Grabbing the reigns in Clark County

Camas and Washougal horseback riders get to stay home and compete

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Washougal Equestrian Team President Felicia Harrison leads Tucker between the poles Saturday, in the first District Three WAHSET meet at the Clark County Fairgrounds.

After six years of growing, wheeling and dealing, the Camas and Washougal equestrian teams finally got the opportunity to take center stage at the Clark County Fairgrounds.

From Thursday throughout the weekend, there was no better place for the horses and their riders, coaches, family members and friends to be than right at home.

“It definitely feels like our territory this time,” said Camas team captain Sarah Brizek. “We have been waiting a long time to be able to show everyone this is who we are and this is how we ride.”

“It’s fun seeing all the teams who have never been here before,” said Mattie Olson, a sophomore from Stevenson High School who rides for Washougal. “That’s us at the other meets.”

Following this Clark County kick off, the Panthers and Papermakers travel to the Grey County Fairgrounds Feb. 16 to 19, and then the Tacoma Unit in Spanaway March 16 to 19. This leads up to the Washington High School Equestrian Teams state meet May 10 to 13, in Lynden.

This was the first time Camas and Washougal got to perform so close to home. Before this season, all the meets were in places like Elma, Spanaway, Pasco, Wenatchee and Moses Lake.

“We had a whole bunch of people coming out to watch us for the first time,” said Washougal Team President Felicia Harrison. “We wanted to show them all the hard work we put into this sport, just like basketball and wrestling shows all of their hard work.”

Brizek, a senior, said she has formed lifelong friendships with her Camas teammates through horseback riding.

“We all have so much fun together,” she said. “It could be 6-in the morning or 11-at night, and we’ll be out for a ride, laughing and having a good time.”

The bond between a horse and rider is also important.

“What really draws me to horses is the companionship,” Brizek said. “It’s all worth it for the moment when you’re in the ring and you get that pattern down right. You’re just in the moment, and it’s perfect.”

But it’s not as easy as it sounds.

“If you’re just out there to sit on a horse, you’re not going to win,” said Shelby Valaer, a sophomore from Stevenson High School who rides for Washougal.

“It’s all about body language,” Brizek said. “How you present yourself to your horse, and how you move and respond to how he is moving. You can’t just talk to them. You have to physically tell them what you want to do.”

There is also the challenge of working with multiple horses at the same time. Camas co-captain Chris Allen used three different horses for the drill, gaming and performance events.

“The more horses you ride and the experiences you get makes you a better horseman,” Allen said. “It’s good for colleges to see that you know how to compete with different horses, and to take them from the beginning all the way to the top.”

The Panthers and the Papermakers will be back at the Clark County Fairgrounds next January. In the meantime, the riders from each school will continue to spread the word about the sport throughout the halls.

“I hope people see the passion all of us have for riding horses, and the excitement that’s out there in any event that we do,” Brizek said.