Embracing the end of an era

Seven seniors hope to leave a legacy for future Panthers to follow

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The Washougal High School drill team finished just four points shy of first place at the first meet of the season. Riders are Emily Carroll, Missy Knapp, Rachel Nelson, Shelby DeLong, Maddy Kitchen, Nina Pawelzick and Tenley Stedman.

The love of riding horses never ends for the Washougal High School equestrian team.

Chandler Audette, Emily Carroll, Shelby DeLong, Sarah Hess, Missy Knapp, Patrick McCarthy and Goose Rogers are the first group of seniors to ride together in the program for all four years. When parent advisor Rene Carroll describes the dedication each of these riders have for their horses, it sounds like this season is going to be the exclamation point to the end of an era.

“It’s been a really great journey for these kids. I’ve enjoyed watching them grow as riders and as individuals,” she said. “There is something about this horse competition that tests who these kids really are. There’s been plenty of good times and bad times, and from those challenges, they gained confidence, maturity, friendships and they learned a lot of important life lessons.”

Nothing appears more challenging and rewarding for the Panthers than the creativity and teamwork that goes into building a drill routine. Captains Emily Carroll and Knapp lead the group of seven riders through a series of different formations in a timely fashion set to music. Each rider carries a flag in one hand and holds on to their horse in the other. Rene Carroll is coaching this event for the first time.

“For me, it’s a kick. I feel like I’m out there riding on every turn and move,” she said. “It’s all about teamwork, watching and anticipating to get those maneuvers to come together just right.”

Emily Carroll, Knapp, DeLong, Rachel Nelson, Tenley Stedman, Maddy Kitchen and Nina Pawelzick captured second place in drill during the first meet of the season Feb. 18 to 20, at the Gray’s Harbor County Fairgrounds in Elma. The Panthers finished only four points shy of first place.

“We had a few bobbles in our last meet. Once we correct those, I think we have great possibilities,” Emily Carroll said. “The equestrian team has given me some of my best memories and friendships in high school. We really are a family that got closer together through all the good runs, bad runs and cold weather.”

Washougal competes in the Washington High School Equestrian Teams District Three. It is a six-team league featuring about 120 riders from Camas, Hockinson, Kalama, Kelso, Longview, Castle Rock, North Thurston and Toledo.

The next two District Three meets are at the Tacoma Unit, from March 18 to 20 and April 22 to 24. State is scheduled for May 15 to 18, at the Grant County Fairgrounds in Moses Lake.

Although the meets are dwlindling for the Washougal seniors, the love they have for horses and the friendships they formed are just beginning.

“Most of us were friends before high school, the horses just brought us closer,” Knapp said. “Hopefully, these friendships will continue. We want to keep building memories.”