Ferndale equestrian offers three students opportunity to school 'second-chance' horses


FERNDALE - Lifelong equestrian Paige Wagter has been inspired to create a friendly competition among three local student equestrians that she feels will make winners of all three.

The Wagter Equestrian 60-Day Working Student Challenge is modeled after a larger competition out of Emerald Downs known as the Prodigious Fund's 100-Day Training Challenge.

Wagter, 25, competed on scholarship all four years on the varsity equestrian team at Kansas State University. She moved to Ferndale three years ago.

She and her husband, former Lynden High School football player Lance Wagter, are the parents of 15-month-old daughter Hadley.

Question: Paige, who are your competitors?

Answer: These are our three working student equestrians at Wagter Equestrian: Lina Hooper and Matilyn Skinner, both 16, and Claire Nitshe, 20. Lina attends Sehome and Matilyn attends Lynden. Claire is a student at Western Washington University.

Q: How will they compete for the top honor?

A: They are competing in five categories with what we call "second-chance horses" - horses that formerly raced or have encountered various misfortunes. They'll compete in riding, tractor loading, lunging, ground manners, and standing for a farrier (horseshoer).

Q: Where did you find the horses?

A: We found them all on craigslist. They're all mares. Two are what is known as off-the-track ex-race horses - Bella with Matilyn, and Stella with Lina. Claire has Demi, a thoroughbred cross. The student trainers will earn a commission when we sell the horses later.

Q: What gave you this idea?

A: I applied to be one of the five trainers chosen for the 100-Day Training Challenge. I wasn't chosen, but I'll apply again next year. Meanwhile, I thought about starting my own local version of the event.

I've always had a passion for ex-race horses and I found the girls were very receptive. They were excited to take a horse and give it a second chance. All the horses they have previously had were already trained.

Q: Can the public follow you?

A: We have a Facebook page (Wagter Equestrian Working Student Challenge). I invite everyone in the Whatcom County equestrian community to follow these three girls and their horses this summer.

Q: How many horses do you board at Wagter Equestrian?

A: I am a hunter/jumper trainer. We have 15 horses. Most of them are boarders. We opened in the fall of 2012 and we now have about 20 student clients, ranging in age from 4 to about 60 and ranging from first-year riders to experienced equestrians.

Q: You must be awfully busy.

A: I sure am, with our daughter, Hadley, our equestrian business, and my career as a West Coast pricing specialist for Nutrena, which is part of Cargill. But I love it! Hadley has already taken eight round-trip plane trips.

Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.

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