Our history in the entertainment industry combines four generations of world champion performers and competitors with what they considered the most noble creature on Earth, the Horse. Since 1912, our horses have enabled this family to reach the pinnacle in equestrian gymnastics (Trick and Fancy Riding), Roman Riding, Dancing Horse Acts, Jumping Horse Acts, and an endless list of accomplishments pertaining to all entertainment mediums. Few humans, outside of war, have ever willingly placed their lives in the keeping of a horse as often or in as many ways.
Curly Griffith was not only a multi-event champion contestant, trick rider, roman rider, and rodeo clown, but also an early producer of Wild West gatherings which evolved into organized rodeos.
Toots Griffith began her career as a Bucking Steer Rider. She went on to become the World Champion, and newspapers of the time heralded her, “The World’s Smallest Champion Cowgirl.” She competed in several other competitive events including ladies bronc riding and relay races. She likewise performed roman riding races, and trick and fancy riding, with her husband and Dick.
Dick Griffith was exceptionally gifted from the start. Often referred to as the "Rudolf Nuyrerev on Horseback," Dick soon became the star of the family troupe. Trick Riding and Roman Riding along side his parents gave him the means to win the Trick Rider World Championship at the inconceivable age of nine years old. This feat was accomplished amidst the top riders of the time including all age groups. At 21, he travelled to London and beat out 40+ countries to crowned the best in the world. Dick was also a profoundly gifted bull rider, winning the world championship 6 times.
A star was born. That same year young Dick rode his pony into the Oval Office of President Harding and shook hands across his desk while still mounted. It was part of a special week in Washington which culminated with a command rodeo performance in which Dick not only showed off his equestrian gymnastic skills, but his true cowboy heritage by riding a bucking calf, an ostrich, a bucking buffalo, and a Bucking Stag forwards while Curly rode backwards with his feet wrapped around the animals neck.
Three years later tragedy would hit when Curly lost his life to a brain tumor. Dick’s ponies were sold to Will Rogers for his son. Dick would live for the next five years in Denton, TX with his Grandparents working completely outside the entertainment industry he had grown up in. He started sharing a horse in exchange for help with the fine Tad Lucas, a Champion Cowgirl of the time. Dick had visions of entering the trick riding competition at the Ft. Worth Stock Show but upon arriving was told that it had become an exhibition act instead of a competition. With dashed hope for income, Dick secured an assistant job riding for World Champion Trick Roper, Chester Byers’ Horse Catches. He also entered the Brahma bullriding, even though he hadn’t been on any bucking stock since he was a child. He had to send a telegram to his grandparents for permission as he was still only seventeen. Dick went on to win the Bull Riding Championship at Ft. Worth Stock, riding nine out of nine bulls. He often stated “I was just too scared to fall off ”. With prize money and a new talent, his performing and competition career began anew.
Dick went on to win four consecutive World Bull Riding Championships recognized by the PRCA, and two before their records took effect. At the age of twenty-one, Dick, travled to London England with his horses by boat, to compete against thirty-nine other countries in a true World Trick Riding Championship. Over twenty countries withdrew from competition after watching him practice. Dick performed one hundred and fifty-six different tricks to win the World Championship. For as long as there were competitions held, Dick never placed lower than first.
Dick Griffith & Connie Griffith
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 a 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.
Tad Griffith of Agua Dulce, California, is considered by former champions to be the greatest equestrian gymnast of the 70's, 80's & 90's. At age five, he made his professional debut in the arena trick riding on his Shetland Pony at the Pretty Prairie Kansas Rodeo. In the succeeding years, Tad broadened his scope to include a dazzling array of skills in his trick riding act. His arena shows include a superb display of Roman Riding, a unique tribute to the Indigenous American with his dancing horse Palomo, the world's foremost ball kicking horse, Alpo, "The Cayuse with Clout", and over two hours of additional entertainment with the help of a stable of over 46 horses.
Tad made the move to Hollywood full time with Wendy after doubling Antonio Banderas in The Mask of Zorro. 150 feature films and television projects followed, as well as four sons; Gattlin, Callder, Arrden, and Garrison. The Griffith family maintains a herd of 50+ horses in the foothills of Los Angeles. Tad is one of the premier Horsemasters in the American Film Industry. He has performed and/or coordinated memorable horse stunts including the infamous horse chase sequence culminating in the tree jump in the Mask of Zorro and the near death stirrup drag in Seabiscuit, along with wagon wrecks, horse falls and trick riding in Gods and Generals, Cowboys and Aliens, Lone Ranger, Hail Caesar, Magnificent 7, 12 Strong, and John Wick 3, to name just a few.
The 4th Generation; Gattlin, Callder, Arrden, and Garrison are navigating their own paths in their dichotomous world of tradition and innovation, old and new. The boys have all found an innate ability to perform, evident in their 2015 performance on America's Got Talent.
Gattlin found success early in acting, proving capable of sharing the screen with the likes of Angelina Jolie, Kevin Costner, Kate Winslet, and Josh Brolin. After his dreams of playing football were dashed with several knee surgeries, he turned his attention to the classroom where he managed to attend UCLA. While studying English and Film, he continued working on sets in a stunt capacity such as John Wick 3 and Hail Caesar, and in an acting capacity in Initiation and Catch The Bullet.
Callder has grown up on and arounds sets since he was a child. His extensive background in gymnastics has given him incredible grace and power, which has aided him in trick riding, soccer, and dance. He is currently attending UCSB studying Communications.
Arrden has performed alongside his brothers since he was 5, and is often heralded as the brother who has escaped the most dire and fatal situations. People often recognize him from his work on New Girl where he played fan favorite "Dirt Boy."
Garrison performed for his first time at the Fort Worth Stock Show when he was only 5 years old. He has tinkered in the acting world like his older brothers.