Milesville, Danielle started high school in Philip, S.D., which was a big adjustment for her.
" I was so shy that I cried the first time I asked one of my teachers for help on an assignment." She credits her uncle Dan and one of her teachers, Mr. Hauk for helping her to be more outgoing. She continued breaking and training horses, gaining more confidence with each horse she broke. She competed in rodeo all four years of high school; her senior year, she missed going to the State Finals in barrel racing by three-thousandths of a second.
"It was really sad, but I also felt really accomplished because I had done it on a horse that I had done all of the training on. It was truly all my own hard work that got me where I was. I made it really far on a horse I'd bought for $200 as a baby."
"In high school, I was active in FFA and was an officer all four years. I was state champion in Range Identification and Range Evaluation. I got third at State in Natural Resources one year. All through high school the plan was for me to go to SDSU and become a vet." But the plan started changing her junior year. Piroutek is a devout Catholic, and to alter an old saying, only God could drag her away from her wild horses. At the urging of Bishop Blaise Cupich, then bishop of the Diocese of Rapid City, she applied for the annual diocesan full-ride scholarship to Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. "As I was sitting down to apply (for the scholarship) I remember making the little prayer, 'God if I happen to get it, I'll go.'" Danielle remembers that she really only applied "to make the bishop happy." In April of 2010 she found out that she had been selected, which was, she said "a mixed bag." Although it was a full-ride scholarship, she still needed money for all the incidentals, and with the prospect of living in Washington, D.C. she knew she wasn't going to ride much. After discussing things with her Uncle Dan, she consigned Charlie the Window Washing Wonder Horse to the Bull Day Sale in Philip. Auctioneer Lynn Weishaar ended up buying Charlie, after breaking the news to the auction crowd that Danielle was going to college in Washington, D.C. Weishaar eventually purchased another horse from her.
Danielle was very anxious about going to a large city far away, but she says if she knew beforehand how hard it would be for her, she might not have gone.
"The first week of classes my sister Anna got bucked off a horse. It was really hard to not feel guilty about it. I was the one who was the expert on the horses. I felt like I should have been there to make sure everything was right and to move the yearlings. She ended up in the ICU in rapid for a week from a lacerated spleen. I cried every day for the first three weeks at least and most days for the next two months. I remember there being times where I was in such distress that my chest actually hurt as if my heart was actually breaking and I would rub it to try to make it not hurt as bad."
Little by little it got easier. By the second semester she had gotten to the point that she "didn't cry every day." She began to get involved in campus ministries and worked with the Sisters of the Poor and began to make good friends. She has been to Boston and Chicago, seen Plymouth Rock on Thanksgiving Day, been to baseball, basketball and hockey games, seen concerts on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and learned "a little about English riding." On a trip to New York City, she ran into the Philip High School band. But the green-grass country girl still shines through now and then.
"My friends always get a kick out of me because I get really happy when I hear a diesel engine, see a pick up, and one day on the metro I saw a guy wearing a brand new pair of Wranglers. He had a camouflage hat with the Dodge logo on it. He was wearing a western shirt and struggling with his phone. It made me so happy because everything about him said 'redneck' but his brand new pair of Wranglers told me that he was in his Sunday best."
Danielle has a car in D.C. and says that she "gets by" in the traffic, but she appreciates the South Dakota license plates. "'Cause when I do something dumb (while driving) I just say 'hey, look at the plates.'"
Due to a list of circumstances, Danielle eventually decided it was God's will that she become a nurse. She will graduate this spring with a nursing degree from CUA and is very proud of the fact that she maintained a 3.99 GPA at an "academically challenging" school. She intends to get an ER job at one of the hospitals in the D.C. area where she is doing her student rotations.
Danielle, after owning as many as eight horses, is now down to one, having sold the rest to help her through college. She heaps praise on her sister Anna for preparing her horses for sales while she was away.
"She did really great. There's no way they would have sold so well without her keeping them sharp for me. When I came back this September to sell my last two, she had one doing a neat sliding stop and backing up without touching the reins." She's keeping Frosty, the horse she bought by herself without intending to, probably as long as he lives.
"Frosty ended up being the biggest of all my horses and he still knows that he's bigger than me. None of my other horses figured that out."
One of Danielle's favorite philosophies is "Stay close to God, drink milk, and never pass up the chance to have cookies with your milk." While she figures the God and cookies parts are pretty straightforward, she credits drinking milk with walking away more or less unscathed from some bad horse wrecks. And she hopes to never lose her sense of wonder.
"Awe really is a gift and too many people lose it. I hope I never lose my sense of awe towards a beautiful sunset, my horses running off after I turn them out, a spring flower, a calf trotting up to his mother, the cute things my brothers do, the generosity of neighbors, good art or music, or the strength humans have to overcome some really difficult challenges."