“Do it with style and a smile” was the motto of Connie Griffith, one of the world’s greatest trick riders to ever ascend a horse. Not only did she do the most difficult women’s tricks, she was the only woman to excel at mens’ difficult groundwork routines. She lived and breathed trick riding.

Connie fell in love with animals, especially horses, at an early age. Her father gave her a Shetland pony, Nellie, when she was only 4 years old. As a child, she rode her horses, Toby and Kix, nearly every day. She joined a horse club and began competing in rodeos. So devoted to her love of horses, Connie began a pen pal crusade which culminated in over a thousand equine enthused pen pals from all over the world.
During the Denver Stock Show, Connie was overwhelmed by the trick riding exhibition she witnessed, featuring some of the best trick riders on the circuit, including the famous Dick Griffith. Several months later, on her twelfth birthday, Connie received her first trick riding saddle, a used Porter, from her father along with the promise of trick riding lessons with Dick Griffith. Soon, Connie began her lessons with Dick, who praised her as “a natural”. At just 95 pounds, petite Connie had all the attributes of a great trick rider: agility, grace, strength, and courage.

Connie was selected as the Nebraska High School Rodeo Queen, honored as the state’s most superb horsewoman, when she was 17. More than just a pretty cowgirl, Connie was valedictorian of her high school in Hemingford, Nebraska.

She continued trick riding lessons from Dick Griffith during her years as a student at Colorado State University. Despite their age difference, Connie and Dick fell in love and were married. Connie continued to perform at every major rodeo and horse exhibition across North America, including a show at Madison Square Garden in New York. While raising their son Tad, Connie joined Dick as an instructor at their premiere trick riding school. Over the years, she taught some of the most famous female trick riders and trained more than 100 trick horses. Her students saw her as a mentor, heroine, and cheerleader.

One of Connie’s signature tricks was the Ted Elder Suicide Drag. She hung upside down behind the horse with her head completely disappearing between the horse’s hind legs while her pointed toes danced in the arena dirt. Connie was the only woman to ever incorporate this contest trick into her performance. Another of her marquee tricks was the “under the belly”. She slid under the belly of her horse and returned to a sitting position in the saddle, all the while maintaining a constant smile for the audience as her horse galloped through the arena. She performed this trick unquestionably more times than any other trick rider.

Always creating new entertainment or borrowing from tradition, Connie mimicked Dick’s full shoulder stand over the car with her own hippodrome stand and shoulder stand over a crescent shaped moon aboard her steed, King Koal.

She also went on to excel beyond Dick’s wildest expectations, as one of the best Roman Riders ever. She perfected stepping from one horse to another, cross stepping, complete pirouettes, switching teams, and jumping both in tandem and through wall of fire.

Connie was very creative and through her 40 year career, she designed and sewed the costumes worn and made the trick riding saddles and tack. A special hobby of hers was the soft sculpture “Cuddle a Cowboy” doll. It was inspired by a doll Tad Lucas owned that Connie happened to see. Each doll was unique and most were donated to charity auctions or given to friends and family.

Introducing trick riding to the Las Vegas strip, Connie and her son, Tad, performed at the Excalibur Hotel for 8 years. The show, King Arthur’s Tournament, featured Riders of the North Country, a trio of trick riders which became one of the highlights of the show. Connie performed for 6 straight years in more than 6,000 consecutive performances, many times while maintaining bruised and broken bones.

“ It takes a certain amount of nerve, but most people have more of that than they know,” said Connie describing the attributes of a trick rider. “Desire is really more than half the battle. Some people have plenty of natural ability, but without desire they won’t go far.”

Tragically, Connie died much too young at the age of 56 while trick riding at a rodeo on a Saturday night. She was in transition from the horse’s neck when Winnie stumbled and somersaulted, crushing Connie beneath. She embodied passion and precision in her riding and will be remembered by those lucky enough to see her perform and witness the sheer grace and joy she brought to the arena she loved.

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