WW horse trainers' charges win at world competition

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Annie Charnley Eveland

Walla Wallans Lisa Thonney and Dan Clark, owners of Grapevine Horse Training Inc., started down a road nearly a decade ago that led to some of their greatest professional moments so far.

It started when client Karen Wade sought their help to prepare her two children to compete in the Appaloosa Youth World Show in Oklahoma City.

The request involved several years and tested a lifetime's worth of equine knowledge, according to another client, LaZelle Russell.

Competition in the horse show world begins at a local level with 4-H and FFA. Riders seeking more challenges advance to shows in the state "B" system, including in the Washington State Horseman.

Grapevine Training's clients excelled at these shows and won too many championships to list, LaZelle noted.

Folks at shows watch to see what horse trailers are arriving so they know who the competition will be. "When folks saw the rigs from Grapevine Training pull in … it made them nervous."

Lisa and Dan are multi-faceted horse trainers, who also serve as equine nutritionists, equipment managers, coaches, mechanics and therapists.

Hard work from all involved is necessary to get horse and rider to the arena for competition. Clients set a goal and then work with Lisa to come up with a plan to get there, LaZelle said.

Robin Wade, a client of Lisa's from Wenatchee, set the World Show as her goal. In 2003 they aimed to attend the June 2005 Youth World show. Robin's sister Jennifer also wanted to go. The search for World-level competitive Appaloosas took Lisa to across the country and into and Canada. She brought back Sir and Noah and the work began.

In one of many setbacks, Noah died after emergency surgery at WSU in fall 2004. With just seven months before the World Show, Lisa scrambled to find another horse and George came from Arkansas to live in Walla Walla. The setback was huge so the team decided to aim for 2006 competition. The change of dates added pressure because it was Robin's first and last chance to show at Youth Worlds because of her age.

In June 2006, Dan and Lisa headed to Oklahoma City with two horses in a four-horse living-quarter trailer. They used the two empty horse stalls for feed and bedding for the two-week trip, Dan said. The trip required three nights on the road to and from.

"It is very stressful on the horses to stand in the trailer for 8 hours a day and have strange surroundings and water. We monitor them very carefully when we travel this far" Lisa said.

They met up with the Wade family in Oklahoma City that first year. Jennifer said her stomach and heart did cartwheels the first time she walked into the show pavilion arena and under a sign that says "Gateway of Champions."

After all the preparation, competitors get just one shot to put it all together - there are no do-overs.

Robin placed twice in the Top 5 and Top 10 and Jennifer placed in the Top 10. Robin ended up ninth overall in the World as a novice.

As soon as the team returned to Walla Walla, plans began to return in 2007. Other clients of Lisa's were intrigued and Kara Hubbs planned to go. In June 2007 the four-horse trailer left for Oklahoma City with three horses, including Kara's horse, Woody, Sir and Jennifer's new horse, Sammie.

Both Kara and Jennifer placed in the Top 5 and Top 10 in the World. Kara and Woody were fourth in the World in cutting. The team stayed a little longer so Dan could ride Woody in the Senior Western Cow Horse class at the national show and the pair placed third in the nation.

"The preparation and the trips are grueling but they are a lot of fun and rewarding too," Lisa said.

With the show moved in 2008 to Jackson, Miss., the team added two more nights on the road both directions. Stewart, Kara's new horse, and Woody and Sammie made the trip. The team spent a week prior to the World show at Appaloosa Congress in Ardmore, Okla., which helped the horses acclimate to the weather and gave the girls a chance to ride against a different mix of competitors.

When Grapevine Training pulled out of the show the truck was laden with prizes Jennifer and Kara won. Both girls garnered laptop computers, buckles, championship halters and a set of truck tires.

"We have made friends all over the world that we see at this show and people started recognizing my students as serious competitors" Lisa said. Both girls placed in the Top 5 and Kara rode Woody to a Reserve World Championship in cutting.

