Sports

Riders show their O-Mok-See

Walt Werner, a Freeland resident, rides through the two-barrel flag race at an O-Mok-See competition held at the Island County Fairgrounds. Werner was one of two islanders to win national championships in pattern racing in July. - Submitted photo
Walt Werner, a Freeland resident, rides through the two-barrel flag race at an O-Mok-See competition held at the Island County Fairgrounds. Werner was one of two islanders to win national championships in pattern racing in July.
— image credit: Submitted photo

It may be one of the most taxing things a human and a horse can do together, and there isn't much of a tangible reward for the effort. But for the O-Mok-See riders of South Whidbey, there has still been a pretty big payoff this summer.

On July 25, two South Whidbey riders took home national championship saddles from the biggest O-Mok-See event of the year. Competing in Vernal, Utah, Walt Werner and Rachel Thompson conquered 15 events in six days to again prove that Whidbey Islanders are some of the finest pattern racers in the United States.

Though not a familiar discipline to many, pattern racing is certainly the oldest equine sport in North America. First called O-Mok-See by Native Americans, pattern racing has evolved over the years to include events such as barrel racing, Western jumping, a tomahawk race, a pole bending race, and a race in which competitors pick up flags and drop them into barrels, ideally, at full gallop.

Going to this year's national championship were eight members of the Whidbey Island Western Games Association. And coming home with championships were Werner, who won the senior mens competition with 910 total points, and Thompson, who took the girls 12-15 event with 1110 points.

Also placing among the Whidbey contingent was Holly Fairbrook in the womens division. She took seventh place with 445 points behind winner Deziah Ogle of Montana.

Talking about his victory this week, Werner said O-Mok-See is a partnership between man and horse. His horse, a 17-year-old former race horse named Mikey, was one of a number of mature horses in the competition and, he said, one of the brightest.

Of course, a number of Whidbey Island riders could say that about their horses, based on past successes. Werner's step-son, Sam Woodward, won a national championship in the mens division at last year's championship, while his wife, Laura, is always a threat to place well.

"A lot of saddles come home every year," he said of the functional trophies that go to national champions. "People at nationals know when we show up they have their hands full."

However, Werner stresses that O-Mok-See is mostly about having fun seeing the competition ride well.

"You're competing against each other and you're cheering for each other," he said.

The Werners and other members of the Whidbey Island Western Games Association travel to a number of other O-Mok-See competitions throughout the West. The group also hosts its own O-Mok-See competition, which will run at the Island County Fairgrounds starting Friday.

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