By Tyler BIDDLE
On Saturday, the Onondarka riding club celebrated the 60th reunion of its famous original drill team and many of its students who once rode and trained there. The Onondarka trails and stables have been a part of Montrose history for about 80 years and have seen three generations of the Simington family help to keep it all going.
At its height, the drill team was 12 riders strong and specialized in performing advanced riding stunts and tricks. The team rode without saddles or bridles, which made controlling the horses and staying safe much more challenging.
The word Onondarka is Native American and means, “Stable on a Hill.” The riding club sought to bring out the incredible force and power of nature through the care of its horses. Part of the club’s philosophy is that, through training to ride and work with such large, yet graceful, animals, man can get closer to understanding why nature is to be respected, as did the Native Americans.
1960 was the official birth of the Onondarka Riding Club but the area’s history with horses stretches back years before that. Onondarka has been an equestrian center since the 1930s, complete with barns, stalls, riding groups and rodeo rings. Because of this, Onondarka played host to the Montrose Rodeos from 1946 to 1948. The rodeos were highlighted by parades, celebrities and fun. The events had people from the Montrose community, such as local workers and merchants, compete against real cowboys in challenges like roping and riding.
In 1947, Harry Simington formed his first Onondarka Drill Team for which he became famous. Today his son Don has turned the club into the area’s quintessential riding academy for ages 12 and under.
“It was just so difficult for younger riders to find ways to compete,” he said. “So we thought, let’s make our own class.”
Classes train beginners in the basics of competition for amateur and junior contests. Onondarka also sponsors the Onondarka Medal Class where trained riders can compete. Don himself was once a part of the original drill team.
Often young riders who train at Onondarka hope to compete in the Griffith Park finals if they qualify. The event runs over two days and is just for riders that are 12 and younger.
Onondarka has a reunion once every 10 years. This time it was a small gathering at one of the members’ houses to talk, share old photos and reconnect. Many of the former riders and students remained close over the years.
For more information, visit www.onondarka.com.