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After a medal

CENTRAL POINT — Brittney Mellor was near the top of her game last spring, earning a silver medal in trail and showmanship events at the state high school equestrian championships.

Now the Eagle Point High School sophomore and her 20-year-old paint and pinto gelding, Miguel, are gearing up for another medal run.

The horse and rider are working their way through the three-day Southern Oregon High School Equestrian Team District Meet at the Jackson County Expo that runs through today with drill teams performing at 10 a.m.

"I've been showing him since I was 11, and we've done very well," Mellor said.

The season begins in December with meets in February, March and April. For Mellor, the later meets are important.

Mellor played basketball for the Eagles during the winter and wasn't primed for the start of the equestrian season.

"It takes more commitment to do this than one open show during the summer," Mellor said. "I had a rough first meet because I was still in basketball and hadn't got in as much practice."

After this weekend, she's hoping to qualify in working pairs, driving, trail, lead as well as stock seat and hunt seat disciplines.

About 140 riders and 225 horses representing 13 school teams are angling for the May 17-20 state championships in Redmond. There are eight districts under the Oregon High School Equestrian Team umbrella.

The first district was formed in Southern Oregon in 1993 with help from the Oregon Horsemen's Association. In the early days, Grants Pass, Hidden Valley, North Valley and Crater, which had students from Eagle Point, North Medford and South Medford, fielded teams and meets lasted one day.

"People wanted something where their high school kids could ride in the winter," said Pam Burrill of Eagle Point, who rode for Crater for three years in the 1990s and now judges. "FFA didn't promote horses and 4H was more of a summer thing."

There were fewer events and disciplines when the first state meet was held at the Fairgrounds in Salem in 1998. Now there are eight classes of competition and 28 events. That includes team flag events doing synchronized routines.

"They didn't have the driving — a cart and harness type event — or in hand, where you lead your horse over obstacles," Burrill said.

With scores of competitors taking their turn doing saddle, showmanship and ranch performances, the waiting game consumes time, energy and nerves for both rider and steed.

"Some of the horses get antsy," admitted South Medford junior Julie Smith, while sitting atop Colonel, a 16-year-old quarterhorse. "They like the barrels we did during gaming (on Friday), but they don't like to stand around."

Smith practices with her team once a week and more often than on her own. After a while, horses figure out the routines and have a habit of rushing through patterns.

"They anticipate before you're ready to move on to the next thing, so you have to switch things up," Smith said. "You do the same pattern, but do it backwards."

Of course three days of hanging out on the Expo grounds requires a round or two of cleaning out the stalls.

"Riding is definitely so fun, and this is definitely harder," said Hidden Valley Anna Ziegler, as she swept out quarterhorse Doc's stall. "We all clean out stalls; it was the first thing I did when I started riding. It takes like maybe two hours and I'm here pretty much all day."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or at business@mailtribune.com

Left: Brittney Mellor of Eagle Point prepares her horse, Miguel, for Saturday’s equestrian competition. Top: Contestants in this weekend’s equestrian competition lined up to watch a fellow contestant in the steer daubing event. ROY MUSITELLI PHOTO/4-21-07 ROY MUSITELLI PHOTO/4-21-07 - Roy Musitelli