The Washougal equestrian team began preparing for its 2021 season last fall, implementing strict COVID-19 safety protocols in order to make sure it completed its season safely.
Other teams in the Washington High School Equestrian Team’s (WHSET) sixth district weren’t as lucky. Hockinson’s squad, for example, wasn’t allowed to begin practicing until three weeks before the first meet of the season in late February.
“We were extremely fortunate to have the support of (Washougal High School) to go ahead and start practices,” Washougal timed events coach Brittni DeVault said. “The practices (provided the riders a chance) to come and better themselves, but they were also an opportunity for them to interact with other people outside of their households. They look forward to (the equestrian season) anyway because the sport is their passion, but this year it kind of held a special place for everybody as a way to get a little sense of normalcy in an otherwise anything-but-normal year.”
The extra practice paid off for Washougal’s riders, who earned medals in 15 of 22 events during their three-meet regular season, which ended in April.
“It was a successful season,” said Washougal performance coach Jennifer Crandall. “It was definitely different because I feel like we were one of the few (teams) that was able to do stuff. Even if it ran a little differently, it was still good to get out there. Honestly, I feel like we did better this year than two years ago. Maybe that goes back to kids being home more and being able to ride more and having a little extra time on their hands that they could put into their horses.”
Simone Velansky, Peyton Robb, Keely Crandall, Kira Buchanan, Karen Phelps, Brooke McNealy, Brenna McEathron, Sayanah Rivera and Natalie Bratton represented Washougal at the recent WHSET state meet. Velansky, Washougal’s top performer in the timed categories, competed in eight events at the meet.
“She’s got a couple personal goals to beat some personal records, and she actually wants to beat a couple of the district records, so power to her,” DeVault said before the state meet. “She’s working hard in practice and taking outside lessons to try to attain those.”
Robb, Keely Crandall and Buchanan have dominated the performance events, combining for 13 gold medals during the regular season. Robb competed in seven events at the state meet, while Keely Crandall competed in seven and Buchanan competed in four.
“Those three definitely put the time in, and it paid off — they were top-five in everything in all of the competitions,” Jennifer Crandall said. “You can tell how dedicated they are. We do weekly practices, and you can tell they put a lot more time into it than just a weekly practice.”
Normally, the top finishers from the state meet go on to compete against Oregon’s best riders in the Pacific Northwest Invitational Championship. But that meet was cancelled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Mainly we’re still going into it with the mindset as though regionals weren’t cancelled,” DeVault said. “We’re still aiming for those top-five positions just to keep that momentum going.”
Jennnifer Crandall has the same goals for her performance riders, even though the state meet will present them with some significant challenges.
“For a regular season, they get the same patterns from October all the way to the last meet,” she said. “But for state they change up the patterns, and we get them two weeks before state. (Keely) has seven patterns that she has to memorize, for example, so it’s a lot to cram in two weeks. I would say my goal for them is to have fun and do the best that they can, but I would love for my top three girls to get a top-five in at least one of their classes.”