Friendship in Numbers

Find good pals and do good works by joining a riding club.

Riding is great, but riding with friends can be even greater! Some of us love riding with companions or getting together with other horse enthusiasts and meeting new friends. If you enjoy horses, and also would love the companionship of other riders and like-minded people, a club, team, or horse-related non-profit group could be right up your alley.

[READ: Best Friends: Horse Edition]

We’ll share a look at five groups of horse lovers who’ve come together for a purpose, whether it’s serving their communities, aiding horses in need, entertaining audiences, or simply for social reasons. See which type of group seems best to you for adding some camaraderie to your horse-loving lifestyle!

In Support of Public Trails

Group: Bitter Root Back Country Horsemen.

Purpose: The group is an affiliate of the Back Country Horsemen of America and works to keep trails on public lands open, maintained, and accessible for stock users and hikers. Members acknowledge that it’s hard work and incorporate as much fun into it as possible.

Members: Between 130 and 140 individuals, from kids to senior citizens, are members. Some no longer ride or are hikers, but support trail access and maintenance. Most members are from the Missoula and Bitterroot Valley areas and may travel an hour or longer for meetings or projects. Mounts vary among stock breeds, gaited breeds, mules, draft horses, and everything in between.

Community work: This volunteer organization helps assemble hundreds of Christmas food boxes for a local food bank each December. Members also help with summer camps for children of military personnel, help educate schoolchildren in basic horsemanship and leave-no-trace practices, and conduct wilderness-skills weekends and three annual horsemanship clinics for members and the public. They do trail cleaning, Forest Service cabin maintenance, and fence repair as needed.

Credit: Photos courtesy of Bitter Root Back Country Horsemen When you join a group that maintains trails and facilities, such as Back Country Horsemen of America, the perks include great trails to ride.

Social events: Potluck meals before each meeting and an annual Thanksgiving dinner at the November meeting help put fun into members’ hard work. Most of their summer trail projects feature barbecues. In addition to hosting horsemanship clinics, they host group trail rides and attend other BCHA-hosted rides.

Member appeal: The Back Country Horsemen of America national organization started in Montana in 1973. By 1976, this club was the third affiliate, one of the “pioneer clubs.” BCHA now has chapters in 27 states and approximately 13,000 members. In an environment of continuously decreasing trail-maintenance funding, this group and other BCHA chapters work hard to keep as many trails open to the public on federal and state lands as possible. It takes effort to accomplish their mission, but members find it deeply satisfying.

Rewards: “As a member since 1998, I strongly believe in what we’re doing. I love riding, hiking, and camping, and feel fortunate to live in such a beautiful place. I want to give back so others can also enjoy this fantastic resource. Clearing trails and working with other dedicated BCHA members is my way of accomplishing that. Our motto: We keep trails open for you!” 

—Karen Philips, board member.

[READ: Trail Insights with Ken McNabb]

Outdoor Enjoyment

Group: The Prairie Trail Riders, Inc.

Location: Springfield, Illinois.

Purpose: The group supports perpetuation of and education about the sport of trail riding; and encourages sportsmanship and cooperation among members and humane treatment of horses. Members also aid, assist, and inform members of Illinois policies and regulations involving horses and trail riding. Ultimately, members seek to enjoy the outdoors with horses and fellow members.

Members: From 40 to 60 members, ages 4 to 70-plus, live within a one- to two-hour drive of Springfield. Mounts include stock breeds, gaited breeds, Arabians, Fjords, drafts, and grade horses. Members divide into faster and slower groups on trail rides, so quicker movers aren’t hampered and slower movers can enjoy the ride without pressure. Individuals and families with an interest in trail riding and of good moral character are welcome. Members aren’t required to own horses.

Credit: Photo courtesy of The Prairie Trail Riders, Inc. Riding clubs like Prairie Trail Riders have diverse activities centered around fun and friendship.

