Truckee Donner Horsemen preserve tradition |

Truckee Donner Horsemen preserve tradition

With all of its golf courses and resorts, it’s easy to forget what Truckee once was – a rural mountain town with logging, stagecoach stops and horses, lots of horses.

In more recent history, the number of horse owners has decreased significantly. Furthermore, when Truckee was incorporated in 1993, the town lost about 1,200 acres of rural residential property. Now there are approximately 6,000 acres remaining.

One group, the Truckee Donner Horsemen, wants to preserve the equestrian culture in town. The association of more than 70 members aims to protect the heritage of horse-related events.

The perennial favorite, the Truckee Championship Rodeo, will celebrate its 28th anniversary this August at the McIver Arena. The first rodeo, held August 1975 at what was then called the Horsemen’s Arena, brought an alarming number of spectators. Only 2,000 tickets were printed and 5,000 people showed up.

The rodeo is one of many ways – like clinics, horse shows and roping events – the horsemen preserve Truckee’s equestrian legacy.

“Truckee is not necessarily a rodeo town, but a lot of non-profit groups benefit from the rodeo and other activities we have,” said Carol Pauli, rodeo committee co-chair and horsemen member.

In fact, most of the profits earned by the association are donated to youth sports and organizations.

On March 13, the horsemen’s 15-year contract is up for renewal with the Truckee Donner Recreation and Park District, and some horsemen are concerned.

“Like any volunteer organization, we’ve had our ups and downs,” said Pete Charles, who joined the horsemen last fall and was elected to the board shortly thereafter.

He contended the Truckee Donner Horsemen are on an upswing, with new leadership and more members than in past years.

“Up to this point, we’ve had a very good, very positive relationship with parks and rec.,” he said.

However, the recreation and park district might be concerned the arena isn’t getting enough use, Charles said. In their current contract, the horsemen agreed to pay the district $4,500 per year for use and maintenance fees.

“I hope that the horsemen and parks and rec. can work in a collaborative manner to enhance the use of the arena for years to come,” said Josh Susman, horsemen treasurer, rodeo committee member and town councilman.

Susman suggested the arena might be used for concerts, graduations or other events.

“We want to stop the perception that the arena is used only for horse people,” he added.

Dan O’Gorman, the district’s recreation superintendent, said the district might amend the contract, if renewed, to be sure the arena gets maximum use.

“I would say we’re swaying toward that direction,” he said.

‘Not just the rodeo…’

In 1981, the arena was formally dedicated to the late James McIver, one of the original founders of the Truckee Donner Horsemen in the ’60s.

The group was formed to sponsor and foster an interest in horses, horsemanship and other related activities in California and Nevada.

The group also oversees the Junior Horsemen, an organization for youth interested in horses and community service.

“Instead of having to buy a horse or taking on the costs involved, the kids can come out and ride one of our horses and be a part of all this,” Charles said.

Also, the Junior Horsemen organize the Truckee Championship Rodeo barbecue and dance.

This summer, the Truckee Donner Horsemen will also have a cowboy poetry reading, an increasingly popular activity for the horse crowd. Charles said the gatherings preserve the oral tradition of cowboys on cattle drives in the 1800s.

In the midst of a changing Truckee – as development encroaches on rural-zoned property – the horsemen try to hold onto what’s left of a culture at risk of being overlooked.

“It’s not just about the rodeo and horses,” Susman said. “The rodeo grounds present a link to Truckee’s heritage and history.”

For more information on the Truckee Donner Horsemen, contact Carol Pauli at 582-9852 or e-mail Truckee Donner Horsemen can be found on the Internet at

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