Riders from saddle clubs across Idaho, Montana, Washington and Utah will descend upon the north arena at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds next weekend for Idaho State O-Mok-See 2007. Hosted by the Kootenai County Saddle Club, the horseback competition is intended for riders of all ages and levels of ability. Billed as a family sport, O-Mok-See, the term used for pattern horse racing, is designed as a way for an entire family to spend time together enjoying a uniquely Western style of living.
O-Mok-See is the word that the National Saddle Clubs Association uses to describe their horseback games. The word O-Mok-See is derived from the Blackfeet Indian Tribe phrase “oh-mak-see pass-kan” that means “riding big dance.” The “kan” portion was dropped leaving “riding big” as the translation.
Riding big is an apt description for the competition. Events with names such as pole bending, speed barrels, and Pony Express are descriptive enough to conjure visions of equine sporting events of the American West to just about everyone.
All of the events are held in a fenced arena. Up to four lanes are marked off stretching the length of the arena for most events. Different sized barrels as well as poles standing five feet tall are used as lane barriers. Poles and barrels are used in different combinations and configurations depending on the rules of each game. Knocking over a pole or barrel can result in disqualification of the rider and horse.
To a few of the Coeur d’Alene area competitors, riding big means National Saddle Clubs Association records.
Kaylee Verdun from Spirit Lake, Idaho, currently holds two national records. In 2002, Verdun set the top mark in the 12- to 15-year-old age group in the speed barrels. For the speed barrels game, three barrels are evenly spaced in the rider’s lane. Weaving in and out of the barrels at a gallop, the fastest rider up and back is the winner.
Last year, having moved up to the women’s 16- to 39-year-old age group, Verdun set the mark in the half eight. The half eight consists of two poles set six feet apart at the end of the arena, centered in the rider’s lane. The rider races to the poles, weaves between them, then around the last pole and races back to the start line.
Tami Moyer from Dalton Gardens holds the national record in the flying W race. The flying W is a race around three poles, two placed midway and at the sides of the arena, the third in the middle and at the opposite end of the start line. The idea is to be the fastest to race to and around each pole, then back across the start line without knocking over a pole. Moyer is a defending state high-point champion and a two-time state O-Mok-See champ also winning in 2002.
There are more than 30 National Saddle Clubs Association approved events available for the competition. Kootenai County Saddle Club members chose 10 events for 2007. The members consist of individuals as well as families from north Idaho. Club members have been busy sprucing up the arena at the fairgrounds just west of Coeur d’Alene High School. A fresh coat of paint on the fences and an arena sprinkler system to help keep down the dust are two recent projects the club has been part of.
Spectators and those who know nothing about horses are always welcome. Although there are a limited number of bleachers to watch the action from, family, friends and visitors are most often found leaning against the fence rails for a front row view. The relaxed mood of a saddle club event blends with a carnival-like atmosphere with vendors planned for food, clothing, tack and most anything you want available at the concession area.
Among the sea of trucks and horse trailers, some families plan to pitch a tent and camp right on the arena grounds. A small community will sprout for the weekend and for some, a ride of a lifetime will be had. Oh, man! O-Mok-See!