For horse-lovers in Lewis County, the Southwest Washington Fair is an event that’s anticipated all year long. While other activities come and go throughout fair week, equestrian competitors have events nonstop throughout the fair.
“We’ve got a lot of kids that work all year long for just this one week,” said Anne Hamilton, the fair’s equestrian superintendent. “This is a pretty big deal for them. … They’re showing six days straight from eight in the morning to five at night.”
Hamilton also coaches the equestrian team at W.F. West, which boasted 30 riders last year.
On Thursday, scores of fans cheered from the bleachers as riders competed in the keyhole event, racing between a set of poles, turning on a dime and galloping back. Throughout the week, 55 riders will compete in various equestrian events, ranging from “gaming” events like keyhole to showmanship activities like dressage.
Hamilton’s daughter Josie said the fair is a rare chance to test the skills she’s been working on all year against other riders.
“I don’t go to a lot of places that have competition, so working up to it at the fair is fun,” she said.
Savanna Ridley, another rider who will be joining the W.F. West team in the coming school year, said she also has a competitive spirit. When another rider does well in an event, she always wants to do better.
“Once I see someone has a good time, I try to keep up with the time,” she said.
Fellow rider Clara Price, an Adna student along with Ridley, said it’s great to share a favorite activity with the other participants.
“It’s so much fun,” she said. “We just love being around people and doing what we love.”
Josie Hamilton noted that the equestrian community is tight-knit, meaning fair week always brings together lots of familiar faces.
All three riders said their favorite events were the gaming competitions, having just competed in keyhole. According to Anne Hamilton, the Southwest Washington Fair can qualify riders for the state competition in Puyallup, a big opportunity for local riders. She touted the sport as a character-builder, and noted that generous locals enable many of the students to take part.
“People will lease or lend their horses to the kids, so they get a chance to experience that even if they can’t afford it,” she said. “It’s the experience of responsibility and caring for a living being and dealing with losing and winning and being a good sport.”
Hamilton added that many people also pitch in to make sure the equestrian events at the fair go off without a hitch.
“It takes a village to put this on, and we’ve got great families and great clubs that help us put this on,” she said. “It’s a team effort.”