(Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part series on the history and operation of the Oakdale Saddle Club, which hosts the annual rodeo and brings events and people in to the area on a regular basis.)
When 40 horse breeders and horse racers met at the Live Oak Hotel in Oakdale on May 7 of 1947, they laid the sod for one of the longest lasting and most active equestrian clubs in the nation The Oakdale Saddle Club.
Nearly 65 years later, the product of their efforts is a bustling hive of activity with year-round gatherings and an annual rodeo that maintains Oakdale’s proud moniker as ‘The Cowboy Capital of the World.’
And while the rodeo is arguably among Oakdale’s biggest and most tourism-fetching events each year, it is only one creation of an organized club with an effective business approach and strong family character determined to better the community.
“It’s definitely a family organization and it’s very generational,” Saddle Club Board of Directors member Kevin Fox said. “We all know each other and our kids know each other and we help each other out just like a family does.”
But the help isn’t just confined to its own members, as the Saddle Club does plenty to help out local charities and causes as well, being a ‘good neighbor’ in the community.
According to Fox, the club donates $10,000 to $12,000 to various causes each year, with a little over $10,000 donated in 2011.
The club offers the use of its facilities on East F Street to organizations like the Sheriff’s Department and the Lions Club for functions, while providing monetary support to anything from local youth softball teams to District 5 (high school) rodeo and college scholarships.
And when the club isn’t hosting big events or donating resources, it’s busy with a barrage of weekly events throughout the year on property that was formerly a quarter mile racetrack surrounded by stables.
These days the track is replaced by a rodeo arena and facilities that host sorting, play days, barrel racing, gymkhana events, pole bending, trail course racing, pinning, sorting and of course, roping.
Oakdale’s rich history in roping is a big part of its cowboy prestige, and Fox, who produced and directed a movie (Changing The Game) featuring the world-renowned champion roping Camarillo brothers of Oakdale, knows that better than anyone.
“You could definitely say there is a long roping history in Oakdale,” Fox said. “It’s the reason the Camarillo brothers came here and the reason why so many ropers have come to the area. I remember when over 500 cowboys would gather for a jackpot (cash prize) rope in Oakdale, though now it’s closer to 250 to 300 cowboys.”
Fox, who has been tapped as the club’s unofficial spokesman, said the Oakdale Saddle Club also hosts a Christmas party and regular social gatherings throughout the year. Some are formal, and some simply bring families and their recreational vehicles together for games and fun in the form of barbeques, dances and even garage sales. Fox said club members often rent out the facilities to host their own events as well.
There rarely seems to be a ‘dark’ weekend at the grounds, with outside fundraisers, benefit concerts, youth ‘mutton busting’ competitions or just the club members enjoying a gathering of their extended families.
Fox said the spirit of the Oakdale Saddle Club is one that is all-encompassing for those that are members, with the future of the organization a solid one.
“I remember the way we used to grow up where everyone was playing in the front yard and we all knew our neighbors,” Fox explained. “We try to capture that atmosphere with the club and we are very much like a family.
“I am a transplant to the area, but I want to give my kids an opportunity to be a part of Oakdale and its history.”
And for more than six decades, the Oakdale Saddle Club has been a big part of that history in the Cowboy Capital.
Look for Part 2 of the Saddle Club series in the Wednesday, Feb. 1 issue of The Leader.