"Where Fillmore County News Comes First"
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Root River Saddle Club

Fri, Mar 18th, 2011
Posted in The Great Outdoors

REI Blossom Bright, 1994 PtHA Sorrel Overo Mare, proudly owned by Jordyn Goree of Peterson. Photo provided by Pleasant Hill Pharm.

Club One, of only three saddle clubs in the southeastern most portion of the state, and the only one in Fillmore County, Root River Saddle Club has a rich tradition of both horsemanship and promotion of family fun. While one might think it is limited to horse owners alone, "We have several members who do not ride, however, enjoy the camaraderie of shared interests and enjoy being part of equine-related activities," says club member and SEMSCA delegate Beth LaFleur of Rushford.

Founded in 1969, Root River Saddle club began as a small gathering of families and individuals largely from the Rushford and Peterson areas, but included some members from Houston and Winona counties. It has since grown to 113 active members (80 families) and encompasses a tri-state region. It is the largest of the South Eastern Minnesota Saddle Clubs Association (SEMSCA) and one of the largest in the Western Saddle Clubs Association (WSCA) of the state.

Initially, the club struggled to find a home for events other than trail riding. From humble beginnings in a vacant lot fenced off by a rickety snow fence behind the Rushford Municipal Liquor Store, to Johnson's J Triple R Ranch, to an area west of the Ferndale Golf Course, the club settled permanently at Rushford's Ukkestad Arena in 1985. There, the club showcases events of all disciplines: Western (Stock Seat), English (Hunt Seat), Halter, Showmanship, as well as timed events. They are avid promoters of youth with several children's classes.

Root River Saddle Club has a strong tradition of awards and accolades. Collectively, they have been awarded WSCA Championship Horse Show High Point Pleasure Club the last three years. No easy feat, this is the biggest open show in the United States with over 5,000 entries last year alone. The club was also the highest achieving club in SEMSCA for annual year end awards.

While club members are largely involved in horse showing, they range from the top notch competitors to the backyard horse owner who just loves horses and their companionship. "A majority of the membership owns stock breeds such as Quarter Horses, Paints, and Appaloosas, but some own miniatures, drafts, or pleasure breeds such as Arabians, Morgans, and Saddlebreds," explains club secretary Kari Johnson.

Twice a year, Root River Saddle Club hosts major SEMSCA shows, both of which are open to the public. Both shows are typically held the second weekend in June and include a championship show qualifier for youth and a regional Saddle Clubs show open to any age. "We also host what the club calls 'Play Days,'" notes LaFleur. "They are a low key competition for members and non-members alike and are great practice shows for those who compete at a higher level or those just getting started in competition. We also incorporate fun games on horseback such as a bat race, hotdog race, and milk can race."

The Root River Saddle Club has not abandoned its foundation and hosts trail rides which may be on either private land or at State Parks such as Forestville or Zumbro Bottoms. In addition, the club will, on occasion, offer pony rides at local city celebrations. "Club members bring ponies and horses that are quiet and seasoned to offer a horseback ride to anyone willing to find a dollar in their pocket," says Johnson. Likely the easiest form of riding for beginners, these rides see handlers lead horses for anywhere from five to ten minutes while riders indulge in their inner equestrian and often eagerly quiz the handler about their mount. "We have young and old alike that ride, but mostly young," notes LaFleur. "Some youngsters will come back seven or eight times," she enthuses, "Some come back just enough times to ride each horse or pony at least once!"

The club was instrumental in founding Rushford Frontier Days (now called Rushford Days), beginning with parade involvement and hosting a Sunday horse show. Memorial Day and Labor Day shows and Rushford's Christmas-themed Parade of Lights are also annual events. While parade involvement has declined in recent years, the club is adamant about community involvement. "There is never a charge for coming to the arena to watch the competitions," urges Johnson. "We join people with like interests, encourage youth participation and family involvement, support the horse industry, promotes recreation, and try to bring business and recognition to community."

For more information about Root River Saddle Club visit www.freewebs.com/rrsc/ or contact Beth LaFleur, at Ukkestad Arena, at 507-864-7186.

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