Some do it as a hobby, some make a business out of it. Regardless of motivator, all that compete do it for the same reason: the pursuit of victory.

Approximately 250 equestrians competed at the 2019 Alpine Preview at the Washington Horse Park in June. The event held over the course of two weeks focused on hunter jumper events. Hunter is a style of riding that places focus on the relationship between horse and rider, while also maintaining a scoring criterion for pace and style during jumps. Jumpers are judged by the time on the course and any faults incurred during their ride. In jumping, the team with the fewest faults and fastest time wins the event.

The weekend event was organized by Snohomish-based Cascade Horse Shows and is one of four the company holds at the horse park throughout the season. Cascade Horse Shows Partner Jessica Vania said the event ran at capacity, a trend they have been seeing at their events in Cle Elum for the last few years.

“It’s been wonderful,” she said. “The weather always adds a little interest to things, but everybody’s had a fantastically good time.”

Although most competitors come from Washington, Vania said some come from as far away as California and Montana for the event. She said Cascade Horse Shows has been involved with the horse park for approximately eight years and was the first event organizer at the park.

“We’ve been here since the opening day of the horse park,” she said. “It’s really been a partnership. We chose this venue because it really supports the mission we’re trying do with our shows, which is very horse-friendly, very inclusive from a competitor and spectator and community vibe.”

Vania said the horse park has worked with Cascade Horse Shows to create that vibe for events held on the grounds. The groups have worked in tandem over the years, building improvements like buildings for announcers. Vania said each event takes an extensive amount of organizing, with tasks such as developing the list of competitive classes and events.

“We add a lot of innovative, fun classes that challenge riders in a different way beyond the standard hunter jumper competition,” she said.

Other logistic challenges include bringing in and building jumps for the events, as well as hiring and maintaining support staff. Vania said the staff comes from all over the country to participate.

“There’s so much staff,” she said. “The judges, the people that manage the grounds, people that run and keep everything operating smoothly.”

NOT MUCH DOWN TIME

With everything that goes into planning the events throughout the season, Vania said there isn’t much downtime in the offseason.

“We literally start the day after our last event,” she said. “Our last event is in September. As soon as that concludes, we take about a week off and then we roll right into the planning for the next event. All the things we want to improve or change or add, anything that’s fresh in our mind.”

Although first-time visitors to the park may make comments about Kittitas County’s signature high winds, Vania said they tend to gravitate toward what she describes as a relaxing, warm vibe. The scenery seems to benefit the experience as well.

“It’s not an understatement to say that they’re blown away,” she said. “They’re blown away by how beautiful it is, how still very natural it is. If you travel to other parts of the country and even in the Northwest, most equestrian venues are not surrounded by trees or 20 miles of trails. They’re blown away by the absolute natural beauty of the place.”

With all the hard work that goes into planning and executing the events put on throughout the season, Vania said she is driven by seeing the joy that competitors experience while at the shows. She said many of the competitors have high-stress careers, but all that changes when they come to the horse park to compete.

“They come here and they kind of leave that whole life behind,” she said. “They can come and have a wonderful time here.”

Beyond seeing people detach and enjoy themselves, Vania said her favorite part of the show is seeing the joy of accomplishment competitors have when they win in their respective events. She said the feeling is especially amplified in the children who compete and win.

“They’re in happy tears because they won something,” she said. “They’ve accomplished something. We ride around on 1,500-pound animals, navigating over obstacles at a very fast pace. It’s a huge accomplishment. Being a part of that, being a part of creating that experience for them is what I enjoy the most.”

THE WINNING CIRCLE

Shelly Kerron of Woodinville-based Legacy Hunters and Jumpers competed and won the hunter derby for both weeks of the event. Kerron has been competing at the horse park in Cle Elum since it opened.

“I’ve been here every year,” she said.

Kerron is the third generation of an equestrian family. After turning professional while in college, she has competed at events all over the country over her 30-year career. She said she stuck with the hunting and jumping because she finds it exciting to navigate the jumps on horseback. Looking back, she said the highlights of her career were participating in Grand Prix and World Cup events. Being born into the sport, she said it was relatively easy for her to stay in the industry.

“My mom would have appreciated if I had been a doctor or a lawyer,” she said. “I stayed in this sport and I love it.”

Kerron’s outfit brings between 15 to 20 horses to events at the horse park, and she coaches younger riders along with competing herself. Being so close to the West Side, she said the horse park is a great fit for attending events. Beyond the benefit of accessibility, she said the setting and layout are both ideal.

“The park is designed well,” she said. “It’s very conducive to the horses. The horses like to be here because it’s in the woods. It’s a natural setting as opposed to a lot of the showgrounds we go to throughout the year that have more concrete and more machinery around. The horses really like it here.”

Beyond competing, Kerron said being able to pass on the skills she has honed over the last three decades to younger riders is the perfect capstone to her career.

“To see a youth compete on a level like this, it’s very rewarding to me,” she said.

Looking back, Kerron said her motivation to go professional with her competitive career over pursuing a path like the one her mother would have preferred came down to one major factor: her love for horses.

“They’re magical when you get to know and understand them and work day in and day out with them,” she said. “They’re very rewarding. It has to be a team. You have to consider the horse and how they think and feel. You’re sitting on an animal that has a heart and soul.”

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