Rider On A Mission

Trina Van Horn of Fredonia combines a love of horseback riding with her mission to honor a deceased niece in a fall equine event that attracts hundreds of riders, horses and spectators
Ozaukee Press staff

Trina Van Horn didn’t set out to lead an effort that has provided more than $60,000 in scholarships to more than 150 area high school graduates.

She didn’t necessarily plan on running a horseback-riding speed show for 15 years and counting.

One year after starting the event, however, she did want to honor her niece Jeri Boehlke who was killed in an ATV accident in 2004 at age 13.

The Jeri Boehlke Memorial Old West Open Speed Show and Autumn Market  has since taken off. Riders from across the state and beyond save the first Sunday in October to come to Fredonia.

“We’re just so amazed. This is God led. This wasn’t our goal or intention,” Van Horn said.

Seeds for the show were planted decades ago when Van Horn grew up loving horses. Her father had preferred cattle — he had experiences with horses running away — and figured he wouldn’t have to deal with equine issues anymore after his oldest daughter Linda, another horse enthusiast, moved out.

But Linda Boehlke and her husband Royal — Jeri’s parents — sold Van Horn a horse for $50 when she was 9 and the youngest of six children developed a passion for riding.

Van Horn traveled to shows and eventually decided she’d like to hold one herself just to try it. She always wanted her own facility.

The first year was enough of a success to continue the show for a second.

Jeri died on Aug. 20, and Van Horn proposed naming the show after Jeri.

The family agreed, and the show began to grow. The day-long event now draws more than 100 spectators and 80 to 100 horses.

Weather each year has been so gorgeous that it has become a family joke to ask Van Horn when people should schedule their weddings.

Until this year. While it has sprinkled in the past, rain was in the forecast. The family had an informal meeting the day before the event to determine whether or not to cancel.

Someone then remembered the time Linda and Royal were not going to ride in the annual Boltonville Rain Days parade due to rain, but Jeri protested.

“If Jeri was tough enough to ride in the parade, then we can run the show,” Van Horn said.

The show went on. It did rain, but Van Horn said it was manageable.

One of the show’s priorities is to be reasonably priced to encourage families and young riders. Van Horn charges $4 per run, compared to some shows that cost as much as $50.

“We’re one of the cheapest shows around, and we do it intentionally,” she said.

The show includes electronically timed events for horses and their riders to complete a course. Van Horn said it’s a competitive show but everyone keeps in mind “that this is for a cause.”

Even the winners. Youth often give back some of their cash prizes, saying to put their winnings toward the scholarship fund.

“They won the money. They want the money,” Van Horn said. “That’s really special.”

The scholarship recipients regularly come back. One University of Wisconsin-Madison student from Oostburg arrived home around 2 a.m. after the Badgers’ football team beat Nebraska, and got her horses ready at 5 a.m. for that day’s show.

Van Horn said her family and friends each do their own part of the show. Linda and Royal run the popular pig-catching competition, her sister-in-law runs a silent auction, her niece does a bake sale and her cousin, a Boy Scout leader, leads a troop in serving food.

Different elements come and go. One year there was a chicken flying contest. “I was not in the charge of that one,” Van Horn said.

The day of the show requires more than 30 volunteers, who Van Horn said are not difficult to find.

“We cannot believe the amount of volunteers that help. That’s the main reason the show was a success,” she said.

Van Horn said organization is informal since she does not like committees or sitting through meetings, but every time she thinks she can’t handle all that involved, someone steps up to help.

After the show, around 6 p.m., the family and volunteers come back together for dinner.

“You’d think we’d be exhausted. We all have stories,” Van Horn said. “It was really nice to have that camaraderie. We have a great group we can sit and do that with and laugh.”

The show has a family atmosphere among the volunteers and attendees. Many thank Van Horn and her family for holding the event, and others just hand over money for the scholarships.

A photo of Jeri is kept in the cash box.

“I honestly know she’s there. I feel her spirit,” Van Horn said. “I know she’s smiling down and keeping everyone safe.”

It’s a fitting honor for a girl who put others first. Van Horn, a youth and high school basketball coach, remembers trying to put her niece into a game. Jeri told her about someone else who hadn’t played yet.

“She was so selfless and wanted to include everybody,” Van Horn said. She wanted everybody to have a good time.”

The show has even become a draw for more than those who knew Jeri or her family. Many families who have lost children or are struggling with cancer.

We’re hosting a horse show. But all the little stories... .” Van Horn said. “It’s created an environment of positivity and helping and community and love in a time when sometimes it’s hard to see those things in this world.

“It’s a breath of fresh air when talking to volunteers. It’s hard to describe. I’m just so grateful and thankful to be part of it.”

The show has a Facebook page at https://facebook.com/Jeri-Boehlke-Memorial-Speed-Horse-Show-and-Autumn-M....



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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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