First Gymkhana Features the New and Familiar

First Gymkhana Features the New and Familiar

Wild West Outlaws Gymkhana's first event featured both old and new competitors. The next gymkhana event takes place tomorrow. SweetwaterNOW photo by Paul Murray.

ROCK SPRINGS – The first Wild West Outlaws Gymkhana of the new 2023-2024 season at the Sweetwater Events Complex Indoor Arena ended with some familiar names in first place, as well as a smattering of newcomers Sept. 23. 

Kaisely and Kanin Kennedy from Rock Springs were the most consistent winners, finishing first and second, respectively, in Barrel Racing, Pole Bending, and the “3rd Event”, where riders had to navigate their mounts between four poles and then around a fifth pole, then back again. Wild West Outlaws Gymkhana event organizer Sue Nichols usually has a third event of a different type with each gymkhana.

Sadie Nichols; 10, from Rock Springs had herself a day, finishing first on her mount in the age 10-13 Barrels, Poles and the 3rd event, with times of 16.195, 20.517, and a speedy 7.705 seconds respectively. Loraine France in the age 7-9 competition was also a triple winner, coming in first in all three events, with times of 16.969 seconds in Barrels, 22.264 seconds in Poles, and 8.155 seconds in the 3rd event. 

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This season’s Wild West Outlaws Gymkhana Queen is Kyra Folks, 17, of Rock Springs. In order to be named Queen for the upcoming season, Folks had to demonstrate superior horsemanship, give a speech, answer an impromptu question, and handle an interview. The Queen contest took place Sept. 17. Folks and her horse finished first in the Gymkhana 3rd event, with a blistering time of 7.343 seconds.

Sadie Nichols is this season’s Wild West Outlaws Gymkhana Princess. 

Different strategies

Various articles differ on what is the best winning strategy for success in barrel racing. Some say to veer toward that first barrel (of three), while other authorities prefer a more straight out of the gate approach and then turning toward the first barrel. 

“A lot depends on what the horse wants to do,” Gymkhana veteran Michell Howard from Rawlins said. “You never go straight  at the barrel.” Howard’s barrel runs started off up and then a smooth veer to the first barrel. 

“I actually aim (my horse) at the third barrel (at the far end of the arena),” Heather Adams from Rock Springs explained. Adams added that she has her horse go outward around 12-15 feet before veering.

“It’s better to go for the ‘pocket’,” declared Green River’s Madison Coudrain, 13. “Your horse needs to prepare for the next barrel.” Part of the preparation, Coudrain added, was making sure the horse’s entire body, including its back end, were moving in the same direction. 

In barrel racing, a “pocket” is the out-of-the-gate location which horse and rider aim for, prior to veering toward the first barrel. 

Train first

Since horse and rider work as a team in barrel racing and pole bending, having a completely trained mount is vital not only to success, but also to safety. One of the adult barrel racers ended up in the Indoor Arena dirt when her horse developed a mind of its own and dumped her out of the saddle. The rider took a minute or so to get back up, walking gingerly back to the starting gate. 

There is no quick way or standard amount of time to train a horse for barrels and poles, and serious injury can result from bringing a horse into the arena before it is ready. At 16, Kendra Huntington is a Gymkhana veteran. “It really depends on the horse how long it takes to train it,” she said, adding that getting a horse up to competition level can take years. 

Kendra Huntington won the age 14-17 barrel race event, with a time of 16.267 seconds. 

Not gymnastics

The term “gymkhana” refers to horse competitions and has nothing to do with gymnastics. 

“There are gymkhanas all over the country, and some of them are pretty big events,” Wild West Outlaws Gymkhana organizer Sue Nichols said. 

The next Wild West Outlaws Gymkhana is scheduled for Oct. 14 at the Sweetwater Events Complex Indoor Arena.

Barrel Racing (1st, 2nd, 3rd)

Ages 6 & under (name, time in seconds)

Kaisely Kennedy, 36.251

Kanin Kennedy, 105.59


Lorraine France (Frosty), 16.969

Lorraine France (Trixie), 18.169

Cedar Kirk, 18.825


Sadie Nichols, 16.195

Kennedy Kleinlein (Stick), 16.231

Kennedy Kleinlein (Beemer), 17.298


Kendra Huntington, 16.267

Makinzi Huntington, 18.087

Kyra Folks, 24.915


Emilene France, 17.276

Haylee Sheller, 20.253

Savannah Helmetag, 21.977

40 & over

Louise Kennedy, 16.535

Debbie Gardea, 16.626

Mishell Howard, 17.028

Pole Bending

6 & under

Kaisley Kennedy, 44.724

Kanin Kennedy, 160.065


Loraine France, 22.264

Eberlee Okarma, 23.31

Cedar Kirk, 28.317


Sadie Nichols (Magic) 20.517

Madison Coudrain, 26.79

Sadie Nichols (Sorrelly) 27.489


Makinzy Huntington, 26.343

Kyra Folks, 28.171

Kendra Huntington, 31.769


Emilene France, 23.719

Savannah Helmetag, 26.518

Haylee Sheller, 32.318

40 & over 

Heather Adams, 25.311

Louise Kennedy, 25.589

Christine Thomas, 25.933

3rd Event

6 & under

Kaisley Kennedy, 11.436

Kanin Kennedy, 45.114


Loraine France, 8.155

Cedar Kirk, 8.161

Eberlee Okarma, 9.744


Sadie Nichols, (Magic), 7.705

Sadie Nichols (Sorrelly), 7.947

Madison Coudrain, 8.244


Kyra Folks, 7.343

Kendra Huntington, 7.481

Makinzy Huntington, 8.615


Emilene France, 6.524

Savannah Helmetag, 8.277

Haylee Sheller, 12.842

40 & over 

Kimberly Foran, 7.293

Louise Kennedy, 7.558

Mishell Howard, 7.696