Napa Valley Horsemen's Association
Club History 1939-1996
Written by D. Soderholm
Several of our members who joined the NVHA recently have asked about our past. Who are we? When did we start? What have we been doing? What are our goals? Etc. As I have been around here for so long, I have been asked to tell you a little about the Napa Valley Horsemen’s Association. So here goes…
With the increasing interest of Napa Valley residents in horses as hobbies, and as a form of recreation, the need for an organization to promote the sport became apparent. Napa seemed to be overrun with horse show exhibitors. Late in 1939, at the suggestion of Judge David Wright, a committee was formed consisting of Wade Shifflet, Bert Woods, Lester Clark, Harrison Cutler, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Walsh of Soscol, and several other residents of Napa and the surrounding areas. Judge Wright was appointed chairman.
This committee met on the evening of October 11, 1939, at the Napa Fairgrounds in the Home Economics Building. At this meeting “The Napa Valley Horse Lovers Association” was founded with 61 charter members. Bert Woods was elected President; James Pritchett, Vice President; Mrs. James Graham, Secretary; and John Egan, Treasurer. The Charter was open until Jan 1, 1940 and closed with 82 charter members.
On November 19, 1939, the Club’s first event was held. It consisted of races, goat and calf roping, horsemanship classes and jumping. It was held at the Napa Fairgrounds. At that time, the fair boasted a large, beautiful arena with grandstands and a one-half mile race track. But progress saw to their demise.
At the December 4, 1939 meeting, the name of Napa Valley Horsemen’s Association was officially adopted and in May of the following year, the Association was incorporated as a non-profit organization.
Meetings were held monthly at the fairgrounds until November 1940, when they were held at the Chamber of Commerce Building, and then on Clay Street, which is now a part of the downtown Mervyns complex. Charge for the meeting rental was $5 per month, and coffee and doughnuts were served for less than $1.50 per meeting. In May 1941, the monthly meetings were again held at the Home Economics Building at the fairgrounds until our present clubhouse was a reality.
The Club had begun to show its interest in community activities and at the March 1941 meeting, it was voted to supply labor for repairing the 1940 flood damage at the fairgrounds. On this basis and a like offer from the Napa Roping Club, the 15th District Fair was able to procure the necessary funds from Sacramento to completely repair all the damage suffered.
In April 1941, the first horse show was staged at the Napa Fairgrounds. It was a gala affair. Grandstands were full. One hundred twenty one horses participated in the 12 classes offered: Hunters, Jumpers, Stock and Hackamore Horses, Polo Ponies, Pleasure and Trail Horses, Five-gaited Horses, Palominos, Children’s Classes and even Musical Chairs. Purses offered were $10 and $20 added. This show was held in conjunction with the Nationwide War Bond Drive. The Club continued to hold the Annual Spring Horse Show at the fairgrounds through 1948. There was no show in 1949, as the ring was torn down at the fairgrounds.
On November 2, 1944, the Club voted to buy 17 acres in the Alta Heights area from Walter Lutge and Mrs. Elsa Moore (price not known). This spot was quite rural at the time. Great plans were made for a clubhouse and arena when money was saved. But development interfered with those dreams. As entered in our ledger, on January 31, 1948, a portion was sold to the City of Napa for $500, which is now a part of the Alta Heights Reservoir. In May 1948, another parcel was sold to J. A. Osborne for $12,336.46. He subdivided it into the present site of the Latter Day Saints Church and 41 surrounding lots. Also in May, a third parcel was sold for $3,693.03 to Charles Julian, who subdivided it into 11 lots. The final piece went to the Napa School District in 1948 for $1,620. This is now the eastern portion of the Alta Heights School property.
This turnover of property enabled the Club in August 1948 to purchase from Andrew Sheveland 31.90 acres and the milking barn that formerly housed a string of 100 Holstein cows for $19,l00. This acreage was originally a part of the Spreckles Stock Farm.
Then, with many, many hours of hard work on the part of our members, the barn was remodeled into the present clubhouse. An item of interest: the concrete watering trough was kept intact, filled with dirt and made into the large attractive planter that now acts as a divider between the main hall and the bar.
After acquiring this property, first priority was a horse show arena, because then we were in dire need of money to make improvements. Ed Berry, now a Lifetime Member who wears a 50-year pin, secured the material for the grandstand from a surplus source in Vallejo and donated it to the Club. Members constructed it. Money was borrowed from the Bank of America to build the arena and paid back after the next horse show was held on April 23, 1950. The next year, we again borrowed money and built 10 box stalls, paying off the loan from the next horse show profits. The next year, we borrowed again and completed the 20-stall barn that stands today.
