by Lisa Schauer
An adrenaline-pumping sport has been thriving in the shadows of the mountains of Morgan County for the past 60 years now.
Morgan County Saddle Club recently held the last horse show in its 60th season on September 10, opening with a mounted tribute to first responders and the victims of 9-11.
“We welcome people from all over. You don’t have to live in Morgan County to be a member. We had somebody drive five hours to get here. It’s free for spectators, and you pay to ride,” said longtime member Barbara (Hovermale) Spielman, who rode in her first show 50 years ago with her late brother, Gayle Hovermale, whose children and grandchildren still ride at the club.
Riding in the show
Saddle club shows give riders a taste of excitement and competition, all in the company of people from nearby.
Sitting in the chute atop a 1,000-pound beast known for his speed, waiting for your name to be called in the pole race, that’s when you know you’re alive. Senses on high alert, one with the horse, the rider urges the animal faster, weaving through the course in a blur of heart-pounding euphoria.
Country music blaring on the speakers, the emcee breaks in to announce the latest scores or let folks know they now have fried pickles on the new menu at the concession stand.
There are four standard events, such as barrels, rings and pole racing, at each show in junior, senior, pony, and peewee divisions. There’s a cakewalk, exhibitions and a jackpot adding to the day’s excitement.
Each show starts at 2 p.m. with the grand entry, drill team and playing of the national anthem. Horse shows have been known to go on as late as 2 a.m., with seniors saddling up last.
Horse shows in Morgan County
Starting as a single horse show at Ruben Clatterbuck’s farm in 1962, Morgan County Saddle Club was incorporated in 1964 and has been putting on six horse shows a year ever since.
Spielman said Ruben, Ron and Bill Clatterbuck were trail riding one day with some of their friends when they all decided to form a saddle club. Ron’s daughter, Kelley Clatterbuck Moss, and other charter family members are still involved with the club.
Over the decades, there were rodeos at the Triple B arena, and shows at Rankin’s farm that used to stand at the top of the hill near the old hospital on Fairfax Street.
The saddle club moved to a property nearby on Highland Ridge in 1966 with plenty of space cleared for horse trailers, campers, an open ring, grandstand, bleachers, a picnic shelter and a well-stocked concession stand.
A trail winds through the woodland property, where kids and horses roam freely, as they wait for their turn in the ring.
Some of the original club members’ descendants still ride each season, Morgan County families like the Youngblood, McCoy, Rankin, and Unger clans who carry on the tradition.
Others trailer their horses in from Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware or other places to experience a real West Virginia horse show. They’ve formed a horse community over the years, and friendships that have lasted a lifetime.
“I was Bub’s age when I started coming here thirty years ago,” said member Dawn Hummel of Hancock, standing with a group of friends at the show, and pointing to her young son, Greg Emerick, Jr. being led around the ring.
“The kids learn good sportsmanship here, and they see what hard work gets them. The horses rely on you, and we support each other through the good days and the bad,” said Hummel.
Spielman was quick to thank Matthew and Connie Luck of Good Luck Stables in Berkeley Springs for bringing more riders to the shows and new members for the club.
“Good Luck Stables brings their clients to the shows. If you ride with them, they will bring you a horse and get you signed up,” said Spielman.
Morgan County Saddle Club is located at 378 Highland Ridge Road in Berkeley Springs. Horse shows are held on the second Saturday of the month, from April to September.
Admission is free and open to the public. Family and individual memberships to Morgan County Saddle Club are available for those who want to ride. Their 61st season will start in the spring with a horse show on Saturday April 15, 2023.