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Take The Reins

Todd Bergen is one of the most successful, most versatile professionals in the business.

by Katie Tims

So where does one begin with a guy like Todd Bergen?

You think you know him, but you probably don’t. He makes riding world class look easy, but it definitely isn’t. His is a self-made story of hard work, risk and perseverance, but it’s so much more than that.

Bergen, 42, lives in Eagle Point, Ore., and he’s recognized as one of the industry’s most talented, most versatile horsemen – though he’d be the last one to admit to such. Coming into November, he’d earned $225,650 for the 2011 season, putting his lifetime record at $3.4 million. This month, he’s competing on multiple horses at the American Quarter Horse Association World Show and the National Reining Horse Association Futurity. Last month, he won the National Reined Cow Horse Association Futurity aboard Shiners Dun Juan, and then a few weeks later competed at the Pacific Coast Cutting Horse Association Futurity. The month before that, in September, Bergen made the finals on This Kittys Smart in the Futurity Open division at the El Rancho Cutting, plus he finished second in the Futurity Open on Love Em N Leavem at the High Roller Futurity and Derby reining in Las Vegas. Also this year, Todd won the NRCHA Snaffle Bit Stakes Championship on Smart Luck, plus the National Stock Horse Association Classic on Billys Cool Cat. Add in several trips to the finals along with top-six finishes at the National Reining Breeders Classic, NRHA Derby and NSHA Futurity, and voila, you have a show season in the life of Todd Bergen.

A choice made

Bergen grew up in the country, in a suburban sort of way. His dad and mom, Dick and Karla, grew up in Montana. He was raised on a farm and Karla’s dad worked in a sawmill. They married and moved to Oregon to look for work. Dick found a job at a Volkswagen dealership in Salem.

“He started off as a mechanic and ended up being the head manager,” Bergen said. “That’s just kind of how he has done everything. My dad barely graduated high school, but he has always owned his own businesses or ran businesses.” Dick and Karla owned a string of Dunkin Donuts shops, a patio/awning store, then he finished out his career as the CEO of a large company that manufactured wood processing machines. “That is just kind of how he did things,” Bergen said about his dad. “He’s very much a leader and very much a go-getter.”

Eventually, the Bergen family moved out of town and onto a place near Salem with three or four acres. Immediately, the elementary school- age Todd and his sister, Lisa, knew exactly what was required to make life complete. “Of course, my sister wanted a horse and I wanted a motorcycle,” Todd recalled with a laugh. “I got a motorcycle for Christmas. We built a little barn and bought a horse out of the paper.”

One horse led to two, and then two led to three.

“We would buy them out of the paper or from a guy down the road,” Todd recalled. “We had horrible horses – they were just terrible horses. They would run off with my sister, and she got bucked off a few times and run off with. Pretty soon, she didn’t want to ride anymore.”

Dick wasn’t the kind of man to stand back and let his investment go to waste, so he got on one of the horses and told Todd to come along on one of the others. Pretty soon, Todd figured out that horses were not only an ideal form of transportation along the roads for a young man too young for a driver’s license, but they were also a great entree into the neighborhood social circles. Many of his friends participated in 4-H and competed at local shows and gymkhanas.

At that point, it was all fun and games.

“I was too little to put a saddle on, so I just rode bareback. We just went and rode,” Todd said. “There was a big field down across the road and it had a fire trail all the way around it. We used to just run those horses around the fire trail. We had a little corral – I don’t even know how big it was – and we would ride in there. You always had to ride down the road and then up a gravel road over to your friend’s house or something. We just rode.”

Pretty soon, Todd was showing in 4-H events and open shows. By the time he was 12, Todd was competing strictly on the Quarter Horse circuit. Local trainer Vic Surrat had a thriving program with youth and amateur riders, and that’s where Todd got his start.

“We leased a lot of horses because we just couldn’t afford to buy horses,” Todd said. “We’d keep the horses out there at [Surrat’s] facilities. My parents really couldn’t afford to keep a horse in training, so I would go out after school to work off my board and I would ride my horse and then help them around the barn, which eventually led to riding horses and learning how to train them and doing all that kind of stuff from the time I was 13 on. I never ever had a horse in training with a trainer. I always did all the riding myself.”

Along with horses, Todd also played a lot of baseball. Dual sports were fine – to a point.

“You play baseball all week and you have little league games on Friday nights. My parents would be sitting there with the truck and trailer, waiting for me to get done with my game so we could go off to a horse show. It was just too much, going too many places. I just didn’t have time to do it all.”

Did it take him long to decide between baseball and horses?

“No, not really,” Todd answered. “I just kind of always was trying to learn how a horse thinks and how it does things. It was just something that always intrigued me and I always thought about it.”

Dick remembers one night when his son was 13 or 14. “I walked into his room. It was late, but the light was on. I asked him what he was doing. He had just read in one of the training manuals, I think it was written by Al Dunning, that each horse has its own character. It was a fact that he knew it to be true, in that every horse cannot be trained the same way, cannot be handled the same way. From that point on, I think Todd really started relating to the fact that horses are individuals – that you have to get to know them, you have to know their strengths and weaknesses.”

"I think Todd really started relating to the fact that horses are individuals – that you have to get to know them, you have to know their strengths and weaknesses."

- Dick Bergen

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