Improvements went on…the horse show restrooms, the concession stand, and the horse show office. About 1949, the south addition was added on the clubhouse, making a spot for our bar. Betty and Roy Robinson of Maples Stables in Woodland donated the old bar that stood in dignity with its highly polished pillars, crystal chandeliers and it even had a brass rail. At one time, it was located in a barroom on Mission Street in San Francisco.
Many elbows were bent here until 1964 when the present bar addition was completed. In January 1958, porches were added on the north and east sides of the clubhouse. The present bar addition was completed in 1964, enclosing the north and east porches and adding a storeroom and a ladies lounge
In summer 1979, the kitchen remodeling was begun, extending the west wall out 12 feet and more than doubling the working area. All of these improvements were done by members. Work days through the years were well attended, and we really had fun and the feeling of accomplishment. As mentioned in the Hoofprints, a typical work day was held on October 16, 1963. There were 35 men and 12 ladies who started at 9:00 AM to repair the stalls, paint the stable roof, repair the wood fences, paint exterior of the restrooms and general cleanup. There was a lunch break with hot dogs and coffee served by the arena.
Work ended by 4:00 PM and a potluck dinner was served by the ladies at 5:00 at the club. Some work days started with a Gin Fizz breakfast. We always had a good turnout for those. All work days, the ladies served a hot lunch in the clubhouse for the workers. Trail rides, breakfast rides, sometimes just rides were held periodically, weather permitting. Thinking back when the Club was very young (and we were, too)…
On December 15, 1940, a fox hunt was held on the Melone Ranch in the heart of the valley. Riding to the hounds was a memorable experience, although the fox was borrowed and had to be returned in good shape.
There were rides to Vallejo Lakes, Egan Bros. Ranch in Wooden Valley, Paradise Park, Valley of the Moon overnighter, Hussey’s Ranch on Partrick Road, State Hospital property (now Skyline), and even Sugar Loaf in Berryessa.
But the highlight of the year was the annual trek to Aetna Springs in Pope Valley. The hardy riders trailered to Calistoga Fairgrounds and left about 9:00 AM on Saturday and rode over the old Oat Hill Mine Road to the Resort. The less hardy would arrive by car in time to greet the riders at the Springs and all would lunch together in the grand old rustic dining hall. The cost of the weekend was $12.50, that included Saturday lunch, dinner, dancing, midnight barbecue, overnight accommodations in the old picturesque cabins (with chain toilets), and Sunday breakfast and lunch. In June 1962, the price was raised to $14.50 for the weekend. Your horse was stabled, too. I think that the last trek was in 1971, an end to many great memories.
We have had several membership drives over the years. Two stand out in my mind. In 1960, there were 81 members added to te roster, and in 1963, we added 60 new members. Twenty-five year pins have been presented to 71 members and seven members have their 50-year pins. We have 280 members at this time.
Our main source of income has been the horse shows. The records show a net profit annually of $2,000-3,000 from 1961 through 1968. Then there was a growth up to $7,000 in 1975. This was followed by a decline in 1982 and 1983; 1984 and 1985 showed profits up to $6,000 and $7,000. Two years dropped and our final show in 1989 netted $6,482.55.
During the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, we had a very active parade group consisting of 25 members. There are many trophies on display at the club that were won in keen competition.
The Napa Valley Junior Horsemen and the Napa 4-H Horsemen held their activities here for many years.
In 1955, we started the Challenge Trophies. If won three consecutive years, the trophy was retired to the winner. Small replicas were presented each year. There were Challenge Trophies for Hunters, Jumpers, Parade Horses, Three and Five-Gaited Saddle Horses, Fine Harness Horses, Tennessee Walking Horses, Hackamore and Stock Horses.
These were large 2-3 foot tall trophies and were displayed on either side of the fireplace in the glass cabinets. Some were retired and some were stolen from our locked cabinets.
During the 1960’s, amid a profusion of shrubs and flowers, there was always an organist in the center of the ring surrounded by judges and secretaries. Quite elegant!! Eventually, the judges and horses needed more space, so this was eliminated.
In 1961 and 1962, we had a beautiful outside cross-country course for Hunters. This was held in the lower field. The trail competition was also held there. The three rings started in 1978 with western classes in the main arena, English classes in the pipe arena, and trail classes in the lower east arena. Busy time for all. Members worked hard to handle the 65 classes held in the three rings.
