Cowgirl Grit

by Annie Lambert

Pat North Ommert has ridden all types of horses in many disciplines, but trick and fancy riding was her love.

At 83, Pat North Ommert sports a beaming smile and optimistic attitude. While the younger generations envy her high energy level, the Southern California native continues to support and contribute to our Western heritage.

According to Ommert, the highlights of her extensive career are many, but “performing at Madison Square Garden Rodeo in New York City for 53 performances and then going on to the Boston Garden during 1953,” stands out.

Always With Horses

Ommert has not lived a day on earth without a horse. Her mother, Vera, was a “free spirited” cowgirl and respected equestrienne in her era. During the 1930s and 1940s, Vera trained and exhibited high schooled, dancing trick horses. In 1934, she toured the Hawaiian Islands with the E.K. Fernandiez Wild West Show & Rodeo. Vera also worked in the motion picture industry.

While Vera and Pat’s older sister, Laura (Kalayjian), worked the trick horse act, Pat and her father, Bob – a business entrepreneur with the most popular hardware store in the family’s hometown of Bell – spent time match racing horses along the Los Angeles riverbed. With a pre-teen Pat riding and Bob training, the pair was tough to beat.

During the 1950s, Pat rode in the Powder Puff Derby at Caliente Race Track in Tijuana, Mexico, several times. She won the Cowgirl Special at Rockingham Park in Illinois in 1953. And, in 1957, while on tour with the Bob Estes Wild West Show in Mexico City, she rode several races. The most impressive was a matched race against then apprentice jockey, Manuel Ycaza, whose later accomplishments in the United States landed him in the Racing Hall of Fame.

Monte Montana was responsible for introducing Pat to the motion picture industry by requesting her to work in the Judy Garland, original version of A Star Is Born. Montana needed Pat to ride a horse on stage where they were filming at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. She worked that job with stuntwomen Polly Burson, Faye Blessing, Shirley and Sharon Lucas and Louise Montana. Pat went on to work in numerous movies, doubling stars like Ann Baxter and others.

Her Biggest Fan

Working on stage with Monte Montana during the filming of A Star Is Born was the first of many movie jobs for Pat.

When the North family had a sick horse in 1947 their regular veterinarian sent out his new associate, Willard D Ommert, DVM. “Dr Will” and Pat were soon married and he was always her biggest fan for 56 years. He passed away in 2004, after becoming internationally renowned in veterinary medicine. Pat worked with him throughout his career.

There were many milestones in Will’s career, including working as official veterinarian for the 1962-1964 National Finals Rodeo and Chief Veterinary Officer for the XXIII Olympian in Los Angeles. He served veterinary associations on a national and state level, was California Equine Representative for the Morris Animal Foundation, served on the Scientific Advisory Board of Unigen Corporation, the California Thoroughbred Breeders Foundation and California Polytechnic University Equine Research Unit as well.

But, Dr Will’s greatest contributions went directly to helping the horses by advancing equine medicine. Just a few of his contributions include: developing the first closed circuit anesthetic machine for equine inhalation anesthesia; using the first endoscope on the Pacific Coast; fitting a horse with contact lenses; performed the first equine arthroscopic surgery; and developed a guarded mare culture instrument now marketed world wide by Kalayjian Industries.

Throughout their individual careers, the Ommerts were a team. When Pat retired from the rodeo and picture business in the early 1960s, Pat and their daughters, Annie (Lambert) and Janie (Yaklich), were riding hunters and jumpers. Dr Will was often working events as the official veterinarian when the girls were showing Thoroughbreds.

In 1969, the Ommerts moved to Temecula, Calif., where Will built his state-of-the-art Los Caballos Veterinary Hospital, the first privately owned equine clinic and surgery in California. Pat managed the adjacent Los Caballos Farm, a layup facility for retired and resting horses.

Making sure developers recognized the importance of horses and bridle trails has always been an important issue to Pat. She became an advocate for maintaining a “balanced community.” She drove thousands of miles over more than 30 years to attend County Supervisor and Planning Commission meetings. She was also active in the Rancho California Horsemen’s Association. Thanks to Pat, the area has lots of riding trails, even one named after her.

Heading out to ride the hills near Griffith Park on her horse Wizard is a daily occurrence.

Pat leased her ranch, including Dr Will’s hospital, several years ago and relocated to the Griffith Park area of Burbank. Her condo is walking distance to her two horses and the Los Angeles Equestrian Center. In spite of two hip replacements she rides almost daily in the Hollywood Hills.

She still works at saving the horse community from urbanization in Temecula as well as protecting the area she rides now. She taught her daughters, four granddaughters and plenty of others to ride and is now starting to turn her five great-grandsons into cowboys.

“That woman loves to ride a horse,” Dr Will said years ago. “When she comes in from the horses and I ask her if she had a good ride, I know it’s a dumb question…she has ‘never’ had a bad ride.”