Horse enthusiasts can be categorized into a multitude of varieties. However, they can be placed into three general groupings.
There are some who own one or more horses, but they never or rarely ride them. There are others who occasionally enjoy riding their horse along the back roads or in the pasture. And then, there are the more serious riders who train with their horse nearly every day, striving to become a team with their steed.
Members of Chewelah’s Melody Riders Saddle Club belong to that third group of horsemen, although the organization did not have such a competitive focus in its infancy back in the mid-1950s.
The first objective of the original Melody Riders Saddle Club articles of incorporation states that, “The purpose of this club shall be for riding enjoyment, to promote friendship and cooperation, and to teach young people how to care for and handle a horse.”
“There were so many more people with horses back in those days,” recalled Linda McCanna. “A small group of them, including my mom and dad, Harvey and Louise Savitz, along with Jim and Clara Hanley, Ralph and Opal Stolp, and others decided to form a family riding club that sponsored wholesome activities in which the entire family could participate.
“I remember that my brother Steve and I went with our parents to a meeting at a house in Valley where a dozen of these people met to organize this club.”
At first, the Melody Riders met in the homes of its members. Sometimes the meetings were in Colville, because the club had members there. Then, the club broke up into two separate riding clubs, one in Chewelah and the other in Colville. They also split the money in the treasury.
Club riding activities were first held at the old high school football field, where there was a racing track and barns for the horses. The old grandstands there were first used for horse racing and later for softball and baseball. Horse clubs from Colville and Deer Park would come for these activities.
Then, the club bought the land south of town and eventually added the clubhouse.
“The land was purchased from Phil Skok in 1958 for $1000 for the thirteen and a half acres,” said McCanna.
“The clubhouse was a former chicken coop. They moved it to the property south of town on a trailer pulled by a tractor, and they pulled it right down the highway. The members put a floor in it. It was divided into two rooms, a kitchen and a dance hall. The club met there for a long time, probably into the 1980s.”
“I remember that the club got a really good deal on paint. It was either free or at a very low price. They got the paint and painted the clubhouse. The only problem was that the color of the paint was a very bright lime green.”
The activities of the club back in its infancy were mainly trail rides and overnight campouts.
“First came the trail rides,” McCanna said. “Then, when everyone got a little braver, they added the overnight campouts into the rides. I remember we had a lot of campouts on the Carl Oman property, where there was a cold spring where we kept the watermelons cool.”
The Melody Riders rode in parades throughout the area, including Spokane’s Lilac Parade.
“My mom made the club flags that the lead riders of our group carried in those parades,” said McCanna. “There was also a chuckwagon that we took to those parades. It is now in the museum.
“When we went to the Deer Park Fair, we would ride all the way. We would start at 4:00 in the morning, stop for lunch and a swim at Deer Lake, and then ride on to Deer Park. Sometimes, the Deer Park club would ride north to meet us and we would ride the rest of the way together. We would arrive around 4:00 that evening.”
“There were times when we rode all the way to Ione,” recalled Oly Burnett. “We would ride up there on one day, compete in Western Games the next day, and ride back to Chewelah the following day.”
The Melody Riders would also cook a chuckwagon breakfast in the morning during Chewelah’s Community Days summer event, sponsor dances at the American Legion, hold raffles as fundraisers, and parent two 4H clubs.
After the land was purchased, an arena was constructed for horseback competitions. Then, the grandstands were built and shade trees were planted.
“I remember helping to build that first arena,” said McCanna. “Everybody helped, both kids and adults. You either carried poles or you carried big nails. A new arena was built in the 1980s out of railroad ties and boards.
“Alvie Sears brought truckloads of water to water the trees, because it was so dry out there” said McCanna. “Olitta Oman (Burnett) and I helped him.”
“Only two of those tress have survived,” added Burnett.
The centennial year of the Pony Express was celebrated by the Melody Riders in 1960 by delivering the US mail from Chewelah to Colville in one-mile intervals.
“Olita and I did our one mile starting at the Fredendal Farm just north of town,” recalled McCanna. “The farm is now the residence of Josh Morton. TV stations from Spokane came here to film us.”
In the 1960s, some members of the Melody Riders decided to form a horsemanship-centered 4H club for the children of the club, because by this time the club’s activities had changed to mainly gymkhana events for adults and older teenagers. It was named the Singing Spurs. Other Melody Riders members formed a second 4H club. So, the Melody Riders were the founders of two 4H clubs.
“The Melody Riders were generous to allow both 4H clubs to practice and to hold shows in their arena, as well as other clubs and individuals,” said McCanna. “Both 4H clubs were strong clubs in which kids learned to be leaders. They were popular here for many years. My parents became leaders in the Singing Spurs 4H. Olita’s family was the backbone of the Melody Riders 4H.”
Gymkhanas were popular back in the 1960s, especially with the Melody Riders, who sponsored many of them during that time.
“Gymkhanas included many different events that were all timed,” said McCanna. “There was barrel racing, and pole bending, and the keyhole race. Two of my favorites to watch were the Adam and Eve race and the cow hide race.
“In the Adam and Eve race, a girl would ride bareback across the arena to where her partner stood. He would then climb onto the horse backwards, and the two of them would gallop to the finish line.
“In the cow hide race, one person would ride across the arena pulling a cow hide behind his horse. When he got there, his partner would climb onto the cow hide and they would race to the finish line. It was usually the final event of the day, because the guys who rode the cow hide really got dusty and dirty.
“Another fun event I remember was the boot race. Those who entered would take off their boots and put them in a big pile at the other end of the arena. They would then race to the boots, find theirs, put them on, and then ride back to the finish line.
In today’s horseback venue, Western Games have replaced gymkhana events for competitive riders, but the Melody Riders Saddle Club continues to sponsor these modern day horse and rider events throughout the summer, along with clinics for horses and riders. The club still has a membership of about 50 families who take part in club activities.
“Yes, the events have all changed,” explained Burnett. “We do not do the old gymkhana events anymore.
“Instead, we host six barrel races on Friday evenings during the summer. They are sanctioned by both the National Barrel Race Association and the Barrel Racers National 4D Association.
“We also sponsor six family-oriented Western Games on Saturdays and five horse shows throughout the year. The horse shows are similar to Olympic equestrian events.
“Over the past year, the club has awarded over $40,000 to riders in these competitions.
The Melody Riders will host their final events of the summer on September 14, 15, and 16. There will be barrel racing on Friday, western games on Saturday, and a horse show on Sunday.
In addition, the Melody Riders host affordable horsemanship clinics at their arena, taught by nationally-recognized instructors.
Although the names of the horses and riders have changed through the past five generations, the club still maintains its original objective.
“Our goal is still to promote horsemanship skills and to provide a place for kids and adults to ride their horses in a friendly atmosphere,” said Burnett. “The club provides something that most other towns do not have. Because of that, our kids ride better, because they have learned life-long riding skills here in our arena.”
And, the Oman family has held the Melody Riders together through most of these years.
“Carl Oman Sr. was one of the original members of the club,” said McCanna. “Then there was Carl Jr. and Winifred, their daughters Olitta and Noritta, their grandchildren, and now their great grandchildren.”
On September 8, local clubs, organizations, congregations, families, and individuals will join together in a Community Service Day to help rejuvenate the Melody Riders arena. They will paint the grandstands, install metal fencing, put up a framework for an awning over part of the seating area, build a new stairway up to the announcing booth, and try to complete several other little projects.
By Geno Ludwig, The Independent Staff
In This Photo: Members train at the Melody Riders Saddle Club arena south of Chewelah on Hwy. 395. Geno Ludwig photo