Archive for Thursday, April 5, 2007

Pioneer Riders gone but still supporting young equestrians

April 5, 2007

With the paint on the fences peeling, the arena floor choked with weeds and the roof sagging on the press box, it's hard to visualize what the five-acre site on 95th Street meant to De Soto horse lovers.

"We'd probably have a couple hundred people there for a show, maybe more," De Soto resident Max Atwell said. "We'd have 40 or 50 contestants. They brought their family and friends, so there were several there for each rider.

"We'd usually have them on Saturday and Sunday when people were off."

Founded 50 years ago this year, the De Soto Pioneer Riders Saddle Club ceased to exist last year. But the sale of the club's arena will continue to help improve the lives of young horse enthusiasts. The sale of the arena last year was used to start a $128,500 scholarship at Kansas State University as part of the school's "Changing Lives Campaign."

The scholarship will be available to students in the university's school of agriculture, but preference will be given to members of the equestrian team with a financial need.

Atwell said he felt a bit of sadness about the demise of the riding club he helped found a half a century ago.

"Me and three other guys -- Gary Calvert, his dad Jim, and Ted Hacke -- got it started back in 1957," he said. 'There were some others that came along, of course."

He always loved horses, Atwell said.

"I used to rodeo just a shade back when I was young," he said. "Nothing professional. Calf roping."

There was enough interest that the club looked for a place to add De Soto to the circuit horse shows and "raceos" club members attended in Ottawa, Lyndon, Lawrence, Bonner Springs and elsewhere in the area, Atwell said.

The club purchased the site on 95th Street. At that time there was no busy Kansas Highway 10 just to the north or subdivision down the paved road.

"It was pretty well out of the way back then," he said. "It (95th Street) was just a gravel road."

A lot of people put in a lot of hours putting up the fences, bleachers and light poles, Atwood said. There was also a lot of work involved in putting on the shows with promotion, lining up sponsors and making sure everything was ordered from ribbons to concession stand hotdogs, he said.

"It was a lot of work," he said. "It was fun, but a lot of work."

With his three sons grown, he decided to step away in the late 1960s, Atwell said. Others took over in his place, keeping the club available for more generations of De Soto youngsters.

But like other community organizations, the interest couldn't be sustained over generations despite the large number of horses in the area and the presence of several horse barns in and around De Soto.

When it was obvious the Pioneer Riders would be disbanded, the club's leadership called Atwell to rejoin to help put an end to the club he helped found. Atwell said he was the only founder left in the area. The younger Calvert has moved and his father and Hacke are dead, Atwell said.

The big decision was what to do with the money earned for the sale of the arena. It was agreed it wouldn't be right to divide the arena's sale price among the few remaining members and much too hard to split it among those who had belonged to the club the last half century, Atwell said.

It was agreed it could best go to K-State, Atwell said.

One of the primary benefactors will be the K-State Women's Equestrian Team.

"The equestrian team is very thankful to the Pioneer Riders of De Soto for considering our team members in the formation of this scholarship," said Teresa Slough, head coach of the K-State Women's Equestrian Team and assistant professor in the Department of Animal Science and Industry. "Our student-athletes have so many demands on them -- mentally, emotionally and physically -- that financial support can really help relieve some stress for them. We are very thankful and appreciate this very much."

Atwell said he had a bit of sadness about the demise of a club he helped found, but was proud of its long success.

"I kind of wish we could have kept it going one more year to officially make it to 50," he said. "But 50 years -- that's pretty good."

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