Many years ago, Harlan Peterson was just a boy riding his spotted horse out to pasture to round up the cows. On his southern Minnesota farm, horses were a practical part of the day-to-day operations, and learning to ride was as natural as walking. Today, Peterson is nearing 92 years of age, with decades of horse riding under his belt and a herd of horse enthusiasts continuing his legacy. As the founding father of the Silver Buckle Saddle Club in Plymouth, he’s spent 50 years cultivating horsemanship and turning a backyard operation into what it is today.
The city of Plymouth looked quite different in 1964. The undeveloped hillsides were dotted with farms, and many kids, including the nine Peterson children, were busy tending to horses and hay bales. “All of us kids rode from the day we could walk,” recalls Patti Lindenberg, one of Peterson’s seven children.
Peterson had a private outdoor arena at the time, and after talking with a few friends, they all decided it would be great fun to harness their resources and turn the property into a riding club. “It was about family and youth, that was the focus,” says Lynnette Nordberg, one of Lindenberg’s best childhood friends and an early saddle club member. For nine years the Silver Buckle Saddle Club thrived on Peterson’s property, with upwards of 100 horses housed on site. Club members participated in everything from competitions and trail rides to barn dances and educational events.
“We played a lot of games, like tag or hide-and-seek, on our horses,” Lindenberg recalls. “We’d stay out at the farm until the wee hours of the morning all summer long.” But being a club member meant a lot of hard work, too. “I got my kids strong by handling hay bales,” Peterson says. “We had chores, but it was fun,” Lindenberg concurs. “It didn’t seem like chores, because it was with all of our friends.”
Fast-forward to today, and the Silver Buckle Saddle Club is still thriving, although now at a new location. In 1973, the Petersons closed the arena due to city development and expansion, and said hello to 11.1 acres of fresh pasture just a few miles west. Today a board runs the club, but several generations of Harlan Peterson’s family are still involved behind the scenes. “[Dad] was cutting down dead trees last winter,” Lindenberg says.
“I’m slowing down a little bit,” Peterson acknowledges with a chuckle.
“We don’t ride as much anymore,” Lindenberg says, “but you want to see your kids and grandkids continue—and for them to have as much fun as we did.”
Although the saddle club is open to kids and adults alike, the focus always has been on the youth and fostering the equine tradition from a young age. Nordberg is quick to point out that owning and caring for a horse teaches children responsibility in a way a family pet cannot. “It’s more of an individual responsibility,” she says. “As you grow up, you and your horse are like a team, it’s like a team sport … a lot of building and training goes into it.” At the end of the day, a horse is more than just an animal: “Your horse becomes your companion, your best friend,” Lindenberg says.
Peterson’s best horse was his stallion, George Be Nimble, who sired many top performance horses. After George’s death in 1982, Peterson was devastated, and riding, for him, hasn’t been the same since.
The Silver Buckle Saddle Club celebrated its 50th anniversary this summer with a big reunion of past members—more than 150 attended—and some quality time to catch up and visit. “The club is a kind of second family for a lot of people,” Lindenberg says. “We’ve developed friendships that we’ve had up until this day.”
With 50 years under their belts, the Petersons and the rest of the Silver Buckle family are eager to see the next 50 years unfold. “My grandkids are into horses now,” Lindenberg says, “and boy, when they go to get a ribbon, there’s nothing better than watching their faces.”
To join the Silver Buckle Saddle Club, visit the website
Owning a horse is not required.