Already Northwest District champs in their size division, all five members of the Forest Grove High School equestrian team are preparing to bring even more from the stables to the ring as they head to Redmond for state this week.

'I told them during our first meeting of the year that I thought we were capable of doing this,' said second-year coach Erin VanDyke. 'I think maybe they didn't think it was possible at first, but it wasn't very long before they stepped up and said, 'We want this too.''

The team, which is also coached by Melissa McCarthy, qualified for the state competition in three events, including a first-place sweep in Drill Team - a choreographed piece otherwise known as Working Fours - and the Canadian Flag and In Hand Obstacle Relays.

Sophomores Alyssa Andrew, Katelyn Saxe and Shelby Rosholt all earned seats at state in individual events as well: Showmanship, Saddle Seat and In Hand Trail, respectively. Sophomore Alora Begg and senior Taylor Scott round out the remainder of the team.

'Both the Drill and the In Hand Obstacle Relay, we had pretty big goals with those at the beginning of the season,' said VanDyke, who formed the team in 1998 during her junior year.

'In Hand Obstacle is something the Forest Grove team has not traditionally been good at in the past. They did really well. I think the girls (were) frustrated by being beat by the same teams over and over in that event. They simply wanted to change that view; they want people to hear 'Forest Grove' and go, 'Uh oh, we have to watch out.''

Breaking that tradition, Forest Grove took second place in districts during the event. The Canadian Flag Relay event has also typically been dominated by other schools, namely Southridge and Hillsboro, according to VanDyke, who says it was the girls' consistency that led to the trend's upset.

'They may not have been the fastest, but the girls were able to keep their head in the game and get the job done,' VanDyke said. '(They) have to pull a 42-inch flag out of the ground from a running horse as they turn 180 degrees around it. They were able to put mind over matter, and qualify.'

The Forest Grove team is also first in line as alternates to compete in two of the other three team events at states: Working Pairs, in which two riders simultaneously navigate their horses in a set pattern, and Team Penning, a cattle event.

However, there's one event in particular that the Vikings have had their eyes on since the beginning of the year, and they don't plan on backing down.

'Our girls, since the very first meeting of the year, said, 'We want to win states in the Drill event. We want to be state champs.' District is just a way to qualify - our goal has been states from the start,' VanDyke said. 'We've been practicing at a higher level right from day one. We have people who sit and watch our practices just to watch our ride. We get so many compliments.

'Sometimes practices are frustrating, but the girls know the payoff is big. They want it.'

Last year the team qualified in two state events and two riders qualified for individual events. This year, the team has stepped up their game in every way, and VanDyke says it couldn't have been done without every girl's cooperation.

'The team's strengths and weaknesses change from year to year,' VanDyke said. 'We have, I think, more girls this year that are performance-driven. In the past, girls have been time-driven, and now we have girls that are into the details and want to look good.

'I had different girls take on different roles to help us reach that goal. Sometimes they'd have to give up an event they'd like to do, in order to do an event that would help the team overall. Some of them made sacrifices that way. I can say without a doubt that there's not a single one of them that I could have done this without. There's not a lot of schools that can say that.'

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