The June 2009 event was the final year for Jennifer and Kara to compete as youths. Lisa's other clients watched the trips to World events unfold and more wanted to be a part.

Lazelle purchased Jennifer's former show horse Sir and aimed to attend the National Show prior to the Youth World show. Kayla Buckley, longtime Grapevine Training client, also wanted to be part.

For the fourth time the team set out for the Youth World show in June with three rigs and five horses. The performance horse world was new to Lazelle, who spent her life on cow horses. Yet she and Sir came away with several Top 5 and Top 10 placings in her first appearance at the national level.

Jennifer and Kara had numerous Top 4 and Top 10 placings. The highlight of all the trips came when Jennifer and Sammie were named World Champions in Hunt Seat ages 16-18.

"At the end of her pattern there was a lot of applause and I looked around to see who was clapping. The applause came from total strangers, it was a beautiful ride, all the years of training came together at that moment and the audience recognized a great ride. When Jennifer rode out of the arena with a World title I think I even saw a tear in Lisa's eye," Karen said.

"If I don't have the opportunity to take another client to a world-level show I will miss it but I am so proud of this team. We set a goal and we achieved it," Lisa said.

"The Youth World show is the toughest competition out there. Many of the kids that show there don't have anything to do but ride. Some of their parents are professional trainers and they ride all year round in areas that don't have winters." Some kids have five horses at the show, one for every class, Lisa said.

Grapevine Training also focuses on the complete individual. "There is a lot of sacrifice involved in showing horses and building the character of a young person." While on the road they visited the Oklahoma City bombing site and a Civil War battlefield at Vicksburg, Miss.

"But … in the end, we trained hard and we were not only competitive against the best in the world, we came home as the best with a world champion."

The Pacific Northwest Amateur Hockey Association recognized Walla Walla High School junior Wyatt Wilks as one of the top six hockey defensemen in the state of Washington in his age bracket.

The 16-year-old currently plays for the Rep U16 Tier II Tri-Cities Americans Junior team. In addition, PNAHA development evaluators also selected 12 forwards and two goalies from around the state for the honor. Wyatt brings to his defenseman position the abilities of a forward, such as breakaway speed, puck handling and excellent goal shooting skills, said his father, Gene Wilks. These are qualities that have brought him to the attention of evaluators.

Wyatt weighs 160 pounds and stands just over 6 feet tall. He "is known for his athleticism and physical level of play," Gene added. His former coach, Randy Smith, said, "I really appreciated Wyatt's desire to compete. He gave 110 percent each and every shift on the ice. Wyatt was a constant learner of the game, always made the smart pass out of the defensive zone. Wyatt, even with his natural talent, always put team first. His interaction on and off the ice was second to none as he has a natural leadership ability. If younger students of the game just try and emulate Wyatt's nature they will be a success in all areas of life."

Wyatt first learned to play hockey at the YWCA Ice Chalet and for the past three years, he's played in the Tri-Cities. He will be evaluated this April in Kent with other players from Alaska, California, Nevada and Oregon. Players selected from this group will compete at the national level in USA Hockey camps. The Wilks family, including Wyatt's mom, Debbie, reside in Dixie.

The Walla Walla YWCA Ice Chalet, one of the oldest rinks in the state, still showcases a youth hockey program that is growing under the current direction of Nate Alden. More information on local youth hockey is available by calling Nate at 509-520-5648.

Breast cancer survivor Marcy Holton works to raise money for others diagnosed with this disease.

One of her most recent fundraisers is a wine and cheese gala March 27 at the Pendleton Convention Center, 1601 Westgate St., for the Cancer Renewal Project. Proceeds stay in the community, Marcy said.

It benefits those newly diagnosed and those who have finished treatment. People benefit who reside in the areas including Walla Walla, Milton-Freewater, Helix, Pendleton, Hermiston and Tri-Cities.

