After placing third in the state out of 11 large teams, W.F. West’s Washington High School Equestrian Team (WAHSET) drill team is moving on to a regional tournament in Moses Lake on June 16 to compete with teams from Washington and Oregon.
Joining the 10-person drill team at the regional tournament will also be several other W.F. West equestrians including a jumper and riders involved in gaming events.
“They work with each other as a whole, as a team,” said longtime coach Adam Kasper. “It’s just very, very satisfying.”
Kasper, 80, has been coaching since 2009. Though it’s based out of W.F. West, the team is a collective of riders from schools throughout Lewis County including Centralia, Adna, Napavine, Onalaska, Toledo and Winlock. Like any extra-curricular team, numbers vary throughout the seasons, and this year Kasper said the team is smaller than normal with 17 girls.
Seven are those are from Adna, he said.
The drill team was at Salkum’s Rocky Top Arena on Monday night practicing their regionals routine.
The performance is akin to synchronized swimming on horseback. Set to an upbeat song, the riders expertly weave their horses around the arena, with proper spacing and speed relative to the other nine riders in order to create a dance. All 10 girls carry flags and are guided to make coordinated turns to the blow of a whistle. The performance must be between four and six minutes.
At regionals, the W.F. West riders will be representing a legacy of trophy earning. In the past, the team has won the state championship as a whole and taken home several state and regional titles.
Practices with the team begin in the fall and the riders work year-round to punch their ticket to the state tournament by doing well in district meets.
“It’s very satisfying,” said 2014 regionals medal-earner Jessica Steward. “Plus, you only get four chances, which adds the pressure.”
More important than the trophies, Kasper said, the care and keeping of horses is a full-time job that teaches responsibility.
“It’s not just the riding,” he said. “I mean, just the horse husbandry, you have to take care of the horses and it’s a seven-day-a-week job. It’s not like basketball where you throw the ball into a cage somewhere and go home.”
Most riders come to high school with a background in 4-H, barrel racing or similar programs where it’s just them and their horse. But, there is no “I” in WAHSET. On the drill team and in other events, girls learn to choreograph with other riders. Through this, they gain friendships and discipline alike, Kasper said.
“One of the things that is the most difficult for some kids to overcome is the team concept,” he said.
To Kasper, the most rewarding part of coaching is watching the riders grow from their freshman to senior years, both as riders and people.
“The improvement is amazing,” he said.