Taking cue from Vernonia and Rainier, Megan Jennings has high hopes for teamHorseback riding doesn't usually draw the marching bands, glittered cheerleaders and manic crowds associated with hometown high school football games. But the number of competitors is about equal.

Surprised?

Megan Jennings isn't. As a long-time horse owner, she knows just how popular the sport is, which is why she is leading the creation of an equestrian team at Astoria High School.

"There are a lot of really horsey people who don't play other sports and they feel left out in competing for the school," Jennings said. "I just feel there needs to be one."

The Astoria school board gave Jennings the go-ahead to obtain approval from the Oregon School Activities Association and put a team together last month.

"If we can get our team started, we'll start practicing as soon as possible and start doing fund-raisers to pay for team shirts and decorations," Jennings said.

Astoria will join a list of more than 100 schools, including Vernonia and Rainier, that support high school equestrian competitions.

"When you keep involved with the horse thing the kids don't seem to find undesirable activities," said Jennings' mother, Theresa Connelly, who has volunteered to coach the team. "Their horses are more important than other things. It teaches a lot of responsibility."

LORI ASSA - The Daily Astorian

"I just feel there needs to be one," says Jennings of an Astoria High School equestrian team.Jennings said there are currently four or five students interested in joining the team, but that the next class of freshmen has more riders who will want to compete.

The Oregon High School Equestrian Team of Astoria High School will be completely supported by students' and parents' own pocketbooks as well as team fund-raisers.

Participants are required to provide their own horses and are also responsible for finding transportation for their animals. Additionally, the team must fund arena practice time.

Jennings, who competed on the OHSET team when she was a student at Vernonia High School, said that team was able to off-set most of its costs.

"We did a fund-raiser for the Hood to Coast Run," she said. "We did a concession stand and made about $2,000. There's also car washes, bake sales and raffles."

Jennings pays for the feed and other costs associated with her own horses by working at the Windy Ridge Ranch.

In addition to covering their equipment costs - animals and all - students are required to carry their own health insurance, although OHSET provides insurance during competitions in the event a spectator is injured.

The Astoria equestrian team will practice one to two times a week and participate in three meets during the spring, plus a state meet in Salem - if they qualify.

In 2002 Jennings and the Vernonia drill team placed third in state, and also took home the sportsmanship trophy.

"More and more of the schools are really recognizing them as true athletes," said Barb Carr, Vernonia OHSET coach.

Unlike other equestrian clubs like 4-H, OHSET offers more riding disciplines, like barrel racing, keyhole, reigning and team penning.

It also enables students to get some recognition for doing what they love.

"A lot of kids don't necessarily participate in other sports, so it gives them a chance to earn a high school letter and compete on behalf of their school," Carr said.

Jennings said she is excited about competing again, even if it means practicing two hours a day like she did before.

"I just absolutely love everything about it," Jennings said. "Just working hard and accomplishing stuff with your horse."

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