At first go, a national title for a girl and her horse

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Violet Erickson and her horse Shotgun won the 12-15 division of the National O-Mok-See in Buffalo, Wyoming earlier this month. (Jeremy Weber photo)

Some people are just born to ride. Just ask friends of the family of Violet Erickson.

The 15-year-old Columbia Falls O-Mok-See rider only got into the sport a year and a half ago and she is already a national champion.

With the help of her gray quarter horse, Shotgun, Erickson worked her way up from a riding unknown to a rising star earlier this month as she earned first place in the 12-15 year-old division at the National Saddle Club Association’s National Championship O-Mok-See in Buffalo, Wyoming. Along the way, she turned a lot of heads and garnered much attention as she consistently defeated riders who had been competing in the sport for years.

“Everyone was so surprised. They told us that nobody just shows up at nationals out of nowhere and wins as an unknown. It just doesn’t happen,” her mother, Autumn, said. “The difference between first and 10th was thousandths of seconds. It was pretty intense.”

For Erickson, who only began riding horses three years ago, the win was unexpected, but exciting.

“They said to give it my all, so I did. I had no idea this would be the outcome. The competition was so much faster than the local O-Mok-Sees. There were a few rough races, but we won enough to get first overall,” she said. “It was pretty amazing.”

With the help of her grandfather, Harm Toren, Erickson discovered her love of horses a few years ago when the family purchased their first horse.

“I was out hunting a few years ago and after getting back, I told my wife that I would like to get some horses before I went out the next year,” Toren said. “Of course she said no, but when she found a listing for a horse for sale online, we went and bought it. I was in the house one February day when it was colder than heck and I looked out the window, and there was Violet out there laying on that horse. She just loved horses and it escalated from there.”

Erickson first had the dream of being a champion barrel racer, but quickly decided the sport was not really for her. Luckily, she found a horse that felt the same way.

Erickson met Shotgun after Polson horse trainer Cliff Milliron came over to purchase a horse from her grandfather and saw Erickson’s riding skills. Saying that he felt such a talented rider should have a good horse, Milliron sold the family Shotgun (or Otis as he was known then) as a failed barrel racing horse, commenting that he was fast, but would never win her anything.

All it took was the switch to O-Mok-See.

Nervous and easily distracted on a barrel course, Shotgun found his stride chasing down the other horses and running patterns in the O-Mok-See arena.

“He is a barrel horse that hates running barrels, I guess he just needed to find his sport,” Erickson said. “I guess I did, too.”

Toren built his granddaughter a practice area in the garden next to his home and Erickson got to work honing her skills.

A member of the Flathead River Riders club in Kalispell, Erickson had ridden in local competitions, but decided to make the trip to Wyoming for the national championships July 6-12. After six days of intense competition in events ranging from flag races and pole bending to western jumping and relays, Erickson and Shotgun had done just enough to earn first place, and a $3,000 custom saddle made by Scott Thomas.

Making the win even more unlikely, a week before the competition, Erickson didn’t even know if he horse would be able to run.

“Shotgun had an abscess in his right foot and was hurting before we left, but we took him anyway and decided to see how he was feeling when we got there,” she said. “I guess he was doing fine.”

Normally shy and quiet, Erickson’s family says her new love of horses and O-Mok-See has helped her become for confident and outgoing.

“It really has helped her. She is usually very shy, but when she is around her horse, she is a completely different person,” Toren said.

Now that she had a national title under her belt, Erickson says she can’t wait to see the new friends she made in Wyoming next year when the national competition will be in Blackfoot, Idaho, but she plans to once again have them eating her dust.

“What’s next? Well, I have one more year left in this age group, so I plan to go back and win it again,” she said.

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