"Just last week, another neighbor of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer. In this small community alone, neighbors all around me have been diagnosed with breast, colon, brain, prostate, thyroid and (other) types of cancer - odd is it not? Marcy said"

Three Walla Walla wineries are on board for the gala as well as a number of volunteers from Walla Walla who help behind the scenes.

The event will offer a catered prime rib or salmon dinner with all the trimmings, Marcy said. Participants can also sample local wines, microbrews and mixed drinks. Live and silent auctions will be held. Many local artists donate items, Marcy said. Cancer survivors will model items from varied clothiers during a brief spring style show. Once the auction is complete then the dancing will go until 11 p.m. The cost is $35 per person before March 27 or $40 at the door.

The eight-year-old benefit went through a huge revamp in 2008. Last year it made around $22,000 in donations for all kinds of cancer in the area.

"It is a nice evening out and getting better and bigger each year," Marcy said. For more information, contact Marcy at holton@helixtel.com .

Exchange Club of Walla Walla members honored Touchet High School seniors Tierra Kessler and Kira Flagstead and Walla Walla Valley Academy seniors Natalie Slusarenko and Andrew Scott with their February Youth of the Month awards.

The students are eligible to compete for the local club's Youth of the Year Award and a special $1,000 college scholarship.

The essay theme this year is "Inspired by the power of community service."

"Exchange Club of Walla Walla recognizes that the young people of our nation represent America's greatest treasure. Through our youth programs, America is reminded how outstanding and promising this treasure truly is. For every youth project our club participates, we touch more lives."

Exchange Club Youth of the Month Students

Tierra is the daughter of Dawn and Randy Kessler. She is salutatorian and holds a 3.84 GPA. She is a member of National Honor Society and FBLA, Associated Student Body secretary, FFA past president, a class officer for multiple years, Stateline Livestock 4-H Club president, Touchet Educational Foundation Class representative and a varsity softball player from 2007-2010. She has a long record of volunteerism.

The daughter of Kirsten and Shawn Royse, Kira is ranked fourth among her 27 fellow seniors and holds a 3.72 GPA. She is a member of NHS, a former Associated Student Body secretary, an FBLA member and past officer, a class officer multiple years, Touchet Educational Foundation class representative and yearbook past editor and ad manager. She also participated as a People to People student ambassador.

Natalie was public relations director for her sophomore class, president of her junior and senior classes and coordinator for the ASB banquet second semester. She also played the flute in the band for three years, as selected as WWVA Student of the Month and Abajian Motors' fall 2009 WWVA Student of Month. Her peers chose her to a student speaker for a week of spiritual emphasis in January 2010. She has served at Christian Aid Society through her religion classes. Intending to become a pediatrician, she plans to attend Walla Walla University and take pre-med courses. She is the daughter of Debbie and Don Slusarenko of Milton-Freewater.

Andrew, the son of Julie and Kraig Scott of College Place, served as ASB sports coordinator in 10th grade, second semester. He was first-semester ASB president as a senior, played violin and viola in WWVA orchestra for four years, played varsity soccer on three teams and four years on the varsity basketball team. He also worked at Christian Aid Society through his religion classes. Andrew has an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point where he plans to major in either history or economics.

Out of 30 contestants, Michaela Nordheim of Waitsburg made third runner-up in the Make It With Wool contest Jan. 21-23 in Nashville, Tenn. It was held in conjunction with the American Sheep Industry Convention. Contestants make their garments of at least 60 percent wool fabric or yarn and model their creations before a panel of judges. Michaela represented the junior age bracket for 13- through 16-year-olds. For the blouse, jacket, slacks and hat she constructed of 100 percent Pendleton wool, Michaela won a variety of prizes, including a steam iron, a $100 savings bond, a $50 fabric gift certificate and the all-expenses-paid trip to Nashville. The state and national contests are open to all ages. District-level competition will be in October. Winners from that contest continue to the state level Nov. 6 in Moses Lake. For more details about the Make It With Wool contest, contact Susan Parr, state director, at 253-922-5403, or write 6120 44th Ave. E., Tacoma WA 98443-2461.

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