An avid equestrian, she shows in the hunter jumper discipline throughout the western United States. She owns three horses and talks about them like they are true teammates and partners. “Uptick –like an uptick in the market—has been a soldier,” she says of one of her beloved horses. “He’s been my 1.30 meter and he has been so consistent and the perfect kind of horse you want to find when you’re moving up because it’s a partnership. You need a horse who will forgive some of your mistakes and still do the job for you. He has been so tolerant. We’ve had such fun together.” Her other two horses are Casmeo (“a little like a teenage boy”) and Clever (“sophisticated and a good listener”).
About two years ago she started her equestrian business, Risen EQ. She and two other amateur riders compete in horse shows around the country.
When we spoke by phone recently, the riders had just visited Thermal, California (near Palm Springs) and the HITS Horse Show, one of the largest hunter/jumper horse venues in the United States, and a $1 million Grand Prix. “It was really exciting to watch top professionals from all over the world compete in that particular class. Those fences are 1.50 meter,” she says excitedly. “I haven’t competed at that level, by any means. My goal is to get to a smaller Grand Prix at some point in my riding career.”
“One of the things that I love about the discipline of the equestrian is that it’s the only Olympic sport where men and women compete against each other,” she explains. “It takes a great deal of athleticism from the rider, but it’s a lot about leverage as well, maybe more than endurance. A lot of our best riders in the sport are in their fifties because it takes a long time to learn the discipline of riding and the finesse that is involved in dealing with an animal. There are some phenomenal young riders, but the people in the sport you really look up to are those people competing in their fifties and sixties.”
Bowlen Wallace, who is 47, has been riding for most of her life. She was introduced to riding as a child in Hawaii, where she grew up in the Hawaii Kai neighborhood on the island of Oahu. There was a horse stable nearby where her mother would drop her off for lessons. Thus began a lifelong passion.
“I was just drawn to it,” she says of riding. “And it was something that I never really got out of my system.”
She continued her equestrian pursuits in college (she studied at the University of Colorado at Boulder) and credits having a horse to keeping her “a little more responsible in those college years.” “It is a very disciplined sport,” she adds. “You can’t just take the day off. It’s not like putting a set of golf clubs in the closet.”
She took a break from riding when she got married and started a family in Hawaii.
After she moved to Colorado ten years ago, Bowlen Wallace worked with her dad as director of special projects for the Denver Broncos. During that time, she played an integral role in the creation of the Ring of Fame Plaza and the development of the 9-foot statue of her father that stands in the center of the plaza. It captures Pat Bowlen on the sideline, wearing a suit, sunglasses and cowboy boots, memorializing him in Broncos history as one of the NFL’s longest-serving and most successful owners.
Despite his larger-than-life status, “growing up with my dad was really normal,” she admits. “We were in Hawaii—it was very different from growing up with ‘Pat Bowlen’ in Denver.” She and her sister grew up on the beach with their mother, Sally Parker. Her father would spend half the year in Hawaii with his daughters. “He fell in love with the island,” Bowlen Wallace says.
As an avid athlete, he ran marathons, including the Ironman triathlon, and surfed big waves in his canoe. “We’re not talking about surfing on the shores of Waikiki on 2-foot waves,” she explains, laughing. “He’d go out in waves that big wave surfers never dream of taking a canoe out in. He and his best friends were little daredevils. They would go and surf 20-foot waves.”
“He loved to do exciting things so you were always doing something exciting when you were with him,” she remembers.
Bowlen Wallace was 12 years old when her dad bought the Denver Broncos.
She vividly recalls the heartache of losing three Super Bowl bids and the elation and pride she felt for her dad when they won the 1998 Super Bowl against the Green Bay Packers. “We were not favored to win that game,” she says, “and my concern was really more about [my dad] and his emotions wrapped up in not wanting to lose another Super Bowl, especially because he cared so much about his fans and the city of Denver and wanted so badly, not only for the players, but also for the city of Denver to have some pride and win that Super Bowl trophy.”
She still gets emotional when she recalls the details of that game. “That game,” she starts and stops. “Even just reflecting about it now, my heart is pounding.” She watched the last five minutes from the sideline, remembering Terrell Davis’s infamous play (“he was so close to me when he ran out of bounds, I could feel the wind blow against me”) and how she shared the moment of victory with her dad. “I just burst into tears. All I could do was just run and find him because I just wanted to hug him. I just wanted to congratulate him.” She pauses. “I get emotional every time I tell that story. When you wish something so much for someone else and they achieve it, it’s just something really special. It was a special win because he was there—he was part of it.”
In July 2014, Pat Bowlen gave up his control of the Broncos because of his battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
“I’m sure other people feel this way, but for me, my dad was larger than life, the strongest person I’ve ever known,” she says. “He owned the most popular business in town. There’s a lot of influence in that, and there’s a lot of exposure. It’s so crushing to think that he’d be that vulnerable.”
Bowlen Wallace now uses her own influence to champion the fight against Alzheimer’s, particularly in helping reduce the stigma associated with the disease and raising awareness.
“We all as a culture have to start the conversation about aging and we need to start having more reverence so that our loved ones—whether it be my dad, my mom, or me when it’s my time, we all have dignity because, if we’re lucky, we’re all going to get old. If I can use my experience with my dad to help other families, that’s the least I can do.”
Two years ago, Bowlen Wallace graduated from the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law, following in her father’s footsteps and fulfilling his dream that she, too, would graduate from law school.
“I thought it would be hard going back to school later in life,” she concedes, “but it wasn’t. It taught me how important life experience is in anything you do, and maybe that relates a little bit back to the horses and how some of the 50-year olds are competing at such a high level,” she says. “We all gain knowledge from the experiences we have in life and really, often times, the lessons we learn the most from are usually the most difficult.”
Bowlen Wallace credits her faith in playing the largest role “in getting me through what has been an incredibly difficult journey with my dad.”
She also finds solace in riding, something she returned to when she moved to Colorado. “It is my emotional, physical and spiritual outlet,” she reveals. “Riding is something I do for me.”
What’s next? “I’m always open for opportunities at the Denver Broncos and honoring my dad’s legacy,” she answers.
In the meantime, she’s setting her sights high in the equestrian arena. Her dream is to compete in a Grand Prix and jump 1.5 meter.
Rachel Engleberg is a writer and television journalist. She lives in Denver with her husband and their three children.
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