High school coaches often say the most challenging part of their job is blending the diverse personalities of their athletes to form a cohesive team.
Bonnie Kanan agrees. At a recent practice, a fidgety Brady seemed disinclined to follow her directions. Brady, a spirited appaloosa, is a member of the Deer Park High School equestrian team, and Kanan coaches him and his rider.
“It’s different than just working with human athletes,” Kanan acknowledged. “I’m working with equine athletes, as well. There are so many temperaments and personalities in both horses and humans.”
Currently finishing its second season, the Deer Park team is made up of students from Mead, Mt. Spokane, Northwest Christian and several other schools. . This year the team more than doubled in size, going from 11 members to 26.
At a recent practice on assistant coach Terry Ziegler’s property, parents braved chilly spring winds to watch their teens prepare for the upcoming state meet. Several students will represent the team at the competition, May 14-17, in Pasco.
Brady and his rider, Reni Ogle, a Mt. Spokane freshman, practiced the trail course. This event is one of 18 individual classes and seven team events the Deer Park organization competes in. Kanan said, “Each member can do five individual events as well as six or seven team events.”
The trail course and its obstacles require precision in every step. But Ogle prefers other events. “Jumping is my favorite,” she admitted, and Brady seemed to agree, as he struggled to step through series of poles on the course.
Since horsemanship is often a solitary endeavor, Ogle enjoys being part of this eclectic dynamic.
“When you show horses, it’s just you,” she said. “I really like the team aspect.” She added that since joining the team she’s made a lot of friends from other schools who share her passion for riding.
One of them is Deer Park sophomore Sienna Reed. From atop Diego, a Tennessee walking horse, Reed negotiated the course with apparent ease. Team members compete in two types of individual competitions – performance and timed events. Reed, who began riding at 2, said, “I’m more of a gaming person.” The gaming class includes timed competitions like barrels, figure eight8 and breakaway roping.
However, Diego didn’t appear to think it beneath his dignity to navigate the trail course. When Reed asked him if he spoke Spanish, he dipped his head and seemed to nod. But when a reporter tried to question him, he listened gravely and then slowly looked away. Reed laughed. She said riders aren’t the only ones who enjoy competing as a team. “It gives the horses a chance to socialize, too.”
The Deer Park team operates under the sponsorship of Washington High School Equestrian Teams and is considered a school club. Students are eligible to receive a high school letter for competing, but more importantly they receive recognition from their schools and peers.
Many of the teens have ridden for years and regularly compete and show their horses. Kanan’s daughter, Kami, is one such teen.
“It’s more exciting for my daughter when it became a school thing,” she said.
Kanan has enjoyed watching the group come together and encourage one another.
“There isn’t such fierce school rivalry,” she said. “The students are yelling and cheering for the kids they compete against!”
Assistant coach Terry Ziegler appreciates the local high schools’ support of the equine community. Next year, Mt. Spokane will have its own equestrian team, with Ziegler as coach and adviser. She believes it’s important to keep kids involved with riding through high school. “It keeps the focus on horses instead of unhealthy relationships, the mall, the Internet,” she said. “The students learn the responsibility and work ethic that horsemanship entails, as well as sportsmanship and leadership skills.”