Horsin' around: Merrill Saddle Club going strong after 60 years

Monday, June 1, 2009
(Sentinel photo by Amy Erickson) Tori Gale, 7, participated in the Merrill Saddle Club's Fun Day, Sunday. Gale, from Vermillion, is not a member of the club, but anyone can participate in its activities. The saddle club organizes activities throughout the year like Fun Days, trail rides and an annual horse show.

The Merrill Saddle Club is all about riding horses and having fun.

Member Deann Henrich's been with the club since childhood.

"It's just a lot of fun and the people are great to be around," Henrich said. "When I was little, my mom and everybody in my family rode and they still do ride today."

The saddle club planted its roots in 1949 when a bunch of horse lovers got together and called themselves the Merrill Riding Group.

Then in 1974 the Merrill Saddle Club was born with the group gaining its nonprofit status.

As part of the fun, the Merrill Saddle Club hosted a Fun Day on Sunday.

That's when people of all ages from Vermillion, S.D. to Merrill participated in contests like barrel races, pole bending and the candy bar race.

"It's just basically to have fun," said member Doris Loutsch, from Le Mars. "It's not competitive."

Fun Days also means education for the less experienced riders.

"They are learning how to do the events," said member Tracy Welch, from Westfield.

Welch said she was a member of the saddle club as a child, and joined again two years ago with her own children.

"We came back for the kids and the trail riding and the group," Welch said.

Being club member means paying an annual fee that is used to help with operational costs, club insurance and other expenses like to purchase trophies contests.

Members and nonmembers can also take part in any activities hosted by the saddle club.

Henrich said money earned Sunday -- participants paid $5 to ride all day -- will be used to help purchase bleachers for the club's arena.

"We're a nonprofit organization so any money that we make we try to put it out for events going on the next time around," she said.

Saddle club members get together once a month, the second Wednesday, to discuss upcoming activities.

Some of the saddle club's activities include taking trail rides or camp overs, where they and the horses stay overnight, to places like Brushy Creek in Fort Dodge, Newton Hills in S.D. and Yankton, S.D.

The club is involved in the community by giving pony rides at events, riding in parades and helping during Merrill's Pioneer Days by lending its arena and land for a tractor pull and threshing bee.

And as member of the Northwest Iowa Horse Show Association (NIHSA) the Merrill Saddle Club will also host a horse show June 14.

Because the club doesn't have enough space, the show will be in Le Mars at the Plymouth County Fairgrounds, Henrich said.

Each of the 17 clubs in northwest Iowa that belong to the NIHSA put on one show each from the end of May through August, Henrich said.

"Anyone can show, however if you are a person that wants to earn points you would actually have to belong to a saddle club," she said. "The association gives out year-end awards for those members that are in the top five places."

When it comes to the Merrill Saddle Club, members can be involved as much as they want.

"If they're not interested in participating in the shows or the Fun Days, they can certainly still go on trail rides," Henrich said. "If they are a person that wants to do all of it, they can certainly do all of it."

There's only one prerequisite to joining the Merrill Saddle Club.

"We just want people that are interested in horses, have horses or are interested in getting horses," Henrich said. "They are more than free to come to our club and just have a bunch of fun."

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