Bond between horse and rider is of utmost importance

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: MATT SHERMAN - Jessica Hughes, Issac Wilkinson and Alli Sloop take a break from a recent equestrian practice in Wilsonville. The three are all talented competitors for West Linn's equestrian team this year. The equestrian season for high schoolers may seem fairly short on a comparative basis. The schools have three competitions, one in February, March and April and then, depending on how the teams and individuals fare, a state competition.

However, for most high schoolers who compete, equestrian is a year-round, full-time commitment.

The majority of the members on West Linn’s team own their horses and ride almost on a daily basis. And while traveling and competing is a fun part of experience, it’s a small aspect of horse-ownership.

Watching members of the team practice at a private residence in Wilsonville on a rainy Sunday afternoon, the bond between the horses and their riders is instantly evident.

“If your horse doesn’t trust you, he’s not going to do anything,” said Trent Wilkinson, one of two boys on West Linn’s team this year.

Each rider has his or her specialties and can select five events, out of more than 20, to participate in at a given competition.

And, like anyone, the horses can have their good days and bad days. Today, Maddie Metcalf’s horse, Grayson, is being exceptionally cooperative. Metcalf has owned the large and powerful animal for nine years and they excel in dressage and jumping events.

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: MATT SHERMAN - Bethany Emmert concentrates on a practice run atop her horse, Hershey. The equestrian team has three competitions in the spring leading up to state.

“When we first got him, we were looking at another horse and I fell in love with him. They were telling me he was too big or too powerful. Now he’s like my best friend,” Metcalf said.

Early in the practice, another rider tries to get Grayson to perform a trick by lifting a hoof to shake but Grayson seems disinterested. So Metcalf hops down from his back and tells him to shake. Immediately the horse responds and earns a treat.

“He takes care of me and is very protective. He throws a fit when I’m around other horses,” Metcalf said.

Metcalf said she practices with her horse six days a week for two or three hours a day, and she has traveled with Grayson and had him shown all over the West Coast.

Paulanna Wilkinson is the team’s adviser for the first time this year. She grew up in Kansas and has always had a passion for horses.

“I was always riding friends’ horses and loved being around them,” Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson helps facilitate a few practices a year but the individual riders must put in much of the work independently. Many work individually with trainers who help both the horse and rider.

“This is the first year we’ve had access to this facility and, when they’re together, they kind of feed off each other. I help with what I can and if I don’t know how to do something, I bring in someone who does,” Wilkinson said.

Most of the high schoolers also have fostered a love for horses that started very early on.

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: MATT SHERMAN - Jessica Hughes leads her horse, Lady, on a course set up in Wilsonville.

Alli Sloop has been participating in 4-H since the fourth grade and got into the sport after watching her cousin Annie compete and fare extremely well at competitions for West Linn.

Sloop is a sophomore and, after leasing horses, her family purchased Buddy a year ago. It didn’t take long for the duo to form a bond.

Sloop participates in other activities too, recently wrapping up the basketball season at West Linn, but Buddy is her passion.

“He’s definitely my top priority. We usually practice most days but sometimes you just need to have a free day to ride,” Sloop said.

Wilkinson is the team’s “cowboy,” competing in events like steer daubing and working rancher.

He also participates in many of the timed events with his speedy Arabian horse. Wilkinson has only been competing for three years but has been caring for horses since he was little.

“It takes a big time and money commitment. It makes owning a dog look like a breeze. Every day, when you’re done taking care of your horse, you want to feel like you’ve accomplished something,” Wilkinson said.

West Linn has a relatively young team this year, having graduated a strong group of seniors last spring. However, with many underclassmen and just one senior on this year’s squad, the Lions, who have performed well in early competitions, hope to make another return to state later in the spring.

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: MATT SHERMAN - West Linn sophomore Alli Sloop warms up with her horse, Buddy, before practicing her equestrian events.

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: MATT SHERMAN - Alli Sloop, Maddie Metcalf and Bethany Emmert wait for their turns to navigate a course set up for them in Wilsonville.

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