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Written by: Lily Landreth< Back to Articles
Karen Vold calls trick riding the desire of her heart. But the sport of daredevil skills and showmanship on horseback was even more than that to Karen, who held on to it like a lifeline through turbulent times in life. She learned to know and trust God through her experiences on the rodeo trail, and now has the privilege of sharing lessons learned through her trick riding school, Red Top Ranch Trick Riding School. “Because of rodeo, I’ve had a very wonderful life,” says Karen. “I started out with not such a great youth, but as I got older and got into trick riding, it got better. I thank God to not only trick ride, but to be in rodeo, where I met my husband.”
Before Karen became Karen Vold, wife of the late, legendary stock contractor, Harry Vold, she was already leading a life heavily steeped in rodeo. “Dad (Andy Womack) was the only person at the Phoenix Rodeo who was chairman more than one year during the war, and he hired the announcers and clowns and specialty acts. They would come to our house and have dinner, and I was so enthralled with the trick riders and listening to their stories. So at a very young and tender age, I decided to be a trick rider.” When she was about eight years old, Karen learned to trick ride from Louise Tex Lee, a woman trick rider who worked at the Womack family’s riding stable in Phoenix. Later, Karen’s parents purchased a palomino, Gold Dust, from a trick rider who worked the Phoenix Rodeo, and he became Karen’s bosom friend and trick horse during her parents’ divorce. Louise had taught Karen three tricks that she knew, and when Karen got her PRCA card in 1953 at age 14, the Phoenix Jaycee Rodeo was the first PRCA rodeo she worked. Her dad also worked as the clown that year.
When Karen was 18 and a senior in high school, her dad paid for her to have lessons with the world champion trick rider Dick Griffith at his ranch in Colorado, provided she learn the full shoulder stand the way Dick performed it. It was a more complicated stand that faced forward and required diving over the saddle horn, rather than the side shoulder stand. “I did learn that for my dad, and always did that particular trick as an honor to him,” says Karen. The following year in 1958, Karen took a hiatus from trick riding when she was crowned the Phoenix Jaycee Rodeo queen. Through them, she represented her home state as the first Miss Rodeo Arizona at the Miss Rodeo America pageant. “It added some very lovely adventures to my life and wonderful memories. There used to be a program called Queen for a Day, and they took me to California and I was on TV. I invited their program to the Phoenix Rodeo. At the Miss Rodeo America pageant, there were a lot of interesting things for a young girl to do and see. Jane Russell, who was a very popular actress in those days, was one of the judges. Arlene Kensinger was the chaperone for Miss Rodeo America for many years, and she taught me a lot of things that were helpful.”
Karen returned to trick riding in 1959, and in 1962, she formed her own troupe, The Flying Cimarrons, who performed together for a few years before disbanding. Not long after that, Karen and Dick Hammond, a fellow student she met at Dick Griffith’s school, formed The Fireballs trick riding team, together with Dick Hammond’s wife, Bev, and brother-in-law, Butch Morgan. Karen still lived in Phoenix at the time, and the other members of the team, who lived in Colorado, came to practice at her place in the winter. They met Canadian stock contractor Harry Vold at the rodeo convention in Denver, and he asked them to come perform at several of his rodeos in Canada. “The first rodeo, it rained three days and three nights—I’d never seen so much water in my life. The rodeo was canceled, and we were so impressed that Harry paid us, even though he didn’t get paid for the rodeo.”
The Fireballs were invited back to Canada the following summer, which further developed Karen and Harry’s friendship. They married in 1972, combining their families, including Karen’s daughter from her first marriage, Nancy, and Harry’s four children, Wayne, Dona, Doug, and Darce. Harry and Karen were also blessed with their daughter, Kirsten. Once Karen married Harry, she put trick riding aside to help run Vold Rodeo Company. Her knowledge of rodeo showmanship and attention to detail helped continue Vold Rodeo’s reputation, which earned Harry Vold the PRCA Stock Contractor of the Year award 11 times. One of many highlights for Karen was Vold Rodeo Company working in Helsinki, Finland, at the invitation of bull rider turned rodeo producer, Jerome Robinson. “I’ve had lots of favorite rodeos for different reasons. Naturally in trick riding, you love the big arenas. For Santa Fe and Colorado Springs, this is our 55th consecutive year putting those rodeos on, and Prescott is 50 years and we’re still putting it on. My daughter Kirsten is still in charge. First I was the stock contractor’s wife, and now I’m the stock contractor’s mother. Those places are special because you see the same people once a year like a family reunion, and the people make the difference.”
Karen makes her home in Avondale, Colorado, and travels with Kirsten in the summers to the rodeos they’re producing. She also continues to run Red Top Ranch Trick Riding School, one of the few trick riding schools in the country, which she started in 1988. At 83, she teaches alongside Linda Scholtz, a former student of hers who was a professional trick rider for 20 years before coming to teach at the school. Karen also handles much of the cooking for the three-day schools and the rodeo crews coming through for Vold Rodeo Company.
One very special person to Karen was her trick riding hero, Tad Lucas, whom she met when the women were both inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 1978. Karen made another friend in author Tracie Peterson, who came to the trick riding school to research the sport for one of her historical fiction novels. “She’s a very famous author and has written over 100 books. I wrote two cookbooks and took a year for writing each,” Karen says with a laugh. “Those are the types of experiences I wouldn’t have had without trick riding or rodeo. When I was in high school, I went to a church camp in Prescott and I thought if I wanted to serve the Lord, I had to go to South Africa. Little did I realize that I could still serve the Lord in my backyard by teaching and having those schools. I can share what the Lord has done in my life with students and their parents. I enjoyed 53 years shared with my husband, providing wholesome family entertainment in rodeo business, and got to perform in trick riding. When you’re teaching, you feel the same thing you experienced when you were riding, and when a student is working hard on something and accomplishes it, you feel same excitement.”