Washougal equestrian team gallops into first-place finish

The victory at state meet is the first for Washougal team since 2008

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Washougal High School freshman Kali Buchanan rides her horse, Jac, while competing in a reining event at an equestrian meet in April 2022. (Contributed photo courtesy of Brittni DeVault)

Washougal’s equestrian team has won its first state title in 14 years.

“I was extremely excited,” said Brittni DeVault, the team’s timed-events coach. “I had a feeling we could win because we have three extremely strong seniors that cleaned up at districts, and we also have a couple of really solid freshmen that kind of blew us away this year — their contribution was huge. I don’t think there were many other schools that could’ve touched us.”

Those three seniors led the team to victory at the 2022 Washington High School Equestrian Team state meet, held May 20-22, in Moses Lake, Washington, and contributed to the first state victory for the Washougal team since 2008.

Simone Velansky won high-point honors in the timed event division; Keely Crandall won high-point honors in the performance division; and Peyton Robb won high-point honors in the reserve performance division.

“Keely and Peyton, they’re always super solid,” DeVault said. “Ever since they were freshmen, they’ve been battling it out for the top spot. If one’s winning, the next one is second in line and vice versa. And Simone stepped it up. She always goes into it expecting to win. She doesn’t expect anything else, which is a blessing and a curse. She got a couple of personal-best times, and if you’re going to do it, state is the time to do it.”

Crandall took top honors in the Hunt Seat Equitation, Saddle Seat Equitation and Trail Equitation events, while Velansky won the Individual Flags competition and Robb took third place in the Trail Equitation event.

“I’m super excited (for the seniors),” Washougal performance coach Jennifer Crandall said. “They’ve earned it. I’ve known them since they were 8 years old, and they’ve put the time and energy into all of this for so many years. This is the icing on the cake.”

Washougal also received a boost from freshmen Kali Buchanan, who finished second in the Saddle Seat Equitation event, and Olivia Eldridge.

“Kali made it to state in eight events, all of the events she competed in at districts, (an accomplishment) that’s almost unheard of for a freshman,” DeVault said.

DeVault had to leave the meet early and didn’t witness the final two days of competition in person. But when she left, she knew her team was well on its way to winning a state championship.

She had that feeling all season, in fact.

“I actually kept telling everybody, ‘I think we’ve got it,'” DeVault said. “I don’t know how everybody else was feeling, but I felt incredibly confident. I was actually kind of surprised we didn’t get it last year; we were eked out just a little bit. But this year, I knew how solid we were and how consistent we were, and it was ours to lose.”

The Washougal team, which consists of teenage equestrians from Washougal, Stevenson and Hayes Freedom high schools, competes in the WHSET’s District 6, which also includes Elma, Hazen, Hockinson, Tumwater and W.F. West. The squads competed against each other in three regular-season meets earlier this year.

“We’re in one of the more competitive districts in the program,” DeVault said. “I knew that because we finished so solidly at districts … there would be very few people that could compete at that same level. Some of the other high-point awards went to some of the other schools in our district, so we knew that if we could win at districts, we could win at state.”

Equestrian forced to ‘jump-ride’ new horse at last minute

Ten Washougal riders — Velansky, Robb, Keely Crandall, Buchanan, Eldridge, Braedyn Domeyer, Brooke McNealy, Aubrey Hettling, Natalie Bratton and Ava Mortensen — competed in 20 events at the state meet.

Buchanan, Keely Crandall, Robb and Velansky combined efforts to win first place in the Versatility competition and second place in the In Hand Obstacle Relay event.

“I was ecstatic,” Jennifer Crandall said. “We earned it. I knew that we had some very competitive girls, but it just depended on who they were showing against and what level (the riders from the other schools) were at. I honestly didn’t think that we could pull it off and (win). Usually, my goal going into state is for everybody to get a top-10 in their classes, and we had many first-place (finishes), so we did really well.”

The coaches said they were especially proud of Domeyer, whose horse, Dixie, “came up lame,” according to DeVault, just before the start of the state meet.

“Hockinson’s coach (Tasha Grinde-Marini) said, ‘I brought my horse for one of my girls, she’s in only one event, and your girl can use her for her six events,’ which was pretty awesome,” DeVault said. “Braedyn jump-rode a horse that she’s never been on before. Jump-riding is just what it sounds like — you jump on and you go; you don’t know what you’re getting. And she was very competitive, which was insanely impressive. Most of these girls have been with the same horses for years, and it takes a lot of time to get in sync with them. She had a great weekend on a horse that she didn’t know.”

Season continues with regional championship

The season isn’t quite over for Velansky, Robb, Keely Crandall, Buchanan and Eldridge, who will compete in the Pacific Northwest Invitational Championship (PNWIC) in Moses Lake, June 17-19.

The top five riders from each event at the WSHET and the Oregon HIgh School Equestrian Teams state meets automatically qualify for the PNWIC.

“They were super excited (to win the state meet), but they’re switching gears almost immediately to get ready for regionals. They don’t really get to bask in it all that long,” DeVault said. “Honestly, I kind of feel that after winning state, they’ve got the mindset to go after regionals, too. The performance girls want to make accurate and proper patterns, and Simone is back to the ‘let’s break a record’ mindset.”

“Honestly, knowing how well they did at state, I really have no doubts that at least a couple of them will probably have at least a top-three,” Jennifer Crandall said. “I feel that they’re going to be very competitive.”