Thandeka Brigham has moxie.
The 15-year-old Langley girl also has an O-Mok-See national championship saddle. And she almost didn’t make the trip to Blackfoot, Idaho earlier in July.
Her parents bought a truck that could tow her horse, Molly, to the national championship the day before it started.
“It’s cool if I think about it, I haven’t had much time to think about it,” said Thandeka, who flew to California three days after returning in early July and returned to Langley on Thursday night.
She credited her horse, which she’s had for about a year and a half, for performing well in most of the events. Though they never finished first in any of the races, they placed in all but two and were disqualified in only one.
“There’s something about that horse; we bonded really fast,” Thandeka said. “All she wants to do is please me, and that helps.”
Thandeka and some 20 other riders from Whidbey Western Games Association, the area’s patterned horse racing group, caravanned from Whidbey to Idaho, horses in tow. Whidbey Western Games Association’s riders included Amanda Mosler, Molly Rawls, Kathy Rawls, Kailei Roberts, Liz McPhee, Maddie McPhee, Kareena Moore, Lynna Baker, Julia DeMartini, Cameron Dahl and Dylan Dahl.
The journey proved fruitful for other riders, including Whidbey’s previous saddle winner, Makenzie Peterson.
“They’re never going to invite us back,” said Sonya Simmons, Peterson’s mother and an O-Mok-See rider.
“The kids did great. Everybody that went did well.”
She won the 12 to 15-year-old girls division national championship in 2010. Peterson is entering her second year at Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore. and had not ridden competitively since 2011.
“I missed it, it’s something I’ve done all my life,” said Peterson, 19.
Though she won her saddle riding her horse Mo back in 2010, the 19-year-old horse was a bit out of shape when Peterson decided she wanted to ride in the national championship. She rode Mo every day for about a month leading to the July 7 races.
“Once I got back from school, I think he thought I was trying to kill him,” Peterson said.
They placed seventh in the women’s division, which ranges from 16 to 39 year olds, the largest group.
As a past champion, Peterson noted Thandeka’s connection with the horse, Molly.
Peterson’s mother, Sonya Simmons, also raced in the events in the senior women’s division. It had been a while since she competed in O-Mok-See, too.
“I haven’t gamed for a couple years either,” Simmons said.
“I’m coming back as a man next year. They only had about 20 in their division.”
Horses and riders alike braved the blistering heat of Blackfoot, where temperatures broke 100 degrees. Simmons said the horses, after sprinting, stopping and turning in the heat for the races, were doused with water and returned to their stalls with large fans cooling the water on them.
The riders did not have such convenience if they were without an air conditioned RV.
“We stayed cool,” Thandeka said. “It was really hot every day.”
As for her future riding accolades, Thandeka said she wants to place first in a few events next year and break a record. For now, though, she’s happy flaunting her new champion’s saddle.
“It’s comfy,” Thandeka said. “I’ve already started using it. You’ve got to brag sometimes, right?”