BATTLE GROUND – Many Clark County residents feel a strong connection to the area and actively work to improve and enrich the lives of their neighbors. For one local family, the move to Battle Ground a decade ago kicked off a series of events that has deeply impacted their lives and is sending quiet ripples reverberating throughout the county.
Dawnese Sahota, her husband Donald and their daughter Kylie moved to Battle Ground more than 10 years ago in search of a safe and stable environment in which Kylie and her soon-to-arrive younger brother could grow up.
“We just thought Battle Ground seemed like a great little place to raise our family,” Dawnese said. “We both grew up just being able to go play in the woods and we wanted that for our children.”
Donald, with a family history in agriculture, purchased a bit of land with the original intent of farming, but soon changed his mind and his plans – and with them his family's trajectory.
About the time the family made their move to Battle Ground, little 5-year-old Kylie began to notice large, lanky beasts milling about in fenced-off fields through the windows of the family car. And from that early, distant exposure, she formed a strong fascination with horses.
“We were driving in our car and they were out in pastures and I was like, 'Someday, I'm going to have a horse,'” Kylie said during an interview last Tuesday.
She believes her fascination struck a chord with her father, who trained horses in his youth. Not long after Kylie made her plans known, her father noticed an advertisement for a pony and decided to take the chance to acquire his daughter's first horse, Bella.
After Bella's arrival, Donald went to work preparing the land for more horses. He found and tore down old structures and used the wood to eventually hand-build an 8-stall barn on the property, complete with a loft. Then, the family decided to turn the hobby into a business, taking in rescued horses to train and sell for profit.
“We got a lot of horses after that,” Kylie said. “We had nine horses at one time.”
By the time she was 7 years old, Kylie began taking lessons at Quarry Ridge Farm to hone her burgeoning equestrian skills. Years around the animals had only intensified her interest as she took on more complex tasks – asks her parents were always careful to let her experience fully without interference. At 8 years old, she decided to dabble in Western-style riding, which requires a substantially heavier saddle than the English style she was used to. But, when she asked for help to carry the new, heavier equipment, her parents refused.
“We've always tried to teach her that if you want to do it, you have to do it yourself. No one is going to do it for you,” Dawnese said. “If you're going to ride, you have to learn to carry the saddle.”
Now age 15, Kylie says those early lessons helped forge her into the strong, driven young woman she is today. The family eventually dialed back the horse business, now owning two horses, and moved on to other things. But Kylie never slowed down and even now continues to work on her skills, now at Command Performance in Ridgefield.
She has fully immersed herself in equestrian culture, able to explain the differences among riding styles, discuss in-hand classes of competition and give a crash-course on showmanship patterns and the importance of horse presentation.
Now with a different horse, a completely show-trained pinto named PF Macareyna or “Casey,” Kylie has participated in several competitions, including taking High Point at two major shows last year. For Dawnese, seeing her little girl competing against other people in a pursuit she has held for so many years has a special significance.
“I remember the first time she rode her horse out in the ring,” Dawnese said. Kylie's first competition was the Southwest Washington Arabian Association Halloween Open Horse Show at the Clark County Fairgrounds. “We were crying just to see her riding a horse for her first time with all these other horses.”
The journey hasn't been easy. At age 13, Kylie's trained Arabian horse bucked her off and sent her tumbling to the ground, blackening both eyes and causing her braces to slice through her lips.
“And I think I broke my nose because it's never really been the same,” she said. It wasn't the first time that horse had thrown her. “That's when we decided that horse wasn't really working out.”
In another incident, an official told the 15-year-old she deserved a lower score than she earned because she wasn't wearing enough makeup.
But nothing will stop her, she says. Participating in the competitions and shows with Casey has become something of therapy and motivation. It provides both direction and perspective as well as unique challenges. In one of the most intense moments during last years' competitions, judges issued Kylie an unexpected command: dismount the horse and re-mount from the opposite side. It sounds simple, but riders and horses often become accustomed to a specific procedure and sudden changes to that procedure can put stress on a horse.
“I hadn't practiced that at all,” Kylie explained. “I didn't know if my horse would even do that. Some horses get really freaky with that.”
Kylie hesitated. A small girl in stiff chaps, she often used a mounting block even for the correct side.
“We were all just like, 'oh my gosh, she's not going to be able to do this,'” her mother said. “So she's standing there trying to get her leg up in the stirrup and then, suddenly, she just reaches down with her hands and pulls her leg up and puts it in the stirrup and she just gets up. It wasn't perfect but we were all thankful.”
And Kylie loves it. At the moment, she dreams of traveling to Oklahoma to compete in the Pinto World Championship Show.
"Showing is the best thing. It completely centers you to what's important in life,” she said. “Sometimes, like the social stuff at school and all of that, it doesn't really matter. Just getting through life and getting to where you want, you have to focus on the big goals and not be brought down by all the other stuff that happens.”
As she spoke, Dawnese visibly reacted to her daughter's viewpoint.
“It makes me want to foster this even more,” she said. “It makes me realize it does keep her grounded and focused on her priorities in life.”
And that focus is paramount. In addition to her lessons and competitions, Kylie keeps a rigorous academic program with 3 advanced placement and 2 honors classes just this year, plus a foreign language class and 2-3 hours of homework per night. And not only that, but Kylie volunteers at the Humane Society for Southwest Washington at least one night per week for 3 hours. In a little over two years, she has logged nearly 300 volunteer hours at the shelter.
Kylie plans to attend college and become a veterinarian after high school. With extra attention and Washington's Running Start program, she hopes to finish her senior year of high school with an Associates Degree in biology in hand. The volunteer work with HSSW provides extra insight and practice in a veterinary setting.
“They've helped me so much and I get so much learning every time I go there,” she said.
The time is especially helpful because of the nature of the volunteer work she performs – rather than just cleaning windows or scrubbing floors, Kylie has spent much of her time in the clinic's operating room preparing surgical instruments and watching procedures while the surgeons explain what's happening. One might not expect a 15-year-old girl to spend her time watching gory surgeries, but Dawnese is proud that Kylie has taken the initiative to explore her interests.
“If you're going to do that, you gotta know if you can handle that kind of stuff,” she said.
Kylie has witness spay and neuter procedures on dogs and cats, tumor removals, hernia repairs, and even the removal of infected eyeballs.
“That one bleeds a lot. It's like the most bloody surgery ever,” she said before excitedly recalling the time she was allowed to glue an animal's eye closed after such a procedure.
Another contribution Kylie will leave her community in return for the support and opportunities she has enjoyed has been her central role in developing Battle Ground High School's new Veterinary Club for students who want to work to benefit animals, and especially students hoping to work as veterinarians in the future.
She began setting up the framework for the club last year, including drafting and presenting a club Constitution to BGHS's Associated Student Body for ratification. With about 6 regular attendees, the club has started small, but Kylie hopes to grow it over the next couple of years. Students can join at any time by contacting the club's faculty sponsor, Chad Karlsson.
When she has graduated college and settled into practice at a small animal clinic, Kylie plans to continue showing horses for the foreseeable future. The dreams and skills she is growing in her childhood here in Clark County could last for the rest of her life – and that's something Battle Ground can be proud of.