The rider hit town at sunrise and aimed his horse toward a humble corral. His horse ambled cheerfully through a greening pasture, her hay bales and trough now in view. It was an early spring morning in Tooele County. The mountains were still snow-capped, the surface of the Great Salt Lake a cool blue. With the rousing townscape before them, horse and rider took stock of the day. One looked forward to casual grazing; the other to a hard day’s work.
It might have been a scene from a Hollywood western or a passage from a pioneer journal, but our rider, Grantsville resident Jeff Beazer, hails from the modern era — and this is his morning commute. Beazer, 49, is a registered nurse and the director of surgical services at Mountain West Medical Center in Tooele. He has commuted to the hospital on horseback regularly for more than two years. It takes him approximately an hour to get from his home in Grantsville to MWMC.
“I ride as often as I can,” said Beazer as he walked his horse, a 4-year-old Missouri Fox Trotter named Sakura, into the small corral a stone’s toss from the hospital’s west parking lot.
Though unorthodox, the setting is illustrative of Beazer’s parallel passions: horse keeping and medicine. It was horse keeping that brought him to Tooele County in 1998, and moving here led to employment at MWMC.
Beazer grew up keeping horses with his father in Centerville and bought his first horse at age 16. He began his medical career as an operating room technician at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City and eventually earned his nursing degree from Salt Lake Community College in 1995. Beazer and his wife, Kelli, moved to Grantsville in 1998 to be centrally located between his parents in Centerville and Vernon, and to be able to keep horses.
“Riding a horse you get to spend time outside and travel faster than if you’re on foot,” Beazer said. “It’s exercise, and gives you a chance to sit and relax and think while you’re riding. [You get] plenty of time just to be you.”
Beazer owns two horses — Sakura and a 9-year-old male, Stetson. He takes turns with each horse for his commute. Both are Missouri Fox Trotters, a breed known for their speed and smooth gait.
“A Fox Trotter is basically a cross between a thoroughbred and an Arabian, so they’re a little bit quicker and spirited,” Beazer said. “Sakura has the ability to walk about twice the speed of most other breeds.”
Sakura is Japanese for cherry blossom, a flower that blooms in late March. Sakura was born in March and was so named by a Japanese student the Beazers housed for a time.
The Beazers have four children who share a love for horses. The family often rides their horses around Grantsville and takes monthly trail rides in local canyons and places like Moab, St. George and the Uinta Mountains. Their 15-year-old son, Nick, purchased his own horse last year. Beazer looks forward to training her for riding this summer. He says Kelli doesn’t ride much, but he doesn’t complain.
“She lets me keep horses, and that’s good enough for me,” he said.
MWMC recruited Beazer from LDS Hospital in 2001. He became interim director of surgery in 2010 and assumed the title formally in 2011. Beazer oversees the operating room, recovery, endoscopy and the central sterilization area. While the job is mostly administrative, Beazer said he gets into the operating room as often as possible to assist in surgeries. In 2012, he was named regional manager of the year, but was quick to credit his staff.
“I have the best OR staff in the world,” he said. “They don’t need me to be here. I could ride my horse all day long and they could function just fine.”
MWMC allows Beazer to maintain his corral behind the hospital. Beazer said the idea of commuting on horseback stemmed from an increasingly busy life.
“The older your kids get, the less time you have to do things,” he said. “Riding to work gives me a chance to ride the horses without having to travel. It’s not quite as interesting as riding trails, but I get to wave to people. Kids on the school bus like to watch me ride.”
Beazer also considers the horseback commute invaluable to his job at MWMC because it puts him in a tranquil mood for work. He said the ride is relaxing and gives him time to think, mostly about spiritual matters.
“I come in and am able to be relaxed when I talk to my patients and staff members,” Beazer said. “Then riding home allows me to clear my mind. I just like to be able to deal with people as naturally as possible.”
After grooming and watering Sakura, Beazer walked toward the hospital complex — leaving the simple realm of horses and pasture for the stressful world of thyroidectomies and cardiac catheterization. But it’s a brief departure. Later in the afternoon he’ll trade his surgical gloves for riding gloves and greet Sakura for the long ride home. Modern surgery and equestrianism make an odd, yet somehow appropriate juxtaposition. And Beazer admits to being old-fashioned.
“My wife and parents both say I was born too late for my time,” he said. “They say I should have been an old country doctor riding my horse out to take care of people.”