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Madalynn Yates is pictured barrel racing at the Peninsula Saddle Club. She and two other Ilwaco members of a regional high school equestrian team will compete at state high school championships, in Moses Lake May 17-18, in a number of events, including barrel racing, pole bending, keyhole and birangle, a two-rider relay.

Three Ilwaco High School riders have qualified for the state high school championships.

Katie Glasson, Wylie McHale and Madalynn Yates will be saddling their horses to compete in Moses Lake on May 17 and 18.

Because Ocean Beach School District does not have an equestrian program, they are allowed to qualify under another school’s banner.

The event is administered by WAHSET, the Washington High School Equestrian Teams. The Ilwaco trio has enjoyed success during three earlier rounds of competition.

They will be competing for Castle Rock High School alongside other “guest Rockets” from Cathlamet, Kalama and R.A. Long in Longview.

“I am so proud of my teammates and how the season has come together,” Glasson said. “I can’t wait for state.”

‘Amazing’

Their coach, Liberty Engleman, is excited about their chances.

“They all did pretty well,” she said, recalling the qualifying rounds.

“They have a good chance. There is plenty of speed and good riding.”

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Left to right, Wylie McHale on Faith, Katie Glasson on Goose and Madalynn Yates on Charm are ready to compete at the state high school equestrian championships in Moses Lake May 17-18.

Engleman, who is based in Kelso, has had her own competitive riding career and her two grown daughters participated in the WAHSET program.

“It takes a lot of dedication — and not doing things that ‘normal’ teenagers do because they have to take care of their horses,” the coach said. “It is always impressive to see the changes they make; they are not necessarily sports kids.”

The Ilwaco trio credits Engleman for giving them valuable practical guidance and encouragement. “She really knows what she is doing and can help us in so many ways,” Glasson said.

“She is always at the gate, cheering us on,” Yates said. “She gives us pep talks and does anything for us,” added McHale. “She’s like the ‘team mom’ — she’s amazing!”

Multiple events

After three rounds of competition in multiple events, McHale qualified as an individual in barrel racing, pole bending and an event called keyhole. Yates will compete in pole bending, too.

As a team, McHale and Glasson qualified in birangle, a two-rider speed relay. Glasson is an alternate if anyone drops out in the flag or figure-8 riding categories.

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Safety is a key concern of all competitors at equestrian events. Wylie McHale tightens the straps securing her saddle before mounting her horse, Faith. She has ridden the horse for three years and is looking forward to competing in three individual events and one team contest, paired with Katie Glasson.

Their enthusiasm for their sport is matched by their friendship — one may begin a sentence and another finish it. Glasson and McHale have known each other since they began grade school. “Wylie and I have been best friends for as long as I remember,” Glasson said. “She’s more like a sister.”

Yates, 15, says she looks up to the two 17-year-olds as role models. “I like both of them — they are amazing to watch. I watch their runs and video them.”

Glasson is quick to say Yates is an equal partner in their sisterhood. “She’s just like our age.”

Safety first

Like equestrian events at any level, there is a strict etiquette, an emphasis on safety, and an expectation that all horses are well groomed.

When mounted, the high school riders must always have their protective helmets strapped on. They wear team jerseys with numbers, must wear sturdy boots with a heel to keep them in the stirrup, plus tidy pants with no “fashionable” tears.

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The correct equipment is crucial for comfort, safety and proper control of the horse. The high school competitors must wear boots with a heel to make sure they stay in the stirrup.

Glasson started riding at age 5 and has no illusions about the work needed. “It’s like any other sport, football, volleyball or track, you have to be dedicated to it and want to do it,” she said. “It’s about skill, but if you enjoy doing it, it doesn’t seem hard.”

Preparation is doubled: the athletes must maintain themselves in peak fitness and care for their mounts.

“I have only had Goose since October, but we work very well together,” said Glasson, who is in her second year competing.

McHale has had her horse, Faith, for three years, but this is her first time competing in WAHSET, having missed last year because she injured her leg playing basketball.

“If we are not in shape, we cannot do it,” she said. “And we need to make sure our horses eat the right foods to give them energy.”

Seconds count

While barrel racing, which has a triangular course, enjoys TV coverage at top-level rodeos, the other events may be less known. Pole bending involves weaving the horse through a set of poles without missing any. McHale set a district record of 20.55 seconds in the event in her last competition, with Yates fourth in a field of 37 entrants.

Keyhole involves riding at high speed into a keyhole shape chalked in the arena, turning the horse (called a rollback) and exiting without it stepping on the white outline. Other races involve flags or navigating a figure-8 course.

For two-man birangle, Glasson will first ride a straight course back and forth with McHale ready to start her identical run as their horses cross. It’s all over in about 25 seconds. Going into state, their best time is about one second off other competitors.

During training, they videotape their practices then examine their posture, hand positions and other actions they may be doing unconsciously that slow their horse down.

“We try to shave a hundredth-of-a-second off by watching the ‘slow-mo’ video,” McHale said.

Yates has been riding since she was 6 or 7, and savors the experience. It is her second year in the program.

“I think horses are so amazing,” she said. “The animal has a whole mind of its own, and just like us, we have bad days and really good days.”

McHale shares that connection. “I’ve ridden horses since before I could remember. It’s like breathing for me — it’s something I couldn’t live without.”

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