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Thu, May 23

Horse biz is thriving as growth takes the reins

Courier/Jo. L. Keener

A rider trots around the arena while waiting for a trainer at the Ben Barlow Training Stables in Prescott.

Denton also said no part of the horseback riding industry is suffering. "Everyone's doing well," he said. "Horse shows are bigger than they ever were. I've never seen anything like it."

One thing Denton tells all of his customers is to make sure their horse is trimmed every four to six weeks.

"There are three reasons to shoe a horse. Protection, correction and traction," he said.

The most important reason to shoe horses is to keep their legs aligned. "It's important to keep a horse's legs aligned for the least amount of stress on the joints," he said.

Denton said there are hundreds of types of styles and applications for a horse's hoof. There are different sizes and shapes of shoes depending on each individual horse, he said.

There are shoes for correcting problems, traveling, jumping, and any other maneuver a horse makes, Denton said.

Horse owners can buy horseshoes in stores, but Denton said he makes customized shoes for each one.

"I make each shoe to fit the horse's foot," he said.

Denton also is a blacksmith, and specializes in making horseshoes and "almost anything else made from steel. Horses are my first love, then I do horseshoeing," he said.


Ben Balow is a local trainer who runs his business, Ben Balow Training Stables, from Larry and Karen Axley's AZ-Bar Ranch. He works primarily with reining horses, which are trained to do sliding stops, circles and spins with the use of reins. Balow refers to these horses as "horses with a plan" because they are taught to do so many different maneuvers.

"I try to give them an all- around education so they don't get burnt out," he said.

Balow also works with "rope horses, working cow horses and problem horses that riders aren't getting along with," he said.

Balow has been a professional trainer for 19 years, and has traveled all over the U.S. and parts of Europe as a judge. He has seen significant growth in that time. "It has grown tremendously, especially in this area," he said.

Balow said there has been unbelievable growth in the competition level. People will now spend $50,000 for a "competition horse on a non-professional level."

The types of people who ride horses have changed just as much as the industry has, Balow said. Horseback riders were thought of as cowboys several years ago, and now "99 percent of my business is simply people with a hobby," he said.

Balow has owned his business in Prescott for four years, and said he has seen an increase in demand in those years.

"I used to have to hustle to get horses, and now I don't," he said.


Shawnah Knittle, a saddle maker in Paulden, owns Firehorse Track & Arena. She said there are many reasons for the growth in the horseback riding industry in this area.

"Trail riding is in demand in Arizona because we have optimum weather," she said.

Knittle also attributes the rising number of riders to the growing number of retired people in the state. "Arizona is a retirement state," she said. "It's neat for them to get a horse, because many (elderly people) have a lot of property."

There was a big drop in interest for horseback riding in the '70s, Knittle said, but it has increased because, "for a lot of people, it's back to the basics. They want to be outdoors and teach their children and ride with their families," she said.

Knittle specializes in making custom "Nevada Buckaroo" saddles, which have a high front and back to help keep the rider steady. She compared saddles to fashion, and said, "the Old West look (pre 1950s) is back in style."

Her saddles are unique and personalized and she fits each one to the horse and the body type of the rider. "I want to make sure they're both comfortable," she said.

Knittle is a certified instructor, and gives riding lessons in her arena. She also teaches a course called "All About Western Saddles" at Yavapai College. Knittle caters mostly to adults with their first horse and those who would simply like to advance their skills.

Knittle said there has been a lot of growth in the area when it comes to trail riding. "There are so many trails and beautiful areas to ride," she said.


Malcolm Hamilton, Prescott National Forest (PNF) Recreation & Wilderness Team Leader, said there are more than 800 miles of trails in the Prescott area.

While some of these trails are restricted to horseback riding, Hamilton said about 98 percent allow horses.

He has been in the area for 10 years, and said, "There is a solid core of horseback riders in the area."

Hamilton said the PNF is creating a 100-mile horseback-riding trail that will circle Prescott, and will have various trailheads or access points. The PNF is working with the City of Prescott, the State of Arizona, Yavapai County, and private landowners to create the trail.

Hamilton said there is a wide variety of scenery and terrain on the trails for riders, and they are not restricted to stay on the trails. "Most choose the trails because they're the path of least resistance, but those who are more adventurous can (wander from) the trails," he said.

Contact Rachelle Bump at


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