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Tribute to Roger Ruetenik: The Equine Innovation Engine

Founding Executive Board Member of the Ohio Quarter Horse Association

The Inspiration behind Soft Ride Boots

8/22/1930 - 7/14/2022

Roger Ruetenik was always at the forefront of the Quarter Horse industry. As a member of the founding Executive Board of the Ohio Quarter Horse Association, an Honorary Director of the All American Quarter Horse Congress, and head of the AQHA Show and Contest Committee that started the World Show, it is safe to say the Quarter Horse world might look different without his enthusiasm and guidance.

Roger grew up on the shores of Lake Erie in Vermilion, Ohio where he was an active member of the Ruetenik Gardens Greenhouse family. As a member of the FFA and National Vegetable Growers Organization growing up, he joked that it was a foregone conclusion that he would be involved in the farming industry.

“I purchased my first Quarter Horse when I was sixteen in 1946, She was a solid sorrel yearling filly. I bought her because I wanted something to play around with, I wanted to train her myself. We’d been doing a lot of western riding and showing in Ohio, and had a Western Riding Association when the Ohio Quarter Horse Association started up in 1940. Only about 9 or 10 of us were involved in the beginning.” And with the purchase of that filly, one of the first registered Quarter Horses on the east side of the Mississippi River, Roger’s connection to the Quarter Horse world began.

“Since my first horse in 1946, there have been so many Quarter Horses in my life and my family’s life, I couldn’t begin to name them all. I think the greatest thing that can happen is when you have a horse that you’ve bred or raised or been connected with, and someone else is able to take that animal and get some satisfaction from it, and come back to you again and again.” And Roger’s family was just as involved in the horse world as he was. While in high school he met his future wife, Betty. They attended The Ohio State University where Roger had received a scholarship for Track and Field. He received a degree in horticulture in 1952 and returned to his home town where the family’s greenhouse business was at the forefront of agricultural innovation. When remembering his time as a horseman as well as a young husband and father Roger recounted: “Betty’s an admirable horsewoman, she initiated the introduction of hunter/jumper discipline to the Quarter Horse industry at the All American Quarter horse Congress. She and I also had some fun going to jackpot cuttings. Way back then, all the money wasn’t involved, and I can remember that there weren’t too many women riding or showing cutting horses. I was getting pretty heavily involved in the vegetable greenhouse industry and the kids started coming along- Scott, Monty, Debbie, and Brad. Living right there on the farm, my parents used to worry, thinking we might be going overboard a little, as far as the horses were concerned, but Betty and I believed then, and still believe, that horses were one of the best things we gave our kids.”

Roger Ruetenik and Sir Zan Leo competing in an AQHA cutting event

Roger continued to be heavily involved in the burgeoning Ohio Quarter Horse Association even as he served as the Vice President of the Ohio Greenhouse Cooperative Association while running the Vermilion branch of Ruetenik Gardens, and started the first waterskiing school outside of Cypress Gardens at Cedar Point Amusement Park. Roger was also a member of the Vermilion Park Board and President of the Vermilion School Board, where he was inducted into the Vermilion High School Hall of Fame.

In 1967 Roger was a member of the board that launched the All American Quarter Horse Congress, and he was named an Honorary Director of that show. The Congress, which is still held at the Ohio State Fairgrounds just as it was in November of 1967, now boasts more than 20,000 entries, houses over 6,000 registered American Quarter Horses, and has become the largest single breed horse show in the world.

A large part of the success of the Congress and the AQHA can be traced to the youth and amateur programs that Roger had a hand in establishing. In an interview he stated, “I believe that the greatest thing AQHA has done to date is to develop its youth program, and I believe the second greatest thing is the development of the amateur program. In establishing its youth program, AQHA gave something monumentally good to young people. The kids took the ball and ran with it. They were tough competitors, and they wanted tough horses. Thousands of AQHA members want to participate in the AQHA shows but for many different reasons do not want to participate on the professional level. Developing the amateur program gave them the chance they wanted. Now look what has happened. Amateurs have become a vital segment of the industry. And many a good youth horse, whose young owner has moved on to college and to establish his niche in life, has been called into the amateur program and is continuing to excel.”

