It was a chilly night in the barn Monday and the horses of students from the Mt. Spokane High School Equestrian Team made their way through an obstacle course with varying levels of friskiness and skill.
For some of the students and horses, this was their first time through an in-hand obstacle course of poles lying on the ground and barrels to weave around. Walking a path through parallel poles and sidestepping over them requires some fancy footwork from the horses and the thunk of horse hooves hitting poles echoed through the barn.
The students have been working with their horses since Sept. 1 and ride in all weather. The team, which includes students from other local schools in addition to Mt. Spokane, will have its first competition in March.
“If it’s 25 degrees out, we’re still riding,” said coach Terry Ziegler.
In Spokane County only the Mead, Mt. Spokane, Deer Park, Medical Lake and Cheney high schools have an equestrian team. The Mt. Spokane team of 16 currently also includes students from Rogers, Riverside, Innovation and North Star high schools. In the past, there have also been students from Ferris and Gonzaga Prep.
“We’re willing to take the city kids,” Ziegler said.
There are practices twice a week and students also attend meetings and participate in community service projects, Ziegler said. The students are required to be passing all their classes and students who use drugs or alcohol will be dismissed from the team, she said.
“We run a pretty high expectation ship,” she said.
The program at Mt. Spokane started in 2007. Students can participate in five individual events in addition to team events. There are English and Western riding events, including jumping, driving, gaming, barrel racing, steer daubing, cattle sorting, breakaway roping and pole bending.
“We do everything under the sun,” Ziegler said.
The Mt. Spokane team includes a mix of experienced and new riders, and Ziegler said the experienced students mentor the inexperienced ones. Some own their own horses and some lease them. The students come from a variety of backgrounds but that doesn’t matter inside the arena, Ziegler said.
“In the dirt, the playing field is level,” she said.
The team is part of WAHSET, Washington High School Equestrian Teams, a nonprofit interscholastic association. The teams also participate in regional competitions with equestrian teams from Oregon.
The team uses miniature ponies for some events like driving and the in-hand obstacle course. The obstacle course requires tight turns from full-size horses, Ziegler said.
“Everything is really close together,” she said. “Horses can do in-hand as well, but there’s an advantage if you have a team of minis.”
Abby Brown was leading a mini named Charlotte through the obstacle course Monday. It’s her second year on the team and this year she is competing in steer daubing, barrel racing, driving, pole bending, cow sorting and the in-hand obstacle course.
“I’ve been riding since I was five,” said the Mt. Spokane sophomore. “I want to get more involved with events and I heard it was a great team.”
Her favorite events to compete in are barrel racing and pole bending. “I like how we add more speed,” she said. “You learn new things about every event.”
Tania Perez, a Mt. Spokane freshman, was there with her quarter horse, Faline. “I’ve seen the team since I was in the second grade and I’ve been waiting to join,” she said.
She’s competing in various gaming events, including pole bending and barrel racing and is loving her time on the team. “It’s been really good,” she said. “The wait was really worth it.”
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