The shows were all-around western and English shows until 1978 when the Hunters and Jumpers were discontinued. Cutting Horse classes were initiated in 1950 and held through 1959, started again in 1968 for several years, dropped again after 1977 and resumed in 1984 and 1985. Our last show at the fairgrounds in 1948 consisted of 17 classes with 175 horses entered. By 1989, we had grown to 91 classes and for several years boasted 200-250 horses in attendance.
Almost every member participated and worked hard in one way or another to make each horse show a success. Much credit is given to our gracious sponsors, trophy donors and advertisers. Many weeks were dedicated each year. Then, with so many approvals, expensive judges and other shows with same dates, not to mention that we were running out of steam, the 1990 49th Annual Spring Horse Show was not meant to be.
So in 1990, 1991 and 1992, we continued to have play days and horse activities for the members. Then team penning became popular in 1993 and we had 21 team penning events: five for members only and 17 were open to the public. We also had Wednesday night polo games for members. There was a reining horse clinic in September and we continued our play days.
Year 1994 brought more team penning events: 10 shows from May 7th through June 5th.
There were three planned play days and a Cattle Sort and Drafting day. Our first Rancher’s Day was held June 5th.
In 1995, we had a tack swap, our 2nd Annual Rancher’s Day, a reining clinic, horse training techniques clinic, four member penning days, one open penning event, and four barrel racing days.
For 1996, we have only had our tack swap and barrel racing to date. The Wine Country Rendezvous is the same as our Rancher’s Day, held for the last two years, and we look forward to a show to be enjoyed by participants and spectators alike
Four $400 scholarships are given annually to deserving graduating seniors at Napa, Vintage, Justin-Sienna and Temescal High Schools, to further education in Veterinary Science, Agriculture, or Forestry. This program started in 1967 when we gave to one graduate at Napa High. In 1969, we increased this to two students from Napa High. This continued until 1973 when we gave to one Napa High student and one Vintage High student. In 1983, we added a Justin-Sienna graduate and this year, 1996, we are adding a Temescal High School graduate.
Due to Napa’s expanding growth, there have been some property exchange offers made to the NVHA, i.e.
• June 1986 – California Properties of Napa suggested a possible exchange of NVHA property for a portion of the Stewart property between the Napa River and the State Highway. Rejected by NVHA.
• June 3, 1989 – Shinnamon and Associates made a proposal to exchange acreage and desired facilities located on the Southwest corner of Las Amigas and Milton Roads in Carneros. Rejected by NVHA.
• October 17, 1989 – Shinnamon and Associates offered an exchange of 27 acres located on Fourth Avenue adjacent to Skyline Park, together with a new clubhouse, open arena, covered arena and grandstand, stables, parking and an on-site resident manager’s quarters. Much thought was given to this proposal, but it was finally rejected by membership ballot.
• October 23, 1989 – Coldwell Banker Real Estate proposed the exchange of a portion of the Rapp Ranch on Second Avenue in Coombsville, including the existing home for a clubhouse, caretaker’s house, covered arena and barns. Rejected.
• June 1990 – A questionnaire was sent to all members regarding the future of the Club. There were 84 responses: 55 indicated retaining the Foster Road location and 29 favored investigating relocation. Eighty-seven members failed to respond. On this basis, the NVHA will continue the present activities at Foster Road.
Trivia gathered here and there…
As you can see, the cost of maintaining our property runs high. We must have an income to cover our monthly upkeep, taxes, insurance, etc. The horse show income is no more, dances and bar income must be increased and interest rates are low. The dues and initiation fee have been increased. But we still need a “money maker” to keep from drawing from our surplus each year.
The friends that gathered together back in October 1939 with a common interest and a meager beginning would be very gratified to look up the Napa Valley Horsemen’s Association organization as it stands today. 1996 is the 57th year for our Club. We’ve certainly come a long way, slow but sure. This should be an exciting year. Plans are to be made and we must all work together. Come to the meetings; attend all other functions; be a part of the Club and enjoy it to the fullest. It’s yours, it’s mine, and we can certainly be proud of it.
I hope that this has been informative to all of our members and recalled cherished memories.
June 3, 1919 - November 19, 2015
Charter Member 1939
CELEBRATING 83 YEARS
Immediate Past Pres.
Michelle Mendoza - 2025
Allen Harrison - 2025
Don C yde - 2024 Steve Lombardi - 2024
Irene DeWeese – 2023
Stephanie Davis - 2023
NAPA VALLEY HORSEMEN'S ASSOCIATION