Loomis’ Barsaleau was veterinarian, horseman and author

Auburn’s Central Square endurance marker, Tevis Cup ride start pavilion, bear his name
By: Gus Thomson, Auburn Journal
-A +A


A stalwart supporter of Placer County’s endurance community, a veterinarian, writer and 14-time Tevis Cup 100-mile ride finisher, Richard “Doc” Barsaleau is dead at age 87.

Barsaleau, a longtime Loomis resident and horse trainer, will be remembered March 16 in Loomis, with a celebration of  his life. He died Feb. 12.

Barsaleau packed quite a few accomplishments into his saddlebags before embarking on the great trail ride in the sky. Born Aug. 17, 1925 in Falls, Pa., his future in the horse world seemed predestined by his father’s past as a soldier with the 11th U.S. Cavalry.

“I was raised in the stable on the business end of a manure fork and with a curry comb and brush,” Barsaleau said, in a 2005 Gold Country Media interview. “Some people catch the horse bug and some people don’t. I guess I caught it.”

Barsaleau earned a doctorate of veterinary medicine in Colorado in 1952 and practiced veterinary medicine in Visalia and the San Fernando Valley before buying a five-acre ranch in Loomis in 1970.

Barsaleau said his first visit to Northern California came in 1961, when Wendell Robie, founder of the Tevis Cup ride, asked him to help judge the competition. The two had met in 1952, while Barsaleau was judging a horse show – something he did for 37 years.

Concerned about the well-being of high-performance trail horses, Barsaleau in 1963 would develop with Will Tevis, a Top 10 rule for awarding the Western States Trail Ride’s Haggin Cup for best-conditioned horse, setting the standard in endurance riding competition which is followed to this day, according to The Wendell and Inez Robie Foundation website. Barsaleau was also author of the original “Handbook Guide for Veterinary Judges” and a book of his writing and cowboy poems called “From  the Riders’ Rest.”

Barsaleau served as a veterinarian and judge on the Tevis Cup ride for six years but also was an owner and trainer of Arabians – the horses most suited for the grueling 100-mile endurance test from high in the Sierra Nevada to Auburn. It was only natural that Barsaleau also test himself and his horses. And he did so 16 times – finishing 14 times. Those finishes included three finishes in the Top 10.

“There’s a lot that goes into endurance riding,” Barsaleau said in 2005. “You’re checking things like the preparation of the horse, it’s size, health and tolerance level. In endurance riding, the horse is your servant, and you’d better take care of it.”

In the mid-2000s , the non-profit Robie Foundation led fundraising to build the covered Barsaleau Pavilion for dining and meeting by visitors at the Robie Equestrian Park, between Lake Tahoe and Truckee.

Jim Larimer, vice president and treasurer of the Robie Foundation board, said Monday that Barsaleau was on the foundation panel for more than 20 years.

Barsaleau’s association with Wendell Robie famously took a turn toward long-lasting friendship in 1964, when he pulled the ride founder’s horse out of the Tevis Cup competition because of condition questions. With others questioning the wisdom of the decision, Barsaleau stuck by his decision – stating either the horse (and Robie) would go or he would go. Robie would later admit that it was the right call, the veterinarian recounted in 2005. That sealed a longtime friendship based on mutual respect.

“He was one of those guys who wanted to do things right – and that included everything,” Larimer said. “And he was appreciated for everything he did.”

A memorial service and celebration of life is to take place at 3 p.m. March 16 at the Blue Goose Event Center, 3550 Taylor Road in Loomis. Memorial donations may be made to the Robie Foundation.