Obituary: Walter Westman spent his life on horseback — nearly 103 years of it
Walter Westman believed in riding horses.
“There’s nothing so good for the inside of a man as the outside of a horse,” he told many visitors to his Hilltop Riding Academy, one of Minnesota’s first indoor riding arenas.
Westman, who died Feb. 6 at age 103, continued riding until just before his 100th birthday, said his son Charlie Westman of White Bear Township.
“He had a deep fondness for horses,” said Westman, a veterinarian who specializes in equine chiropractics and acupuncture. “He always said, ‘You treat that horse right, and he’ll treat you right.’ “
Walter Westman grew up working with horses on his family’s farm in rural Anoka County. In 1936, he opened the Hilltop Riding Academy in Columbia Heights, which his wife, Margaret, operated after he was drafted into the Army during World War II.
“When they drafted me, I told them all I knew was horses, so they put me in the cavalry,” Westman told the Pioneer Press in 2006.
Westman trained on horseback for a year in Texas and patrolled the Mexican border. “We were as fit as fiddles, and so were the horses,” he told the Pioneer Press. “We were riding every day, probably four hours a day. To be in the cavalry, you have to be top of the line.”
Charlie Westman said his father liked being in the cavalry because the horses “did all the work” and “you didn’t have to march a 10-mile march like you would in the infantry.”
Westman’s unit was sent to the South Pacific during the war. He received a Purple Heart for an injury he received in the Admiralty Islands; he was struck by the white phosphorous from a mortar round.
When the war was over, Westman bought 34 horses from the Army at an auction in Kansas. “They were from the Cavalry Officers School, and
they were the best horses you could find,” he told the Pioneer Press. “I shipped them by train up to New Brighton and herded them 6 miles to my stables on a road that they were building” — a road, he said, that is now Interstate 694.
In 1948, Westman moved the academy to Maplewood, where he worked until he retired in 1977.
Westman was named Horseperson of the Year by the Minnesota Horse Council in 2002 and was honored by the Minnesota Hunter and Jumper Association in 2005.
When he was 92, Westman founded the Minnesota chapter of the 1st Cavalry Division Association. Called the Walter H. Westman-Northland Chapter, the group meets quarterly and raises money for grocery-store gift cards for the families of deployed service members.
“That helped him have some purpose,” Charlie Westman said. “He was purpose-driven. He wanted to do some good — not just get together with a bunch of guys for coffee.”
Westman died of natural causes at his assisted-living apartment at the Lodge at White Bear in White Bear Lake.
His first wife, Margaret, died in 1964; his second wife, Evelyn, died in 2002. In addition to Charlie Westman, he is survived by son Doug of St. Paul; a granddaughter; and two great-grandsons.
Funeral services were held at 11 a.m. Monday, Feb. 18, at Roselawn Cemetery in Roseville.
Friends and family gathered after the service at Running Aces Card Club in Columbus Township, Minn.
“It was his favorite place to go, and playing cards was his favorite thing to do,” Charlie Westman said. “He would rather go to the card club than eat. Blackjack, 500 and bridge. He liked to win money. He would always say, ‘Let’s go to the card club and make some money.’ “
Westman said his father won $4,200 playing blackjack at Running Aces during one visit to the club — when he was 102.