The grounds of Alex Fraser Park were bathed in a perfect summer evening glow on Wednesday (Aug. 14) as members of the North Cariboo Gymkhana Society ran their horses through a series of three games.
Some riders had excellent control of their steeds and raced around poles and barrels like they were trying out for a part in a an old wester television series.
Others took their sweet time and soaked in the experience of riding a powerful animal around a few obstacles on a lovely August evening.
The society takes over the park 10 Wednesdays a summer from mid-June until the leaves start turning.
They have been around for 26 years now and have seen some peaks and valleys but are still going strong.
There are about 50 members, but on any given day, about 25 to 30 saddle up. Ages range from three years old to 70, with all abilities mixed in.
Club president Lindsay Brunt says last year, there were some riders from Williams Lake who would join them ,but this year, most of the contestants come from Quesnel and places just north of the city, as well as Bouchie Lake and Kersley.
On Sept. 7, they will hold their year-end double header, which will include their fun day.
“We’ll have our regular games, as well as a couple extra and a few relays,” says Brunt. “We might bring back our obstacle course again. Last year, we brought it and had a big blow-up unicorn.
“It was pretty entertaining. A lot of horses didn’t like it and were picking it up with their mouths, which was neat to watch.”
This Wednesday, the riders were competing in pole bending, where horse and rider would neatly ride in and out of a series of poles lined up; turn-and burn, where they would race to a pole, circle around it and then race back; and barrels, which is similar to poles and a precursor to barrel racing.
Brunt says gymkhana is a perfect stepping stone to the popular sport, which will be showcased this weekend at the B.C. Barrel Racers Association Finals in Quesnel.
“They learn the skills they need to compete, and once they pick up more speed and different abilities, they end up in local competitions before they branch out and go further into different jackpots and even into the CBR and the BCRA events.”
Brunt says she hopes to hold a barrel racing clinic next season if some grants the club has applied for come through.
“A lot of kids don’t have the opportunity to have actual riding lessons, so that would be great,” she says. “It would give them the chance to improve their technical abilities.”