Back When They Bucked with Pat Ommert
Written by: Lily Weinacht< Back to Articles
Laces tied snug, tennis shoe cowgirl Pat North Ommert made hundreds of laps around as many arenas throughout the United States from the 1940s to the 1960s, dazzling crowds with her signature one-foot stand and vivid smile. The trick rider, jockey, and stunt double from California traveled and performed extensively, including 56 performances at the Madison Square Garden Rodeo in New York, and riding in Powder Puff Derbies at the Caliente Racetrack in Tijuana, Mexico. Yet her favorite place is still the back of a horse, and her accomplishments, whether astride or beside her equine friends, recently earned her an induction into the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas.
Pat was nominated 18 years ago for the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame before her induction in October of 2016. “I know many of the former inductees, so I was very honored,” she says. In 1999, Pat and her husband, Dr. Willard Ommert, received the California Professional Horsemen’s Association Lifetime Achievement Award for their devotion and contributions to the horse world. Pat is also active in preserving horse trails and the equestrian lifestyle in Southern California, where she grew up and continues to live today.
Born in 1929, Pat was the second daughter of Bob and Vera North. A savvy businessman, Bob started Bob North Hardware Store in Bell, California, during the Great Depression, and the store flourished. The North’s home in Bell was eight miles away from the Los Angeles Union Stock Yards, and the vacant lots around Bell and the Los Angeles riverbed offered plenty of riding opportunities. The North family, including Pat’s sister, Laura, shared a love of horses. Vera, Pat’s mother, came to love horses after being sent to the Mohave Desert in 1912 with her younger sister. They boarded with a family to avoid the polio epidemic in Los Angeles and rode a horse to school. Vera later learned to train trick horses from a circus trainer stabled in Bell. She entered the show business, and even performed in the Hawaiian Islands with the E.K. Fernandez Wild West Show in 1934.
Pat’s sister, who had an act with their mother, was married in 1943 and retired from show business. Pat was 14 at the time and performed the Patsy North and Her Trick Horse Rex act through World War II. Her own trick riding career started when she was 16, and she performed in rodeos and fairs around California. She still holds gold card number 1890 with the PRCA. “The trick riding was easy,” says Pat, who trained her own Roman riding and jumping team of horses. “I was an athlete. During World War II, my family moved to some acreage and we raised calves and did all our own work. My Roman riding was the most fun, and I think more spectacular. The hippodrome is one of the easiest tricks, but to do it with grace is something else. The one-foot stand was really my specialty. I consider myself a tennis shoe cowgirl because I had boots, but it was usually tennis shoes for trick riding and even working the trick horse.” Rex, who was half Morgan, was Pat’s left hand horse in the Roman riding, and Juan Monroe, a registered American Saddlebred, was the outside horse. Pat competed in many of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Rodeo Roman races, and even did several publicity shots for the rodeo.
When one of the North’s horses was sick in the 1940s, the regular vet sent his new associate, Dr. Willard Ommert, to make the farm call. Dr. Will and Pat took an instant liking to each other, and they were married in 1947. “Will was my best fan and loved what I did,” says Pat. “Like my dad, he never had a problem with me performing or being in show business. It didn’t make much money in the early days, but it did take care of the horse costs, and it was always fun.”
Pat’s dad had passed away in 1951 from a heart attack, and after Pat and Dr. Will were married, Vera greatly encouraged Pat to continue her show career. Starting in 1951, Pat performed at the Salinas Rodeo with 14 or 15 other trick riders on her horse Shortcake, working her way into bigger rodeos. “Edith Happy and I worked many California rodeos together. She was a beautiful, long-torso lady who did the most beautiful stand ever,” says Pat, who performed at Salinas for 11 years. “I’m delighted that California Rodeo Salinas is using Edith’s hippodrome stand for their poster this year.”
The year 1953 took Pat to New York City and Boston for several weeks, and Dr. Will used some of his vacation time to travel with her and watch several performances. Everett Colborn from Dublin, Texas, co-owned the World Championship Rodeo Company and produced both the Madison Square Garden Rodeo and Boston Garden Rodeo. Colborn’s own rodeo in Dublin became the Pre-Madison Square Garden Rodeo. Following the Texas performance, the entire production, joined by Pat and her husband, boarded the 24 car train for New York, stopping to perform in Fort Madison, Iowa, on the way. Many rodeo and western movie figures including Tad Lucas, Jim Shoulders, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and The Lone Ranger performed in Colborn’s rodeos. Pat rode Quadrille and the trick riders did publicity work for the rodeo. “That was really fun. The head of publishing for Madison Square Garden owned a white convertible, and five of us trick riders were seen around town. We were always in our western outfits,” says Pat. “We had lunch at the 21 Club, saw the premier opening of a movie, visited the Bellevue Hospital, and had a parade. We also had a rodeo parade in Boston. I rode my Roman team and my husband rode in the parade with me. After the parade, they had a Cowgirl Special thoroughbred race in Rockingham Park in New Hampshire, which I won.”
By this time, Pat and Dr. Will’s first daughter, Annie, was three, and her sister, Janie, was born in 1954. In the 1950s, Pat acquired her Screen Actor Guild card and worked in several motion pictures as a stunt double and driver. One of her friends, showman Monte Montana, needed six women for a horse catch scene in “A Star is Born”, starring Judy Garland and James Mason. Pat was one of the six, along with her mentor, Polly Burson, Faye Blessing, Shirley and Sharon Lucas, and Louise Montana. “The last movie I worked was ‘Cimmaron’, and I was in Tucson for two weeks. They needed girls to ride and drive wagons for the Oklahoma land rush scenes. We made money on those shows, but it was a hurry-up-and-wait business. I had kids and horses at home waiting on me, and I thought of how I could use that time to be home riding!”
In the 1950s, Pat also raced horses, even while on tour with the Bob Estes Wild West Show in 1957 in Mexico City. She retired from show business in 1962, and by then, her daughters were showing in the hunt seat division. Pat also showed hunters and jumpers for a time, and when she wasn’t taking Annie and Janie to horse shows, she was traveling and working with Dr. Will. Originally in the cavalry, he was transferred to the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps after the cavalry was dismounted. He worked with Dr. Bob Miller as the official veterinarians of the NFR from 1962- 1964 when it was hosted by Los Angeles, and his renown as a veterinarian was international. He advanced equine medicine in a number of ways, performing the first equine arthroscopic surgery, and even fitting a horse for contact lenses. “Will was the chief veterinary officer for the 1984 Olympics, and he was the vet for a lot of the California horse shows. I was in the horse show world with him,” says Pat. In 1969, the couple moved to Temecula, California, where Dr. Will built the state-of-the-art Los Caballos Veterinary Hospital, the first privately owned equine clinic and surgery in California. Pat managed the neighboring Los Caballos Farm, a facility for resting and retired horses, and they also raised several colts. Pat leased the ranch out several years after Dr. Will’s passing in 2004, and continues to make her home in Temecula.
Now 87, Pat rides daily, boarding her horse a short distance away. She has four granddaughters and five great-grandsons, all of whom learned to ride from Pat. “I feel that it’s so important for kids to learn about the good earth and see livestock. I love seeing kids who know how to sit on a horse and ride,” says Pat, who supports the Pacific Crest Trail. She’s a member of Saddle Sore-Ority, along with the Rancho California Horsemen’s Association since 1970. “I feel so lucky to have been able to experience several different phases of the rodeo world. I feel I had the best of all of it.”