Camas girls saddle up for equestrian season

Team includes 13 Camas High girls

Camas High junior Hailey Whidden, pictured here at Green Mountain Stables in Camas, says she is thrilled to start a new season of equestrian riding and competition.

Camas freshman Ollivia Vargo is a new rider who is thrilled about the opportunity to ride horses with the Camas equestrian team.

Camas High junior Natalie Cole shows off her horse, Maverick, during the first equestrian team practice of the season.

The bond between horse and rider is sometimes a hard thing for equestrians to explain, but 13 Camas High School girls are now experiencing that special bond — a few for the first time — as the Camas Equestrian Team trains for the upcoming season.

“These horses are kind of like the girls’ boyfriends. Their relationships are just awesome,” Camas equestrian coach Nikki Harrington said during the first practice of the year at Green Mountain Stables Oct. 11. “They read each other, when the rider is having a bad day the horse knows and carries that burden and when the horse is having a bad day the riders do the same thing for their horses.”

Camas freshman Ollivia Vargo has only been on a horse five times in her life and those rides were mostly on trail horses in Hawaii during family vacations.

“I saw an advertisement at school for the equestrian team and decided to go to the meeting and find out what it’s all about,” Vargo said. Her father was a bit concerned at first because they don’t own a horse or enough property to have one at home.

“These folks are awesome and hooked us up with a horse to lease here at the stables for the season,” Rich Vargo said. “We were looking for something that can help give Ollivia more confidence in herself and we are seeing a little of that already.”

The Camas Equestrian Team competes in more than 20 events, including barrel racing, jumping and drill team, which is similar to synchronized swimming on horseback. They compete against other teams in the district including Kelso, Woodland, North Thurston and Enumclaw, Washington state’s equestrian powerhouse.

While the Camas team is made up of girls from Camas High School, the team is independent of the school district and part of Washington Horse Equestrian Teams (WAHSET), which organizes events and carries liability insurance since riding horses can be dangerous and riders can fall any place at any time.

“At meets we’ve had riders fall. No serious injuries for girls on our team, but it can happen,” Harrington said.

The coach, who has ridden horses nearly all of her life and competed on “Latigo N Lace,” an adult horse drill team in Clark County, said safety is always the No. 1 priority.

For athletes, equestrian team schedule can cause conflict

The equestrian season runs nearly the entire school year, with most big meets happening in the winter and spring, which can sometimes be challenging for team members involved in other sports.

Identical twin sisters Emily and Maddy Sheppard not only run with their horses, they also run on the Camas cross country and track teams. Both girls recently raced to equestrian practice a few minutes after crossing the finish line at their final cross-country meet of the season.

“Our spring track season is right in the middle of WAHSET meet season, so sometimes we have to choose one event or the other when things conflict,” Emily said.

Both girls qualified as alternates to the state WAHSET meet last year, and hope to earn spots in the state meet this season.

“We do everything together, and we love our equestrian team because it’s like a big family and is all about building relationships,” Maddy said.

The Camas equestrian team also includes junior Ashlyn Anderson. Anderson won the Washington state championship last season, which qualified her for the regional meet with other top Pacific Northwest riders in Moses Lake, Washington. There, she came in second in the In-Hand Trail division and fourth for the Hunt Seat competition.

“She’s the hardest worker I’ve seen, and it really has paid off for her,” Harrington said of Anderson.

Vargo, a new rider, is just beginning her journey into the horse world. Gazing around the busy practice arena recently, she said her talented teammates are inspiring and she can’t stop thinking about learning how to ride her horse competitively and represent Camas for the next four years.

“It’s so exciting and so much fun,” Vargo said. “I just love this.”