It’s been a banner year for the Elma High School Equestrian Team, and it isn’t even over yet. After qualifying every member of its team for the state meet – a first in program history – Elma followed up that accomplishment by qualifying as a team for the Pacific Northwest Individual Championships (PNWIC).
“This has been an awesome season,” said head coach Mitch Smith, who is joined on his coaching staff by assistant coach Jaime Bailey and gaming coach Gina Gain.
The PNWIC is the Regional Finals, featuring the top five teams and individuals from each state’s high school equestrian state championship meet. The championship event will feature the best high school horsemen and women from Oregon and Washington competing in a season finale.
Both states have approximately 1,000 athletes competing for the top spots.
All six of Elma’s team members placed in the top five in at least one event at the state meet, which was held at the Grant County Fairgrounds in Moses Lake May 17-20.
“The memory of this season is that we were a team,” Mitch Smith said. “Not only did the students work together, but the parents worked together to make it a fun season. We spend a lot of time in practice and when we are at the three meets throughout the year together. We camp at the meets, eat at the meets and just hang out in the same area. It was fun to watch each athlete encourage, cheer for and support the other athletes on the team.”
The Regional Finals will be June 15-17 in Moses Lake.
The team is comprised of six members, Ashley Phillips, who qualified for state in Drill and Canadian Flags; Maleaha Smith (Drill, Canadian Flags and Working Pairs); Tessa Watson (Drill, Keyhole and Canadian Flags); Olivia Cain (Drill, Figure 8, Individual Flags, Keyhole and Canadian Flags); Grace Potts (Huntseat, Drill, Stockseat, Trail and Working Pairs); and Payton Terrell (Canadian Flags).
“The team is having fun this season and that has made a huge difference. We have all of the ladies competing in a variety of events, some of them just for fun and to have a good time,” Smith said. “The girls were really excited to get the district high point trophy. We had shirts made for them and surprised them with them when we won the trophy. Athletes who are happy and having a good time do great things.”
Phillips, a senior, represented District 6 at the state meet during the opening ceremony’s presentation of flags.
Athletes are allowed to compete in a maximum of five individual events with no limits on the number of team events. Each meet featured a total of 25 events.
“It is really cool that the whole team (was able to go) to state. It shows the effort that each athlete had put into this season to make this happen,” Smith said. “For a small team, we have athletes in a lot of competitions. The mood at the last meet was really cool. We had ‘state qualifier’ signs and shirts for the whole team as well as the coaches.”
Elma secured their place at the state meet after earning the district meet high point trophy for a third consecutive year.
Sophomore Olivia Cain was dominant at the district 6 championships, setting new meet records in the Idaho Figure 8 (17.650 seconds) and Individual Flags (8.150 seconds).
“The Elma Equestrian Team has come a long ways in the last three years,” Smith said. “We have a quality program that is competitive and fun to be a part of.”
Washington is made up of seven districts, each holding three meets during the season, which begins in October. Athletes have three ways they can qualify for the state meet. A spot at the state meet is earned by being a gold, silver or bronze winner following the three meets, earn two medals at any of the three meets in one event or by breaking a district meet record, which automatically qualifies the athlete.
Elma had athletes qualify for state in all three ways.
Prior to the team leaving for the district championship meet, the school gave the athletes a send-off, acknowledging their accomplishments during an assembly. The following day they received a fire truck and police escort as they made their way out of the town.
“The ladies deserve to be recognized for what they have done,” Mitch Smith said. “The assembly and the escort out of town with (the) police and fire truck is just a cool way to leave for the state meet. It brings attention to the Equestrian Team which is the athlete’s moment of glory and they deserve it.”