Roger was among those who pioneered the youth and amateur programs, and the World Show. During the years leading up to his election by national directors to the AQHA Executive Committee, Roger served on several Association committees, including the Show and Contest Committee, which he chaired for four years. This committee assisted in the creation of the AQHA World Championship Show concept in 1974. As the first show manager of the first two years of the World Show in Louisville, KY, Roger also helped establish the tradeshow and entertainment components. He secured the funding through corporate sponsorship with Ponderosa Steak House, and organized the concerts and performances that made the World Show stand out as a unique experience in the horse showing arena.

In addition to sitting on several boards, Roger also became an esteemed judge in the AQHA and NCHA world. He encouraged continuing education for judges including seminars, training manual testing, and in person interviews which are all standard practice today. Roger was a highly sought after judge, traveling extensively across North and South America to judge Quarter Horse shows. When asked about his judging experience and the expectations he had, Roger said, “From the time a judge leaves home until he returns he represents the Quarter Horse industry. And what he does with his pencil can shape the industry. Maybe that’s why a good, competent, sincere, and honest judge gets all my admiration. He’s calling it the way he sees it. You can’t ask for more. I believe the majority of AQHA- approved judges have those good qualities.”

Roger Ruetenik judging an AQHA youth team judging competition

Even as Roger became more involved in the executive aspects of the horse world he, and his sons Scott and Monty Ruetenik, were working to innovate the technology in the equine industry. The first of these inventions was the creation of the Anamill livestock treadmill. The natural progression for Roger was to move to the consulting side of the equine industry. Consulting led him to a position managing the Griffith Park Equestrian Center in downtown Los Angeles. Roger introduced the equine treadmill to D Wayne Lukas to assist in conditioning yearlings prior to race training. Roger designed and managed Del Rayo Racing Stables and the Klein Training Facility owned by Gene Klein, who also owned the San Diego Chargers at the time. Del Rayo produced several Preakness, Derby, and numerous other classic stakes winners as well as a number of Eclipse Awards while Roger headed their program. During that time he also sat on the Board of the Helen Woodward Equine Clinic in Rancho Santa Fe, and was the President of the California Thoroughbred Farm Managers Association. Together, Roger and Wayne established training protocols that treated horses more like their human athlete counterparts. They incorporated sports medicine into the thoroughbred racing industry using heart monitors on equine treadmills, icing recovery systems, and other innovative preventive care to build a solid physical foundation that could hold up to the rigors of horse racing. The facility was lauded as the winningest farm of the 1980s and produced many classic winners such as Lady’s Secret and Tank’s Prospect. During his time at the forefront of the Thoroughbred racing industry, his wife, Betty Ruetenik also established a line of high end equine jewelry.

In his later years, Roger turned his attention toward innovative equine product development and worked closely with his sons, Monty and Scott Ruetenik. Several of the inventions listed under the New Era company, including the installation of integrated fly spray systems and urethane flooring in breeding stables such as Calumet, are still used today. The urethane flooring was a precursor to Roger’s sons’ company, Soft Ride Boots, which is now an industry leader in preventive care and rehabilitation for horses around the world.

In an interview in 1983, Roger stated that he and his wife, Betty, met at the beginning of his life long love of Quarter Horses, and the beginning of the AQHA as a program. He stated that the two of them, and the industry “grew up together” and he hoped that both he and Betty, and the Quarter Horse industry could continue to do so in the years to come. After celebrating 72 years of marriage and 55 years of the All American Quarter Horse Congress, it’s safe to say Roger Ruetenik accomplished both those aspirations in spades.

Roger and Betty Ruetenik with their sons Brad and Monty, enjoying the 1955 Century similar to the boat they used at their waterski school in the 1950s

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