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Saddle up for tradition

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Saddle up for tradition

Local horse enthusiasts came together Saturday to show off the spectacular gaits of fox trotters and Tennessee walking horses at Bolivar Saddle Club’s 53rd annual Gaited Horse Show. 

The July 6 show, which featured riders in 21 classes, is one of Polk County’s longest-running events.

“We put on an annual show,” said Jim Strader, Bolivar Saddle Club’s president. “We’ve done it since the ’40s, but here since the ’60s at this ground.”

Jim Strader Rides Horse

Bolivar Saddle Club president Jim Strader presents Bolivar Saddle Club’s flag during the National Anthem at the 53rd Gaited Annual Horse Show on Saturday, July 6. 

While much has remained the same over the years, one aspect of the show’s tradition has changed recently, he said. 

“We used to have it on the Fourth of July all the time, but now we have it on Saturdays,” Strader said. “Because when it falls in the middle of the week, it’s hard for everybody to get to the show. But we’ve moved it to Saturday, and it’s turned out well.”

Strader said the event makes enough money for the club to keep running the lights and utilities for events. When extra income is received, the club donates to charity.

Referring to the show’s purpose, Strader said, “If you get down to the basics, it’s for the love of the horses. We love to watch a good horse travel."

Looking back in history

Rex Barham, who says he is the oldest living member of Bolivar Saddle Club at 95, led the event’s prayer and stood by to watch the show.

Rex Barham and Cassie

Bolivar Saddle Club member Rex Barham waits for the 53rd Gaited Horse Show to begin while his friendly dog, Cassie, rests on his lap.

Spectators who weren’t familiar with the club’s history might have been unaware that Barham played an essential role in creating the club 56 years ago. 

“I moved here in 1962,” Barham said. “I decided that Bolivar needed a saddle club. Brighton, Buffalo and Halfway had one. We just got together and decided to organize.” 

Barham said the group organized and elected board members for the club around 1963. The first meeting took place at a skating rink on Main Avenue, which is gone now, and the meetings after that were moved to Roberts Sale Barn.

The club’s initial task was finding land and donations to build an arena. 

The land seemed to fall perfectly into the saddle club’s hands through Barham’s familial connection. Barham said his wife’s aunt owned the property where the arena stands today. 

Abbey White and Finally Midnight

Abbey White and her horse, Finally Midnight, eagerly wait to participate in the lead-line class.

To build the arena, Barham said he and other club members cut saw-logs at Barham’s farm and then hauled the logs to a sawmill owned by Frank Brashears — the father-in-law of Steve Skopec, who is the saddle club’s current vice president. The lumber that Brashears sawed was used to build the club’s arena and cookshack. 

With land and lumber checked off the list, the next step was to purchase lights.

“I took a tablet and ran around the square to get donations to put in lights,” Barham said. 

Corbin Curlee BSC

Corbin Curlee from Fayetteville, Arkansas, rides through Bolivar Saddle Club’s arena in the junior class during the 53rd Gaited Annual Horse Show on Saturday, July 6.

The donations he collected helped the saddle club purchase used light poles from Southwest Electric Cooperative.

“If it wasn’t for him, we might not have a saddle club,” Steve Skopec said, referring to Barham.  

Glancing around the arena that Barham helped create, Skopec nostalgically added, “We used to meet out here on Tuesday nights, and we’d have twice as many people as there are here tonight. We used to have 2,000 people when we first started.”

Regarding the show’s decline in attendance, Barham said “the industry in general has changed.” 

“Back when we started the saddle club, you couldn’t hardly pass a pasture that didn’t have horses in it. It’s just that difference,” he said.

Although times have changed, Barham seems to hold an optimistic spirit for the club’s longevity.

Jeff Shields and Granddaughter

Jeff Shields of Ash Grove leads his granddaughter Ludiveene Shields from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and her fox trotter, The Ava Tradition, in Bolivar Saddle Club’s lead-line class. 

“I can’t tell you how long we’ll have it,” he said. 

He believes the club’s main concern is “keeping the grounds here.”

“But I think it will stay awhile. And maybe it will get better in a few years. I hope so,” he said.

Although Barham didn’t ride in Bolivar’s July 6 show — “it takes too many people to get me on and off a horse,” he joked — he rode at Ava’s Fox Trot Celebration show last year and placed second out of 20 riders in the senior class.

(1) comment


The reason there is a drop in attendance at Tennessee Walking Horse shows and “the industry has changed” is because of social media millions of horse lovers all around the world have become aware of the cruel practice known as SORING which creates the artificial grotesque ridiculously enhanced gait of a Tennessee Walking Horses that are shown in “Performance” classes. I noticed the picture taken with a young boy in the saddle the rest of the picture wasn’t shown. The reason for that is the readers of this article would have seen the heavy 8 to 10 pound “pads” and up to 8oz chains on the front feet which bang painfully against the horse’s legs as they walk. These pads and chains are only allowed at Tennessee Walking Horse shows which feature the Performance classes. No other horse shows around the world accept this cruelty. SORING is also used to enhance the gait. If you have no knowledge of SORING please google it or look for it on YouTube. I will leave this link here as last year’s “World Grand Champion” at the largest Tennessee Walking Horse show at the “Celebration” in Shelbyville, TN was found to be “sored” and the trainer and owners were given a citation but yet went on to promote that same horse.

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