The Yellowstone Reining Horse Association was begun in 1985 by a group of individuals who were horse enthusiasts. The original members included: Jay Dee and Janis Anderson, Max and Sue Berg, Jim and Gwen Handl, Don and Jeanie Smith, Don and Donna O’Connor, and Arnold and Lee Svensrud. Within a year, C.R. and Alice Morrison, Jerry and Mary Fries, Steve and Jeane Aller, and Bill and Peggy Strong also joined the club. Membership dues were set at $15 for an individual and $20 for a family. (Dues remained the same until 2007.) Club jackets and colors were silver with black.
As there were no horse shows specifically dedicated to reining at that time, members put together fun days, participated in AQHA shows, and local open shows. There were 6 year end awards presented, based on participation in these various shows, and included Senior Horse, Junior Horse, Rookie, and Youth. Funds to purchase these awards were raised at the annual potluck/awards presentation. Jay Dee was the auctioneer in the early years…until we discovered that C.R. was a certified auctioneer at which time C.R. became the designated auctioneer with Jay Dee moving into the position of bid caller. C.R. remains an important part of our annual auction and occasionally still serves as auctioneer.
Because of the enthusiasm and influence of Jay Dee and Jan Anderson, the YRHA decided to branch out and bring in someone with national recognition within the reining community to conduct a clinic. This first clinician was Joe Hayes from Gainesville, TX. Joe made the trip to Montana several times more to conduct clinics - sometimes in the sunshine but more often than not he taught in the cold. The early years also saw Craig Johnson and Doug Milholland serving as clinicians. Most clinics were held at Anderson Training Stables (ATS) in Wilsall, Mont.
As the focus of the club became more defined and centered more on the reining venue, the club began to produce one show per year. The first show was held at the Anderson Training Stables. There were 27 entrants in the first show and the added money was approximately $800 for all classes combined! The Strongs, who owned Strong and Bradley Implement, would bring a tractor up to help prepare the arena. They also brought 50-gallon drums that we tied bright “flag ribbon” to and the combo defined the perimeter of the arena. Jay Dee provided poles to create “entry” areas. All willing and able members were also asked to go to the ATS the week before the actual show to help with painting, cutting weeds, and general tidying before the show. (That continued until 2003.) Food service consisted of members cooking hot dogs or hamburgers, serving brownies, coffee and sodas. Members donated the food and it was sold to participants as a source of fundraising. Members also volunteered and served as scribes, announcer, show secretary, bit judges, etc., a practice that continues today.
In 1988 the Montana Reining Horse Association was formed. Its focus was on serving the state as a whole rather than focusing on a part of the state as YRHA had done (YRHA’s focus is the south central part of the state). Individuals instrumental in the formation of the MRHA included some of the same early members of the YRHA: C.R. and Alice Morrison and Jay Dee Anderson and Shawn McClurg. In 1991, under the leadership of C.R. Morrison and Jim Benshoff, MRHA organized and sponsored the first Big Sky Classic. YRHA supported this endeavor with a $1000 sponsorship, the first of many in ensuing years. The first “Classic” was a success and it continues to be an important part of Montana reining events to this day.
By the annual dinner and awards presentation held in December of 1992, the officers and directors of the YRHA were weary after years of demanding service in a volunteer organization and questioning whether or not there was still desire and/or need to continue the existence of the YRHA. It was a bitter cold night, icy roads, and not fit to be out, however, Peggy Strong brought homemade cider, other members brought hors d’oeuvres and approximately 19 individuals ventured forth to meet at the Trail Ride Inn for the no-host dinner and to receive their awards. The discussion was split between abandoning the association or finding new individuals to step in and assist. Jane Wagner was one who stepped up. She became the club secretary and treasurer that night and served in that capacity until her untimely death in 1995. Brent Walker offered to serve as president. The volunteer efforts of the new leadership and the continued support of the membership enabled YRHA to remain viable.
The next few years saw George and Shar Stone, the “Townsend Ladies” (consisting of Jackie Sorenson, Sharon Gelhaus, Kay Johnston, Debbie Thorpe, Vicki Dagnall, Donna Green and others), Rane and Carol Baker, Kurt and Lottie Stabenau, and other familiar names become reining enthusiasts.
Following Jane Wagner’s death, the position of Secretary/Treasurer was filled by Lottie Stabenau and Jay Dee Anderson took over the reins as president. By the annual awards banquet held in November 1996, the club was again struggling from a lack of volunteers and there was some question as to whether or not there were adequate funds in the treasury to pay the bill for the banquet and year end awards. Fortunately, there were funds although very little remained to begin 1997.
