Saturday, May 25, 2024

Chelan Rustlers Saddle Club teams with Aces Wild Pro Rodeo for some wild action

Chelan Saddle Club formed in 1953


CHELAN - For Frank Thorp it was, quite literally his first rodeo.
Returning for an encore after last year, the Chelan Rustlers Saddle Club teamed with Aces Wild Pro Rodeo for the Lake Chelan Pro Rodeo held July 15-16 at the club grounds.
Horse enthusiasts and Chelan natives, Thorp and his wife Tove joined the Saddle Club a year ago. They had never been to a rodeo though and were excited to volunteer and see the action and check the event off their collective basket list.
“It’s really fun to see the people that we know who work with the stuff and want to compete” he said.
Card holders from the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) competed for thousands of dollars in Chelan bringing an elite level of talent and skill to the arena. Over 100 contestants from the United States and Canada participated in events including steer wrestling, team roping, bareback riding and bull and saddle-bronc riding.
“Competing at this level doesn’t come easy,” said Lynette McMillan, co-owner of Aces Wild Pro Rodeo. “It takes guts, dedication and a passion for this time honored tradition to make it this far. It's hard work, but they don’t mind because they’re doing what they do best – Rodeo. And the fans love it.”
They certainly did Friday. As the summer sun settled over the Chelan foothills, the emcee asked the  crowd the rhetorical question “Chelan, are you ready for a rodeo this evening?” and received a raucous response.
In addition to the normal rodeo events, fans were treated to the World Famous Chicken Chase. Showing that kids of a feather chase together, children under the age of 10 competed for prizes by racing around the area trying to snare a small group of hapless chickens.
This year marks the consecutive years that the Saddle Club has presented a professional rodeo to local fans and Cindy Wall, board member and publicity coordinator for the club, said the group will learn more from this second ride. Putting on a big-time rodeo marks the latest feat for a club with humble beginnings and nearly 69 years under its belt buckle.
A small band of horse lovers formed the group in 1953 and established it near the foothills above Lake Chelan where they are still there. Designated a nonprofit organization, the group grew steadily over the coming years and eventually bought a 40-acre property. Over the years, the club has supported equine events such as youth groups, community participation, training clinics and rodeos. Today more than 100 members compose the Saddle Club, not all them horse owners. The group’s current facility houses over 40 horses in 36 barns and paddocks.    
“It started out on pure dedication of people that had kids that wanted to be around horses,” said Jody Southwick, club vice-president. “They wanted to be around horses. And you end up forming bonds with your elders if you will, and it just can’t be replaced.”
Tove Thorp described the club as “a wonderful group of people, just wonderful. There’s nothing like it. And you always have somebody to ride with because we’re all so close.”
Southwick added that the beating heart of the club’s mission is the horses themselves. She has been involved with the Saddle Club for 30 years and feels the relationship between rider and horse takes the reins over everything else. 
“It’s a calming factor. You have to stay focused on what you’re doing. It takes you away from everything that’s not going well in your daily life,” she said. “If you’ve got it, that desire to be around it, you just can’t get away from it. If you can bond up with your horse it’s better than any bond that you can have with any person.”
Wall added that the combination of horse and scenery make for a wonderful ride, in more ways than one.
“Chelan is such a gorgeous place. There’s nothing like viewing Chelan when you’re riding up the hills on the back of a horse. Seeing the world on the back of a horse there’s nothing like it,” she said. “It’s in your soul.”
Speaking of the soul, Wall recalled a story from when her father died. She returned from his funeral and was visiting with her husband and Southwick while working with two horses. Suddenly, the unexpected happened with the horses.
“They must have both known because both of them, at separate times, walked over and put their head into my chest and gave me like a big hug,” Wall said. “So they read that I was grieving. They picked up on that and they were comforting me. It was amazing. Without experiencing that, I don’t think people really understand what a gratifying experience it can be to have a horse as your friend.”
Together, the horses and their owners will continue to provide family entertainment. The Saddle Club will host the Chelan Jr. Rodeo July 30-31 at Chelan Rodeo Grounds. The Chelan Jr. Rodeo is a member of Caribou Trails and Eastern Washington Junior Rodeo Associations which coordinate junior rodeos in eastern and central Washington. Wall mentioned the Saddle Club’s mission has always included providing youth with positive equine experiences.
So after experiencing his first rodeo from a seat, is Frank Thorp ready for the real thing?
“I’m too old for that,” he said with a laugh.


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