WWU equestrian team's recent success leads to growth

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDFebruary 3, 2014 

After a successful 2012-2013 season, business is booming for the Western Washington University equestrian team. The club team finished first in its zone last season, among teams from south British Columbia, Washington and Oregon, and advanced to the zone championship in Colorado.

"We've struggled a little (this season) because we have such a large team after last year's success," club secretary Hanifah McGovern said in a phone interview. "We've won a good number of shows, though, and we're currently second in English and Western (the two categories of equestrian riding)."

Due to the increase in the club's popularity, it has had to change the way it operates a bit.

"We have had more people join and have had to change the way practices go," McGovern said.

The team has two coaches, Rachel Westby and Paige Wagter. Westby operates Westby Equine in Lynden and provides the horses the team uses to practice. Some people who keep their horses at Westby Equine also donate the horse's time to the team so they have more horses to practice with.

From Saturday, Feb. 2-Sunday, Feb. 3, the team was at the UW Single Hunt competition, where it took high point as a team on Saturday. High point is the top honor in the competition. Club president Whitney Fleming took home high-point honors on Saturday as well.

Going into the season, the team was hoping to earn high-point honors for the season in both Western and English riding in its zone. The season for Western riding has concluded already, with the team falling just short of its goal and taking second in the zone.

"The top team from each zone goes to zone championships and the top two teams go to the national championship," McGovern said.

On Feb. 22-23, the WWU equestrian team will travel to Woodinville for the WSU Single English, hosted by Washington State University. In what will be the final competition of the regular season for the team, it has a job to do. The team currently sits in second in English riding and the result of the WSU competition will determine which team goes to the zone championships, held at Stanford University in California this year.

McGovern and Fleming have already qualified for the zone championships individually in Western riding.

"Now that I have qualified it is definitely a goal to get to Ohio (where the semifinals for Western riding will be held)," McGovern said. "Currently there are six qualified in my division, and the top two from the division go to the semifinals."

McGovern said she is focused on advancing past the next round before she worries about making it to the national championship in Pennsylvania.

The team's biggest goal this year, though, has been to continue expanding its membership. McGovern said they want to let WWU students who ride at home be more aware there is a place for them to ride while they are in school.

"A lot of people on campus don't even know the team exists," she said.

If the team can follow up its success from last season with another trip to the zone championships this year, it has a very good chance to continue its growth.

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