Judging by her busy schedule, one thing is quite clear about Alyssa Ely. She is adaptable.
Whether this senior-to-be at W.F. West High School is in the classroom taking a test or on the sidelines of a football game or basketball game as a cheerleader, Ely excels.
Five to six times a week, Ely is in her happy place, riding horses. All her hard work has paid off. Last year on the W.F. West’s equestrian team, Ely placed fourth at regionals. When their nearly nine-month season begins in October, Ely will again be a team captain.
“Alyssa is one of our top riders,” said Adam Kasper, coach of the equestrian team. “She was our W.F. West high point rider of the year. She’s a very strong team player.”
Ely is no stranger to riding horses. She began riding when she was just three and a half years old. She started competing when she was 11. Riding horses has always been a family activity for Ely. Her mom likes to ride, and her grandparents own horses as well.
“It’s always been a real big part of my family,” Ely said. “My mom showed me how to ride, and my grandma has a ton of horses out on her farm. So, it’s always been a huge part of our life.”
But despite the fact that riding horses has been an important part of Ely’s life, there is one thing it has not done. It has not eclipsed the classroom. Even with her busy schedule of riding and cheerleading, Ely still has a 3.7 cumulative grade point average.
School – grades, in particular – remain a focus because of Ely’s goals.
“For me it’s a big part because going to college is a huge part of something I’ve been striving for,” Ely said. “If my grades slip under, I won’t get accepted to the schools I’d love to go to. I think my determination for college keeps me going on my grades.”
But her goal of doing well in the classroom has not kept Ely from riding horses and cheerleading. She makes room for it all.
“Usually I go from cheer to equestrian practices every night, and then I’m up studying until about midnight to one in the morning,” Ely said with a chuckle. “So, it’s a busy schedule, but it’s fun.”
Ely clearly keeps very active, leaving little room for watching TV.
The co-operative team that had 27 riders last year includes riders from Chehalis, Centralia, Adna, Napavine, Winlock, Toledo and Onalaska. Kasper encourages that open-door policy with other schools, providing other kids a chance to ride horses, too. “That’s why we do it,” he said.
Kasper said one of the life lessons his riders draw from involves learning to deal with winning and losing. Ely got a taste of both last year. During that time she would occasionally ride an ornery horse.
“Last year my horse really tested me,” Ely said. “I even got disqualified because she bucked. This year I’m starting out in the winner’s circle. I’ve had a ton of fun.”
Through the good and bad rides Kasper is always by Ely’s side, giving good advice. He has been the stabilizing voice. “My coach has helped me through it,” Ely said. “He tells me I’ll be okay through all of it. That helps.”
As a senior and someone who has been successful and gone to regionals, Ely embraces her role as a team leader.
“I feel my role, especially with the upcoming freshmen, is to tell them to have fun with everything,” Ely said. “High school is going by a lot faster than I thought it would. It’s been so much fun. If I can help the new girls on the team have fun with it and be nice to everyone, that would be so awesome.”
Riders on the Chehalis co-op equestrian team are more than teammates. They are friends. They frequently get together for dinner or just to hang out. Many of them have been riding together since they were in grade school, participating on the 4H team.
“We get together all the time. It’s super fun,” Ely said. “We’ve all grown up in 4H together. We started when we were super small. Tomorrow night we’re going out to dinner together. It’s not even team related. It’s just girls on the team. It’s fun that we can be super close outside of the team.”
Last year 19 of the 27 riders earned a state berth. Six of them even qualified for regionals in Oregon. Katelyn Buckman, who will also be a senior at W.F. West, qualified for state as well.
Kasper always tell his riders as they go out and compete that they are going to do one of two things.
“You’re going to win your competition, or you’re going to learn from it,” Kasper said. “We try to instill in them that losing is part of life. You just need to pick yourself up and learn from what your mistake was and correct it and go and do your best the next time.”
It is just another lesson Kasper makes sure his team learns from riding horses.