Community work: Members volunteer at the annual Illinois Horse Fair, assisting with vendors, tickets, and staffing the Illinois Trail Riders booth as trail advocates. Many members participate in such benefit activities as the rides to support St. Jude Hospitals and the Susan G. Komen breast cancer organization. The club also assists with trail maintenance at Sangchris Lake State Park and Lou Yeager Lake.

Social events: The club hosts its Crazy Cold Man Ride every New Year’s Day at Sangchris Lake State Park, no matter what the weather. Riders can encounter 50-degree weather or below-zero temperatures with several feet of snow. Rides go out before and after a potluck lunch. They also host their Fall Trail Ride at Sangchris Lake. Non-members are welcome on these special rides and several often come along. Some members participate in parades, and an annual Christmas dinner gives members a chance to celebrate the season.

Member appeal: With roots in the 1940s as the Sangamon County Trail Riders, this club has withstood the test of time and took its current name in 2004. Members adore their club because it brings together diverse people on common ground: love of horses and trail riding. In addition to camaraderie and education about horses and riding, members also can learn about the outdoors, camping, trailer hauling, and even cooking.

Rewards: “As a member since 1985, I’ve held every office for at least a year. I value our club as a source of enjoyment and social interactions. I love horses, trail riding, and the varied horse breeds and personalities in our club, and even trading recipes with fellow members!”

—Rebecca Reed, board member.

Flash With Precision

Group: The Painted Ladies drill team.

Location: Sacramento, California.

Purpose: To perform and entertain audiences in the horse world and from the general public.

Members: This team rides with up to 15 members for drill performances, depending on arena size and how many members are ready to perform. More than 20 riders attend practice every week. Team members must be age 18 or older and be aggressive riders. Standards for horses keep the team safe and flashy. Horses need to be sound, able to carry a flag, and should be Paints with 20- to 30-percent white.

Credit: Photo courtesy of The Painted Ladies drill team The Painted Ladies drill team appeals to women who like to ride and perform for the public.

Community work: The Painted Ladies sponsor the annual Folsom Pro Rodeo Queen contest and raise monies or solicit donations for her trophy saddle, buckle, and tiara, along with several more prizes for her and the other contestants. Team members love volunteering for the Folsom Chamber of Commerce, including staffing their own beer booth for Folsom Live. The team also helps out at Sacramento Horsemen’s Association (SHA), its home arena, by cleaning and painting, in addition to hosting the Cowboy Craft and Tack Faire, with proceeds going to SHA. Riders also perform for groups of Sacramento’s needy children, enabling some to see their first horse.

Social events: Aside from drill performances up and down California, the Painted Ladies also ride in parades, including the Tournament of Roses Parade five times so far. They love to get together socially, as well, for post-performance meals and any special moments such as birthdays, bridal showers, or baby showers among team members.

Member appeal: The team was established in 1993, and performs about 50 times per year. The women all love horses and interacting with audiences, bringing people to their feet and smiles to their faces. They love performing on horseback with camaraderie and without the competitive stress of horse shows. The ability to ride fast but with precision is a joy, and sharing the exhilaration with teammates is a bonus.

Rewards: “As the founder, I’m proud that the Painted Ladies are so well known now. The team and I love pleasing our audiences, especially little kids, and we love the excitement of what we do. I had ridden in a mounted patrol group, but wanted more glitter, glamour, cameras, and action. Over the years, I’ve made almost all the costumes including the chaps, and we all take pride in our flashy appearance as a team.”

—Jennifer Macias-Sweeney, founder and captain.

Emergency Responders

Group: Oklahoma Mounted Search and Rescue (OKMSAR).

Location: Oklahoma City.

Purpose: Launched in 2013, OKMSAR trains and certifies members for search and rescue and equine evacuations.

