When Trials Become Blessings
Winter 2020 Issue Written by Cyd Hoefle Photos by Stu Hoefle
Ryle Clark has captured his family's heart
Along the foothills of the Beartooth Mountains, near the base of Fishtail Butte, sprawls a beautiful cattle ranch where Ryan and Lindsey Clark are raising their cattle and their kids. A pasture full of cows and calves are scattered along the lane leading up to the ranch house.
An immaculate place, the buildings are all painted and well cared for, the massive yard mowed and trimmed, the woodpile stocked and the garden bountiful.
“There’s always something to do,” Ryan said. “We have an ongoing list that never seems to end.”
Ryan and Lindsey work side by side on the ranch and as often as possible, the kids are helping, too. On this beautiful fall day, after spending most of it helping neighbors prepare for shipping, the family returned home to continue a fencing project. At the end of the full day, while their parents relaxed on the deck, the children used up their remaining energy chasing each other around the yard.
When the girls, Lainey, 10 and Harper, 2, finally petered out and took a break, 6-year-old Ryle dragged his bright-orange, bouncy riding horse out to the middle of the yard. Dressed in his signature black cowboy hat, boots and spurs, Ryle settled on the back of his “horse.” He loosened his lariat rope and started making a loop. Concentrating hard, he opened the loop up as he swung. Letting go, the loop landed easily around the horns of the miniature mechanical roping steer.
Ryle laughed and yelled out to his mother, “Mom!” ensuring that she saw his accomplishment.
“Good job, Ryle,” she called back to him.
After catching the steer, he turned his horse in the opposite direction and bounced away until the rope was taut. He jumped off, wrestled the steer onto its side and threw his hands in the air.
“He’s watched a lot of rodeos on TV,” Lindsey explained as she and Ryan laughed. “He loves all of the events: team roping, bull riding, steer wrestling.”
It’s easy to see that Lindsey and Ryan are in their element. Married for 12 years, the couple met at MSU in Bozeman. Ryan was working and Lindsey was finishing her master’s degree. They hit it off immediately. Before long, their love, mutual interest in cattle ranching and the combination of both of their cow herds lead to a humorous invitation to their wedding, which announced that “two herds would become one…”
“From there, it didn’t take long for us to triple our cow herd and our family,” Lindsey joked. Two years after they were married, daughter Lainey came along, and in the next eight years Ryle and Harper joined the family.
As perfect as the scene appears now, the Clarks went through a very rough trial when Ryle was born.
“I was hospitalized for two weeks with preeclampsia before he was born,” Lindsey said. “It’s hard enough to be in the hospital for that long, but to be that far from home was terrible.” As the doctors monitored her high blood pressure, they decided to induce her several weeks before her due date.
“It was a really hard time,” Ryan agreed. “February, mid-winter. Lainey was staying with her grandmother and I was in the middle of calving. It was miserable, cold, snowy, and I was going for days without much sleep. One night it was so cold I was putting newborn calves in the back of the pickup to get them to the warmth of the barn and I fell asleep driving and got stuck. I ended up walking back to the house. I was so physically exhausted.” What Ryan felt physically as he worked at the ranch would be nothing compared to what would come next.
Lindsey was induced and Ryle was born at 34 weeks weighing just 4 lbs. 11 oz. He was a perfectly beautiful baby, and Lindsey and Ryan were thrilled that they had the boy they hoped for. But shortly after his birth, that thrill turned to fear as it was determined that Ryle was born with Down syndrome.
“It rocked us for sure,” Lindsey said, tears filling her eyes. “So many emotions, anger, fear and shock and the question why? And then guilt for even thinking that.”
“I was numb,” Ryan said, “I was exhausted from everything. With the added stress of worrying about Lindsey, I was so numb I didn’t know how to respond.” Ryan paused for a moment before he continued, “That’s hard to believe, because look at Ryle now. I can’t imagine not having him in our lives.”
As soon as Ryle’s “rodeo” was over, and the family walked down to the horse barn. Ryle showed off the horses, the horse barn and the calving shed. He scrambled into the chute and made it known that he was a calf needing to be branded. His father, laughing, jumped into the of the game, tagging Ryle’s ear, giving him a shot and branding his hip. Ryle bellered like a calf and the family all laughed.
“He brings us so much joy,” Lindsey said with a smile. “What was the hardest time in our lives became the greatest blessing. Those first few years were hard but now it’s hard to believe we even struggled. We reached a point where he was no longer “Ryle with Down syndrome,” he was just Ryle. He is who he is.”
Ryan added that they received great encouragement from a couple who also have a Down syndrome child. “He told me, ‘Treat Ryle like you treat the other kids.’ That’s probably the best advice I could have ever received. Because that’s what we do.”
Lainey is exceptional help with both of her younger siblings. Acting almost as the third parent, she watches over Ryle carefully while at school and on the bus ride the two of them take to Absarokee and back, every day.
“The full days can be hard on him,” Lindsey said. “He couldn’t do it without Lainey.”
The school provides speech therapy for Ryle, and though he uses sign language and his own hand motions, he’s learning to speak. The Clarks are thankful for the programs that the school is providing for Ryle and the attention he receives.
“They are wonderful with him,” Lindsey said. “We’re very fortunate.”
After the “branding,” Ryle, who only knows one speed — fast — ran to the corrals. The steel pole fence and gates and the solid paneled chute, with a concrete walkway, make working cattle safe even with kids.
“Lainey and Ryle are really good help,” Lindsey continued. “We loved having them home when school was closed last spring.”
Once again Ryle’s imagination took off as he “herded” cows in the chute.
“He goes all day at that pace,” Lindsey laughed. “He keeps all of us on our toes. We are so thankful that God allowed us to be his parents.” Ryan agreed and the two of them shared a smile. They stepped back and watched as all three children raced around the corrals, the family dogs chasing them, their laughter echoing across the yard.
“If we could go back to the day he was born and have the choice of a normal baby ,we wouldn’t do it,” Ryan said. “The world needs more kiddos like Ryle. He’s always happy and smiling and he loves everyone. God made Down syndrome kids perfect. It’s the rest of us that are flawed! If everyone looked at the world like they do, we wouldn’t be in the trouble we’re in.”