Merrill Riders Club Gymkhana events develop skills and horsemanship
TINA L. SCOTT
The rodeo earlier in June showcased some of western riding’s best and fastest riders, but where do future rodeo riders get their start? Chances are, they start with riding and lessons at a young age and possibly join a local riding club or participate in locally sponsored events like the one held in Merrill on Friday evening, June 18.
The Merrill Riders Club (MRC) hosted a Gymkhana event at the Merrill Festival Grounds where riders as young as toddlers, on up to adults, could practice and compete in various timed events on horseback to better develop their riding skills and horsemanship.
Local Gymkhana events like this one are family friendly fun that build camaraderie between area riders and families. And even though the events are timed and competitors scored in order of those times, the word competition is used very loosely. For each participant, it is much more about scoring their own personal best and continuing to improve than it is about beating other riders, and everyone there is cheering for and encouraging each other.
A Gymkhana event is broken down into age groups: Tiny tots includes riders age 10 and under, Children’s is for ages 11-14, Intermediate is for ages 15-18, and Seniors are age 19+.
MRC, which started in 1955, and operates with a Board of Directors that includes three Board members plus four Club Officers, has been hosting Merrill Gymkhana events for years.
MRC President, Dan Ollhoff, said they typically hold six such events or “speed shows” each year between May and August, sometimes going into September if they need to use a rain date. “We alternate between two show bills, making three of our shows Family Nights and three of our shows 4-D Nights,” he said. “Family Nights are more low key. On these nights we collect items or money for a set charity instead of charging the $3.00 grounds fee like we do at our other shows. During our first Family Night this year, we did a drive for Lincoln County Humane Society. We are also set for our next Family Night when we will be collecting for Merrill Food Pantry. We also do scholarships.”
“4-D is a type of barrels that is a higher entry fee and is a bit more of a gamble,” Ollhoff explained. “You place in 4 divisions but can also fall in the cracks. These nights generally draw in bigger crowds.”
The events held at each event include the plug race (the horse and rider go around one barrel), flag race (the horse and rider go around two barrels, and riders move the flag from one barrel to the other, so there’s some handwork involved there), barrels (three barrels, like the rodeo barrel racing configuration you typically see), and pole bending (where the rider must navigate his/her horse following a particular pattern which involves weaving in and out and around a series of poles). Events are timed, but if the horse and rider deviate from the designated course for the event, they are disqualified.
In addition, “on Family Nights, we end our nights with a different fun class each show,” Ollhoff said. “Like ribbon race, jumping figure 8, and more.”
There are fees for rider participants, like the trailer/grounds fee which “is basically for clean up,” Ollhoff explains. “We charge $13.00. $10.00 is a deposit; once you clean up the manure and garbage around your trailer, you get it back. $3.00 is for our time for cleaning up the rest of the grounds where manure and garbage may be.”
Then each event costs $3.00 to enter, with the exception of 4-D Barrels which cost $10.00, he said. “We award 70% payback on all events 1st-6th place. And Club Members earn points for year-end awards!”
The June 18 event was a 4-D Night and drew nearly 76 riders. While anyone can compete in the 4-D barrels, Ollhoff said it is usually the older, more experienced riders that do so, “but we did have one Tiny Tot compete on Friday night [June 18]!”
“There is no admission to come watch, and we have concessions at every show!” Ollhoff said. “We also do things like a 50/50 raffle.” The public is most definitely invited.
The next Merrill Riders Gymkhana event, billed as “Family Night Show #3,” will be held Friday, July 9, at 7:00 p.m. at the Merrill Festival Grounds. Event entrants can bring items for the Merrill Food Pantry in lieu of the trailer and grounds fee.
They will be grilling like normal but are adding walking tacos as their special, their Facebook event page announced.
The July 9 event will also include their 2nd Annual Tack Swap (Vendor fee is $5.00). The public is welcome to attend.
In addition to the shows at the Merrill Festival Grounds, “We also try to do things like a trail ride or two in the Underdowns,” Ollhoff said. Last year the MRC had an event they called “Saddle up with Merrill Riders for St. Jude” and raised several hundred dollars for St Jude.
“We also usually partner up with Pork in the Park and have a day show at the fair grounds that day!”
“None of this would be possible without our great sponsors and dedicated volunteers!” Ollhoff said. The MRC is very appreciative of all the businesses that support them and the volunteers that work on behalf of the events and the organization.