By Travis Smola
It was 1950, and Martha Goodwin was only 16 when she became a founding member of the Kal-Val Saddle Club. Today, 80 year-old Goodwin is still a member and the historian of the club that is still going strong some 64 years after it was founded.
“I’m probably about the last of the original members left,” said Goodwin. Goodwin and her ex-husband, Herb, were among the group who started the club with horse shows on Lake Street in Kalamazoo. The club bought and moved to a property on 34th Street in Scotts, around 1965. Club members constructed and maintained the buildings, along with show and warm-up areas on the property. Goodwin said founding members included Glen and Ida Taylor, Ernie Brown, Kate and Pete Cains and many others.
Today, the Kal-Val Saddle Club has approximately 40 members. Their families hold events featuring different riding styles with shows that provide competition in horsemanship and pleasure. Horsemanship is judged on the rider’s ability to handle the horse. “It’s almost like a dance,” said member Annette Kelley. “You really have to know how to quarter your horse for showmanship,” she added. Kelley said that pleasure is judged more on the horse itself.
The club also hosts speed events that include barrel racing, pole bending and cloverleaf. Goodwin said the club caters mainly to the 4-H and family crowd, adding that the club sponsors events for people from age five and older.
“We get around 100 competitors and 150 horses at an average show,” Goodwin said. She added that, while they do give trophies and ribbons to the winners, the atmosphere is one of friendly competition. Winners have the option of receiving gift certificates to various feed stores, instead of trophies. According to Goodwin, competing members earn points over the course of the year in every event in which they compete. These points eventually accumulate into year-end awards.
The club holds special shows on occasion. One is a memorial show held in memory of Megan Holt of Vicksburg, who was killed in a car accident. “This event,” Goodwin described, “draws people from all over the state.”
In addition to competitive events, Goodwin said the club hosts a “fun day” and potluck. They also have spring and fall campouts at Spring Creek near Allegan, and members take their horses trail riding in that area. Additionally, the club sometimes holds how-to clinics to teach members’ skills in areas such as horsemanship or pleasure.
For many members, the club’s relaxed atmosphere is something special. “We’re like a family here,” said member Kelley, who first came to the club as a child and now brings her two girls to show here. She has been a member for the past 15 years. “It’s like your backyard; it’s so comfortable and relaxing.”
The club holds shows about every other weekend from May through early September. Kelley said the club provides a great place for kids to prepare for larger events, such as the St. Joseph County Fair. “It instills competitiveness and respect along with sportsmanship.”
Kelley doesn’t just come to the events to watch, though. As a part of membership, she and many other members help out in the events. Volunteers may work the gates, help with food, or assist judges as ringmaster.
Kelley also said that the grounds are an excellent place for people to train their stock and non-stock class horses. Stock class horses refer to larger, working class horses; non-stock are more refined animals, such as Arabians and Morgans. People that show on larger, more competitive circuits will often bring their younger horses to the grounds to train them. “The nice thing is that we get a variety of disciplines.”
Most all members continue to stress how much they enjoy the family atmosphere offered by the club. “They have a blast; they live to come here,” said member Debbie Hitchings of the kids of the club. “It’s a good experience for a new rider,” said young Juliana Hagenbuch. Kelley said she has called upon fellow members in an emergency and had them respond at “the drop of a hat”. “Kal-Val is like an extension of Vicksburg,” said Kelley.