Following the NRHA Futurity in December of 1996, Arch Wagner and Gwen (Handl) Wagner, who were both serving on the MRHA BOD at the time, became determined to revive the YRHA and put it on a sound structural and financial footing. Feeling that it would not be fair to either organization to serve on both boards simultaneously, they resigned from the MRHA BOD in April of 1997 and began the process of reviving the YRHA. A mission statement was drafted, by-laws prepared, potential officers and directors contacted, fundraising begun and a meeting set. It was evident that, in order to survive and become viable, the club had to take more funds in than it was expending. Familiar names once again appeared to help: Steve Aller, Jay Dee and Jan Anderson, Sharon Gelhaus, Jackie Sorenson, Dave Leithead, Jan Lukenbill, C. R. and Alice Morrison, and Kurt and Lottie Stabenau.
The November 1997 auction and awards banquet was well attended with over 60 folks enjoying the evenings’ festivities. Over $2400 was raised at the auction, the ’97 show had shown a profit due to the sponsorship/fundraising efforts, and the treasury was on solid footing. 1997 was also the first year that Gwen organized the “Montana Reiners” box seat section at the NRHA Futurity in Oklahoma City. In 1998, jackpot reinings were introduced which were held at ATS and the Brokaw Ranch. Participants and spectators brought potluck dishes and musical instruments. The jackpots offered a wonderful environment for old and new reiners alike to school their horses and have a fun day. The jackpots also welcomed new reiners: Bill Crain, Meredith Brokaw, Nan Newton, Reed Aller, Carl Larson, Nikki Larson, Lawson Drinkard, Casey and Sherry Austin, Edgar and Sharon Icenoggle, and many, many others.
Due to a change in ownership of the host motel, the 1999 year end awards banquet was moved to Chico Hot Springs in March. It proved to be a huge success and banquets were held at Chico through 2007. 1999 was also the first year for the Golden Reiner award, an award presented in memory of Jane Wagner. The award was initiated by Arch and Gwen to honor a person who experienced difficulty, endured those difficulties with dignity and good cheer, and was helpful to the YRHA and fellow reiners. The award was not tied to arena performance nor year end standings. The award was discontinued in 2006.
During these years, Alice Morrison moved into the role of President and Show Manager and a number of the newer members began to serve: Wendy Deans, Lynn Dee Melvin, Karen Forkus, Lawrence Martin, and Jim Gelhaus. The shows continued to grow in added money and entries. Greater participation at the shows necessitated the club’s revisiting the number of days scheduled for a show, securing bit judges, having predictable food service available at the shows, providing compensation for those working the shows, stalling, increasing fundraising to cover the increased expenses, growing the treasury, and moving the club into the computer age. Gwen Wagner began an aggressive fundraising campaign and long-term program so the club could cope with the added demands on the club finances.
In 2002, NRHA began to encourage broader participation in the Affiliate program. Arch Wagner put considerable time and effort into formulating a plan to implement a YRHA Affiliate Circuit, as our membership was concentrated predominantly in the area from Butte to Billings and that membership was having to haul considerable distance if they wanted to compete to be one of the 4 MRHA Affiliate qualifiers. (The top 10 qualifiers are now accepted at the regional Affiliate finals.) NRHA required that all Affiliates hosting a circuit endorse a minimum of 3 shows, one of which had to be put on by the Affiliate. Difficult times ensued and it was questionable if the YRHA was going to embrace the Affiliate concept. Concerns revolved around the YRHA’s ability to produce 3 shows, economically and physically, and how it was going to impact MRHA. It was eventually decided that the club could not only put on 3 shows, but could do it well. The reiners who rode for the YRHA in 2004 were presented with vests, stall placards, pewters/plaques, and were honored at a Sponsor Appeciation Day initiated by Arch Wagner, Affiliate Representative, and held at Anderson Training Stables. One of the YRHA members recognized that day was Rae Ann Svedberg, the NRHA Horse and Rider Rookie of the year. She stated that she could never have qualified if it hadn’t been for the YRHA Affiliate. It was held in the newly constructed facility at ATS and was a wonderful day of celebrating new beginnings.
2005 was our 20th Anniversary and it was a grand year. Bill Bradley, 2005 NRHA President, attended the banquet, a record $12,500 was raised at the auction, and our shows had record attendance.
Again, new faces appeared on the Board: Anne Kent, Harvey Lewis, Shar Stone, and Elise Donohue. Kim Alberda, Cindy Good, Chanelle Zimmer, Roberta Martin, Sarah Blackburn, and Bruzzy and Polly Cooke were some of the new volunteers who manned the gates, scribed, hung banners and helped with the web site. Wendy Deans took over fundraising and proceeded to do a very good job. Alice retired from the presidency but continued to serve in the capacity of show chairman.