Members: More than 40 dues-paying members come from 18 counties throughout Oklahoma. Three levels of membership designate increasing levels of training and certification. Level 3 members assist with social functions and events while starting training. Level 2 members have completed much training and many certifications, and OKMSAR members at Level 1 are deployable as a mounted team. Members are volunteers and pay for their own mounts and equipment, and don’t charge the family, city, county, or state to respond. Horses, age 4 or older, must meet standards for body condition, pulse, and respiration, and be excellent on rough terrain.

Credit: Photo courtesy of Oklahoma Mounted Search and Rescue OKSMAR members get search-and-rescue training to join the Level 1 deployable team.

Community work: The essence of this group is community service in all it does. In 2014, OKMSAR volunteered 2,200 hours of training and service to Oklahoma citizens. OKMSAR is available for fire, disaster, and highway evacuations. Members also have volunteered as safety personnel at public gatherings and special events.

Social events: This group doesn’t host social functions, as members devote vast amounts of time to their critical training and certifications. However, members do form bonds, often while serving as safety personnel at horse competitions, parades, fairs, marathons and any other event in need of their skills. Those on-foot volunteer jobs can sometimes act as social time.

Member appeal: Members invest much effort and time into their training and certification for a reason: They know the urgent need for their services and find satisfaction in providing those services. Many have had a personal experience with an emergency or have been close to an accident, or simply have the drive that makes some citizens become emergency responders. Those without the drive may show interest, but soon disappear once they realize how much effort and training is required. Those who really stick with it realize that there’s a need, and once they experience the reward of helping or saving someone, their drive is bolstered.

Rewards: “OKMSAR isn’t a horse club; we’re emergency responders. There’s truly a need for this service. In the horse world alone, we often see riders come off and need someone with medical training. Many clubs host events or rides, and nobody has that training or knows what to do or what not to do in an emergency situation. I’m a professional horse trainer, and am very much aware of the risk of accidents.”

—Elizabeth Lee, director and founding member.

Horses’ Angels

Group: Sunrise Equine Rescue.

Location: Grapeview, Washington.

Purpose: This non-profit group is specifically organized to rescue, rehabilitate, and relocate horses; to use healthy horses in a learning environment for children and adults; to provide therapeutic interaction for people in need; and to provide public education about neglected and suffering horses.

Credit: Photo courtesy of Sunrise Equine Rescue Sunrise Equine Rescue, a non-profit group, has volunteers rather than members. Their mission is to help horses.

Members: In this case, participants are volunteers, not members, and range from ages 10 to 80. They come from many surrounding communities to help out and attend mandatory monthly meetings. Some ride the horses, and any riding level from beginner to advanced is welcome.

Community work: Sunrise Equine Rescue helps educate people so they can keep their horses on their own property rather than give them up due to lack of knowledge. Kiwanis Builders Club comes twice a year to do small jobs, and when finished, its members are treated to grooming and hands-on experience with the horses. Once a month, a Barn Day gathers all volunteers at the barn for cleaning, repairs, and odd jobs, and acts as orientation day for new volunteers. The organization is also in the process of developing a therapeutic riding program for children and adults with special needs.

Social events: The organization hosts two dance fundraisers with silent auctions and other activities per year, participates in parades, and plans poker rides. At Allyn Days, Whaling Days, and Belfair Taste of Hood Canal, they do face painting as a fundraiser, and cook for the KBH Archery Club to raise funds.

Member appeal: Formed in 2008, this rescue organization holds a special place in the hearts of its volunteers. Though loss and heartache are part of what they deal with, commitment to the horses’ cause also involves fun and fellowship, advocacy, and facilities maintenance for a high level of satisfaction. The board of directors and volunteers enjoy providing education, awareness, and therapeutic interaction.

Rewards: “I’ve loved horses my whole life. I had to rehome my first pony to get a bigger horse, but she ended up starving in her new home, so my mother helped bring her back to me. I rehabbed her and kept her until she passed away from old age. I cherish each horse as family and want to make sure that that never happens again on my watch. My hope is that someday there will be no need for this work.”

—Janean Dolezal, president.

[READ: Horses Helping Seniors]

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