Getting on a 1,200-pound animal takes courage and skill, and the 13 girls who make up the Camas High School equestrian team have plenty of both.
After the first two events this season, Camas already has three riders who have qualified for the state meet. The Camas equestrian drill team — picture synchronized swimming on horses — also qualified for the upcoming state meet, which will be held in Moses Lake, Washington, in mid-May.
After a snowed-out first meet of the year, Camas and other District 3 schools — including Battle Ground, Kelso, Woodland, North Thurston and Enumclaw — had to compete in first-meet events at the second event, held March 14 to March 17 at the Grays Harbor Fairgrounds in Elma, Washington.
The added events made for some extremely long days.
“It was a lot of late nights and early mornings,” Nicki Harrington, the team’s drill coach, said. “The girls got up at 5 a.m. to feed horses and warm up for the morning events that started at 7 a.m., but the events didn’t end until 2 a.m. the next day.”
Equestrian teams compete in more than 20 different events, which test the riders’ skills in every type of riding you can imagine — from trail riding and cow sorting, which has riders herding specific cows into a gate, to dressage, a highly skilled form of riding featured in the Olympics.
Riders bound for state tournament
Camas junior Ashlyn Anderson qualified for state in dressage, showmanship and stockseat. Senior Maddie Sheppard qualified for state in dressage, showmanship and reining, while junior Makenna Pasa will compete at state in reining, which is when riders guide their horses through a series of circles, spins and stops.
More Camas riders may qualify for state at the season’s last regular meet, to be held in late April.
“This team has been amazing in the progress it has made from last year,” said parent Rich Vargo.
Vargo’s daughter, Olivia, is new to riding horses and has already gained confidence from her equestrian experience, he said.
Harrington said the sport helps build confidence and can be a way for shy girls to come out of their shells and socialize with other horse lovers.
“At first, Olivia didn’t want to trot or do anything fast, but at the meet in Elma she actually trotted her horse and had the biggest smile on her face,” Harrington said.
The Camas equestrian team practices two times a week at Green Mountain Stables in rural Camas where they work on their skills and learn to properly care for their horses.
“This sport really pushes these girls to their limits because they are responsible for not only for their own schedules, but when their horses eat and get fluids as well,” Harrington said. “I’m so proud of how these girls take care of their animals and always have a can-do attitude.”
Members of the state-bound drill team include Camas seniors Emily Sheppard, Grace Jackson, Laura Johnson and Maddy Sheppard; juniors Ashlyn Anderson, Hailey Whidden, Makenna Pasa, Mikayla Alley and Natalie Cole; sophomore Leah Wegener; and freshmen Anaya Strand, Grace Kirk and Olivia Vargo.