By Emily Oller

The Bulletin

It was more than 20 years in the making, but for the first time the Northwest will host a regional high school equestrian meet: the Pacific Northwest Invitational Championship.

The top five Oregon High School Equestrian Teams (OHSET) state finishers are set to compete against the top five Washington High School Equestrian Teams (WAHSET) placers today through Sunday at the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center in Redmond.

According to OHSET state chair Candi Bothum, the regional competition has been on the drawing board for some time.

“The leadership in Oregon state and the leaders in Washington state put this together,” Bothum says. “But we’ve been on the path to have this for years. When OHSET started about 20 years ago, the organizers wanted to eventually have an event like this.”

While OHSET was formed in 1993 in the Medford area, WAHSET was not an independent organization until 2005.

“The Oregon high school equestrian program is definitely the biggest in the West,” Bothum says. “Washington originally began as a district in Oregon (in 2000).”

WAHSET currently has more than 500 riders and six districts.

Georgann Ireland, who recently graduated from Bend High, is one of 23 Central Oregonians to qualify for the regional event. Ireland is to compete in two events after winning the saddle seat equitation and finishing fourth in the hunt seat equitation at the OHSET state meet last month.

“Of course it would be nice to take home a regional title,” Ireland says, “but it’s awesome to just qualify for the first regional meet. I came in (second place in saddle seat) in (the past) two years, so I knew that I could qualify.”

Ireland went to work immediately after qualifying for the two events.

“I’ve been practicing a lot,” she says. “After I qualified, I looked at the WAHSET website to see their (riding) patterns. Some of the patterns were more difficult, but we won’t have to do those at this meet.”

Bothum says that one of the challenges with putting on the regional event has been the rules.

“We have a committee from both states putting on the event,” Bothum says. “We’ve had to make some adjustments to rules and other things. For example, in Oregon, we do an event called ‘team penning’ and in Washington they call it ‘sorting.’ Team penning is a three-person event and sorting is a two-man event. So (the Washington squads) have to add an extra person from their schools.”

Ridgeview’s Savannah Geist is also set to compete in the regional meet. Geist, who recently completed her junior year, qualified for the event by coming in fourth in the figure eight and fifth in the barrels at state.

“I’m really looking forward to meeting the other competitors from Washington,” Geist says. “I kind of ran into a little trouble, though. My barrel horse came up lame last week, but my sister Emily loaned me her horse.”

While the WAHSET competitors have to modify their events to align with OHSET rules this year, OHSET competitors will face the same situation next year when the event will be held in Washington.

“I think this is another step in the vision from the people who started everything,” Bothum says. “And it’s exciting to see how excited the kids are. For a lot of them, they never get to compete outside the state, let alone (outside) their hometowns. Now they get to compete and interact with a whole other group from a different state.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0375, .