Saturday, July 09, 2005

Loomis' 'Horse Whisperer' still going strong

Retired vet, cowboy poet honored Sunday for equestrian career

By: Sarah Langford, Gold Country News Service
Thursday, July 7, 2005 12:05 AM PDT

(photo) Richard 'Doc' Barsaleau spends some quality time with his Arabian, Jade, at his Loomis ranch last Thursday. "There's just something about putting your hands on a horse every day," says Barsaleau, a retired veterinarian. Photo by Karina Williams/Auburn Journal

Settled back in a chair in his Loomis kitchen, sipping coffee and recounting his life as a horse show judge, Richard "Doc" Barsaleau is an equestrian legend.

Barsaleau, who turns 80 in August, is a retired veterinarian, past college professor, cowboy poet and veteran of World War II. He also served as a judge for the 100-mile Western States Endurance Trail Ride in its early days and is a co-founder of Loomis Basin Horseman's Association.

He's been known as "Doctor B" ever since his days at Colorado State University, Fort Collins where he received his doctorate of veterinary medicine in 1952. Barsaleau inherited his love for horses and horse culture from his father, Henry Barsaleau, who served in the 11th U.S. Calvary in Textile, Texas.

"I was raised in the stable on the business end of a manure fork and with a curry comb and brush," Barsaleau joked at his 5-acre ranch dubbed "Riders' Rest" in east Loomis last week. "Some people catch the horse 'bug' and some people don't. I guess I caught it."

Barsaleau practiced veterinary medicine in the San Fernando Valley in Southern California and Visalia, Calif., before moving to Loomis with his wife Maggie Barsaleau in 1970.

According to Barsaleau, Maggie, who currently "does the books" for local vet clinics in Lincoln, Rocklin and Roseville, is the perfect match for him.

"She's the greatest," Barsaleau says. "To put up with me she had to be. She's not a horse person but she let me be one. She's one in a million."

Doc's first visit to Northern Califonia, however, came earlier. In 1961 when Wendell Robie, founder of the Tevis Cup ride, asked Barsaleau to help judge the competition. The two had met while judging a horse show in 1952 - something Doc did for 37 years - and Robie remembered his old cronie.

"There's a lot that goes into endurance riding," Barsaleau said. "You're checking things like the preparation of the horse, its size, health and tolerance level. In endurance riding, the horse is your servant, and you'd better take care of it."

That first year of judging was followed by five more, and eventually Barsaleau served as the event's main veterinarian as well. He competed in the event himself 16 times, completing the ride 14 times and taking home three top-10 awards.

After moving to Loomis and retiring from his veterinary practice, Barsaleau taught animal health technician classes as Consumnus College in Sacramento and wrote the state's first board exam for veterinary technicians. He also helped start the Loomis Basin Horseman's Association in 1981 and has spoken at every Cowboy Poetry event in Loomis since its inception in 1995.

On Sunday, Barsaleau received special recognition for his contribution to the area's horse community, when an outdoor pavilion at Robie Equestrian Park, located about 7 miles south of Truckee, was dedicated to him in during a ceremony there. The pavillion marks the spot where the 100-mile ride starts each year, and where riders frequently gather before heading off on the ride.

According to Marion Arnold, president of the Wendell and Inez Robie Foundation granting the honor and grandaughter of its namesakes, Barsaleau was awarded the honor because of his incredible involvement with horses over the years.

"(He has a) tremendous depth of knowledge about horses," Arnold said. "He always puts the horse first, which is very important in endurance riding. We think he is very worthy of recognition."

While Doc's work with horses is restricted now - he has symptoms of Parkinson's Disease and has not ridden in a year - he remains active around his ranch, tending to his five horses and helping train young riders for the Tevis Cup, which takes place July 30 this year. Despite having worked with the animals his entire life, horses continue to play a theraputic and healing role in the life of this retired cowboy.

"There's just something about putting your hands on a horse every day," Barsaleau said. "I love their smell, their attitudes and their beauty, and I enjoy helping people get the most out of their horses.

"You know that old saying, 'The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man'? I don't know why, but it's true."

Sarah Langford can be reached at

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