White Horse Ranch
Article by Ingrid Edisen

Austin Anderson
of White Horse Ranch

What does it mean to grow up with the history, live and breathe the life, and eventually become the art? Just ask Austin Anderson and his sister Staci Anderson-Diaz. They are third generation performers of the Texas White Horse Ranch who specialize in trick and Roman riding.

Nowadays Staci is based in New Braunfels and Austin has taken on the responsibilities of White Horse Ranch the traveling road show. Along the way he’s gained a skillful performing partner, Pamela Roetschke, who is now his fiancé. Their parents, Don and Jo-Ann, have semi-retired but they too lived the craft that had its roots in the heyday of rodeo excitement and entertainment and took it to the nth degree. It’s a forgone conclusion that the two siblings would naturally be selected to be Hollywood stuntmen. Staci and Austin both have been Screen Actors guild union cardholders since 1993.

Austin's fiance, Pamela Roetschke

To look at the breathtaking photos and know how hard it is to ride a horse normally makes you shake your head in amazement. There’s Don, performing Roman riding, standing, not sitting, on top of not one horse but two, and simultaneously steer ng a six-horse team. Or see his wife, casually standing on top of a cantering horse and waving! There are several shots of the kids flying by packed grandstands, but guess what? They’re hanging from the saddle with their heads and arms suspended above the ground! Or now they’re flipping up over the galloping horse’s back. And let us not forget that while Roman riding, both Don and Austin might decide that they need to jump some obstacles as well. Let’s not make this too easy.

How did they like this? Was the whole family born with a strange gene that allows them to balance, swing and fly with the ease of a Mohawk ironworker? To that mix, there must have been a strong fistful of courage thrown in. They just don’t exhibit the usual low level of daredevil you and I might show when we cross a street against a red light.

As Austin explains it, his parents came from already established equine operations. His mother’s parents had an 8-mule driving act and also did a liberty act. A liberty act is one in which the horse works “free” from any direct contact with the handler, often in a ring but Austin explained he even has a horse that will obey commands as long as he is within 20 to 30 feet of his handler. Later Jo-Ann’s father trained two sets of eight-horse liberty acts with Appaloosa stallions.

Meanwhile, as if warming up to the life that would follow, Don, Austin’s father had a job in which he drove an eight-horse hitch, the road team for Wilson’s Packing Company of Chicago. It was while his mother was performing for three years as a dancer with the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes that she met and fell in love with Don at the American Royal in Kansas City, Missouri in 1962. They married one year later and for their honeymoon, went to Naper, Nebraska, to purchase five white horses from the original White Horse Ranch to augment their one white horse and began their own liberty act. They’d perform at rodeos and fairs, with Don adding Roman riding to his repoitre and Jo-Ann doing trick riding. They bought more horses and took their own show out.

Six years later, they moved to Texas and officially set up the Texas White Horse Ranch. There they trained, bred and formed a show that they performed at many big fairs, expos, rodeos and circuses, Austin said.

“Throughout the ‘70’s my dad had what I believe to be the last traveling Western show as close to Buffalo Bill’s in the regards that when set up the arena and show grounds resembled Buffalo Bill’s set up. It had its own portable arena and covered seating for the audiences. He even had a power plant to run electrical. The show featured Roman riders—as many as six at a time.” Don would do a six horse Roman ride in tandem. Later, his daughter, Staci did this as well. Also on the show schedule were trick riders, trick ropers, chariot races, liberty horses, a riding drill where all the girls rode bareback, more trick horses and a comedy mule act. This necessitated that Don used five semi trucks to transport his equipment, steeds and crew.

“We start horses probably much like anyone else,” Austin said. “But every horse has things he’s good at or not so good at. We try to develop his confidence by working with what he can do and only asking more difficult things of him on a limited basis. He will eventually realize he’s doing something he didn’t like but now he has trust in us and starts to like the things that may have been uncomfortable before…We try and do as much as possible with them. But the bottom line is, time. No matter what anyone says, it takes time to make a good horse—a lot of shows and a lot of practice, a lot of miles, it just takes time. Training never really ends. I do think that the fact we do live shows helps make some of our horses good movie cast horses. The white horses in The New Guy, Secondhand Lions, and The Alamo are ours.” And, of course, Austin observed that even though they had to use some similar training methods with their various horses, each horse was an individual and as trainers they had to be sensitive to this and flexible.

“We always whip train our horses and use it as an extension of our hand. If he moves his rear over, we can tap it back without having to take a step which could put us out of place and lead to something else he’ll do wrong. My dad and granddad, and many circus trainer, always used whips. I laugh at all the newcomers who have cutie names for their whips. It’s a whip,” proclaimed Austin.

The oldest horse Austin uses is named Toby and he’s 26. He originally cost $500 back in 1988 but now is worth much more due to his training. Austin now only uses Toby on a very limited basis. In performance, he’s often paired with a twenty-year-old partner.

Austin explained how he travels with his horses. After all, he and his sister have performed all over the United States and Canada. He learned much about equine transport while watching his dad haul as many as thirty horses at a time across the country. Usually they stop and let the horses rest every two hundred miles. Hay is kept in front of the horses and water is offered often. Usually the maximum amount of time the animals are kept on the trailer is twelve hours and Austin makes sure to off load them nightly so they relax more completely. Rarely have the Andersons had a sick or lame horse during transport, Austin noted.

“We have a Freightliner semi-tractor and a 48-foot air ride horse van and a couple of one-tons with gooseneck trailers. I mostly go in the one-tons but I prefer the semi’s. I grew up traveling in the big trucks,” Austin said. “Between my dad and I, we have about 125 acres and we lease anywhere from an additional 50 to 100 depending on the herd size.”

A typical day might include getting up early, feeding, then riding, training with the rest of the day spent on plant maintenance and communicating with various rodeos and shows about upcoming events.

Austin said that because his family had worked with horses all their lives, they were extremely safety conscious and that had led to very few crashes. Once, he explained, his father was in the ring performing with a chariot and the rig flipped over. The team of horses ran out of the arena since Don had taken the spill and towards a highway. But, they turned back and ended up at the Anderson’s trailer simply to rejoin their other horse mates who were standing tied to the outside. Another time he was hanging upside down from a horse that was at a full gallop and someone in the crowd either threw something at the pair or ran at them. The horse shimmied sideways, not a full spook. Austin was forced to fall on the ground but got up unhurt.

Currently, one can catch Austin at the Stockyard in Fort Worth in the Pawnee Bill Wild West Show, organized by Hub Baker. Once the summer is over, Austin and his crew will travel to Canada to perform there. Greg Whitaker, whom Austin considers one of the best trick riders in action today, is part of the team as well. After that, movie work, PCRA rodeos and horse expos are where one can see their daring, flying moves.

To learn more about the Andersons’ Texas White Horse Ranch, contact Austin Anderson, Anderson’s Wild West Entertainment and Themed Equine Acts at (903) 842-3799 or cell (903) 520-0058 or visit his website!

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