2006 saw Elise Donohue move into the position of president. Alice stepped back in to serve as vice president and show chairman. George Stone was appointed to fill a vacancy on the BOD. That year, a show committee proposal concerning class designations was adopted by the board, unexpectedly resulting in a rift between YRHA and MRHA. The recommendation was reversed the following year and harmony was restored. The 2006 awards banquet and auction successfully raised $5700 for the club treasury and $4750 for our youth member, Katie Holland, who was severely injured in a skid steer accident.
General fundraising showed a steady increase under the enthusiastic guidance of Wendy Deans in 2007, yet the YRHA treasury declined for the first time in a decade. Contributing to the decline was a decrease in the number of participants in YRHA shows; this in spite of an increase in awards given at the shows, nationally recognized judges, and additional stalling and improvements made to the facility. Again, we faced change, with the BOD voting to sponsor 1 show for 2008 rather than 3 as had been done the past 4 years. To make up the Affiliate circuit in 2008, the BOD voted to endorse 2 MRHA-approved shows, the Rusty Slider and the Crazy Mountain Slide, both sponsored by Brackett Creek Quarter Horses, and the Hole in the Wall Slide, held in Thermopolis, Wyoming, and sponsored by the Cowboy States Reining Horse Association (CSRHA). The Yellowstone Slide was in turn endorsed by both the MRHA and CSRHA as one of their respective year end and Affiliate circuit qualifying shows.
More new faces joined the BOD in 2008: Mike Carlson, Jean Keffeler, Nicole Mather, John and Chandra Morris and Lanette Frye. In early fall 2008, Jan Anderson moved into the position of president. Lawrence Martin rejoined the board to fill the vacancy created when Mike Carlson moved into the vice presidency. In addition to serving as VP and Arena Drag Master, Mike was appointed Show Manager in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and again in 2012. Sharon Gelhaus, Mira Williams, Val Seigel, J.R. Winter, Shelle Egbert and Jan Lukenbill joined the BOD in 2012 and served the membership with enthusiasm and energy.
One of the highlights of the 2008 season was a two-day clinic given by the NRHA's first 3 Million Dollar Rider, Shawn Flarida. The clinic was hosted by YRHA at Anderson Training Stables in sub-zero temperatures in March. It was hugely popular with riders and spectators and Shawn agreed to return the following year...but in a much warmer month. In 2009, he arrived in May and again inspired riders and spectators to greatness for the coming show season.
A strong spirit of cooperation and shared energy emerged between YRHA, MRHA and CSRHA in 2008 and continues to this day. The Yellowstone Slide, held in July, was well attended and turned a modest profit, enabling the BOD to once again plan for more shows in 2009.
Following a survey of the members, in which the majority requested the YRHA to put on 3 shows and maintain its Affiliate, the board scheduled 3 shows for 2009. All 3 shows were approved by MRHA and the second show was also approved by CSRHA for affiliate circuit and year end awards. Again in 2010 and 2011, the YRHA was able to host 3 shows, all approved by MRHA and the second and third shows also approved by CSRHA for affiliate circuit and year end awards. The American Paint Horse Association has approved all Yellowstone Slides for the last several years for Paint Alternative Competition credits as well. In 2012, the Northern Rockies Reining Horse Association added Yellowstone Slide III to its affiliate circuit.
The 2009 show season saw the introduction of changes made at the NRHA level, including the dividing of the rookie class into 2 levels, dividing of the novice horse non pro and open classes into 2 levels, and changes in the maximum earnings limitations for limited and intermediate non pro riders. The addition of these classes increased the number of classes in which awards and prizes are given at shows and year end, and has increased the number of opportunities for members to qualify for the affiliate circuit finals.
For the 2012 show season, NRHA implemented changes aimed at encouraging reining clubs to earn their affiliate funding from NRHA by including new NRHA classes in their shows and sponsoring special activities such as Rookie Days, jackpots, and Ride A Reiner. The board voted at the annual meeting in January to integrate the new NRHA Green Reiner 1 and 2 classes into the YRHA shows and to phase out the Two-handed Rookie club class (replaced by the new NRHA Green Reiner classes) and to run the Green Rookie club class concurrent with the NRHA Green Reiner 1 class. The YRHA Green Rookie club class was then slated for discontinuation following the 2014 season.
YRHA has been well-represented at the regional affiliate finals in Colorado and Utah in the last decade and has qualified a number of riders to compete in the national affiliate finals in Oklahoma as well. In 2008, Jarvis Anderson became a Top 20 NRHA Rider, riding in the Open and Intermediate Open finals and placing second in the Intermediate Open. Though several Montanans have competed in the Open, none have placed so high.