Hanging banners and riding into the sunset of another season, FOX 12 hit the barn with the Oregon state high school champs from the equestrian team ranks.
From districts to state to regionals this weekend in Redmond, the Forest Grove Vikings saddled up with a remarkable run.
For Erin VanDyke, it’s dental hygienist by day, volunteer high school equestrian head coach by night.
“Literally from one to the other,” she said. “I run right out the door from one to the other and run to the arena.”
VanDyke was a junior at Forest Grove High School when her mom started the Vikings' equestrian program in 1998.
“It’s just been in these last three years where we have actually been recognized and the school has actually realized that we have an equestrian team and what equestrian is,” said Alex Jones.
Now, Forest Grove has a banner to hang – not in the barn, but in the gym staking claim to their first overall large team championship last month in Redmond.
“We kind of like stepped up our game, like a lot,” said Kat Rieger.
While many own and some lease their horses, it's certainly a labor of love.
“I take care of her every day, I clean her stall, feed her, water her, exercise her at least six days a week,” said Shelby Williams.
Equine care is certainly a year-round venture and these gals gallop along in season from November to June.
“This is the first year we have made it through an entire season without having to replace a horse midway through or ride out a rider because they had a broken bone or something like that,” said VanDyke.
It's this drill competition that precisely weaves 11 horses and riders.
“It's kind of like a domino effect,” said Kyle Bettis. “If one person is off then everybody down the line is even more off so throughout the thing. Everyone has to be spot on. Even with little bumps, we know how to get through it.”
It’s crafted and choreographed to near perfection.
“We know everyone's horses because everyone has had them for so long that we are able to realize who they are as a person and be able to talk to them without any arguments and it helps us do good actually if we can communicate well,” said Cassie Jones.
They’re marching to the beat of one heart.
“It's really hard to find a team that all gets along, especially this big, but we are all kind of like sisters,” said Abigail Dillavou.
This sisterhood keeps it all stable when the competitive arena runs hot.
“Going to regionals, compared to state and district meets was really insane,” said Marlee James. “You learn that Washington is really competitive … it is pretty intimidating but it's an amazing experience to get to know these kids that are super advanced.”
While the girls are the champs, their horses are the stars.
“They have been really supportive no matter how I do … just been really welcoming,” said Jessica Heinauer.
And they pony up on the victory snacks.
“He likes jelly filled, he takes the filling, I take the rest of the doughnut,” said Alex Jones. Rieger said, “Lots and lots of chocolate doughnut. That's what he likes. I am dead serious.”
This weekend was a real long haul for the graduating seniors who hit the dusty trail back and forth from regional competition, again in Redmond, to commencement and back.
At regionals, the team placed 1st and 5th in working pairs, 2nd in dressage, 5th in inhand obstacle relay, 7th in driving, 9th in horsemanship and 4th in freestyle drill.
The Vikings compete under OHSET, the Oregon High School Equestrian Teams. The organization is nearing 25 years with now more than 100 schools competing.
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