The Farm Chronicles: Akron Saddle Club gangsters

The horse show business in Ohio during the 1960’s and 70’s was a rough go. It was very competitive. And at any given show, judges were influenced and people who lost should have won and vice versa. Dad and my brother Chuck got into the show circuit quite naïve about all this. They just wanted to have a good time and compete against the clock with their very fast horses. They were quite good at it. Chuck’s horse, Ricochet, was a Missouri State Champion in the pole bends—a timed event where horse and rider weave in and out of six poles set in a line 21 feet apart. Dad’s horse Hollywood was great at everything, but especially barrel racing where he consistently raced at world-record pace.

While, Dad and Chuck were very competitive, they were friends with most of the cowboys that ran against them. They preferred winning, but they didn’t mind losing so long as the clock was fair and accurate. In most places, it was. The Akron Saddle Club, however, was comprised of a bunch of hoodlums on horses. Whenever Dad and Chuck competed against Akron Saddle Club members individually, they were less than mediocre, but in Akron and Summit County, they were a big deal. They would contract with the horse show committees to “run” the timed events. They brought in their own electric timer (everybody else used stop watches), run by their own “official” judge, and they wouldn’t allow anyone to stand near the timer to verify the accuracy of the reported time.

Whenever the Akron Saddle Club was running things, Dad and Chuck would run first and second in most every event, until the members of the Akron Saddle Club ran. Then Dad and Chuck would finish just behind their five guys. Moreover, the Akron bunch would taunt Dad and Chuck, mock them, and try to bully them. The biggest show of the season was at Sun Beau Valley, a pristine horse farm with a beautiful arena and wonderful setting. Dad and Chuck were ready to run. Then they found out the Akron Saddle Club was in charge of the timed events. Sure enough, Dad and Chuck were first and second in each event until the saddle club boys ran. They all were all sitting on their horses in the paddock outside the show ring when Dad said something that these guys couldn’t win against them if they weren’t running their own clock.

Chuck challenged them to a run off, no clock, just side by side. And it got into an exchange of words. Spoiling for a fight, one of the Akron guys grabbed Hollywood’s reins and jerked him over backwards on Dad. Chuck jumped off Ricochet and punched the Akron guy so hard it knocked him out, but the brawl was short lived because they thought Dad was laying dead in the dirt of the paddock. Once the dust settled and the horses cleared out, Dad had suffered only a broken arm. But some good came out of this unfortunate incident: The Akron Saddle Club was asked not to come back to the show again, and other shows quit allowing them to run timed events. Proverbs 20:10 says, “Differing weights and unequal measures, both are detestable to the LORD.” And honest cowboys don’t much like them either.

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Bill Wilson