It’s 1984 and my mother has found a new fun sport for her and her horse, Fairell. I am only eight years old, so naturally I get dragged along. Enter 1985 and now I’ve got a taste for the sport too. Competitive trail riding. At nine years old I had completed my first season, and in the open division to boot! This included a 40-mile ride in the Souris River Bend Wildlife Management Area (not going to lie, this was THE most terrifying ride ever) which ended up being my favourite place to ride. In 1990, I competed in the Nationals held in Souris, and won the youth open division on my mother’s horse.
My first competition horse was a chunky, heave-y Arabian named Morran (Shamarr Hal Morran). He was a 15hh chestnut gelding that, at any other event, was happier just to poke along and to test me with a grab at anything edible on the ground. I was pretty little and I didn’t really stand a chance, LOL. We had found our niche when we started CTR. He loved it and did very well considering his circumstances, usually placing in the top five. However, within a few years, Morran’s condition had deteriorated and so we no longer competed. I had discovered boys at this point and was pretty distracted from the goal anyway, resulting in a 21-year hiatus from the sport.
It’s 2008 and I have a good job, a home, and a family, and I realize that something is missing. Time to get back to my roots and begin the hunt for my next competition horse. I was coming back and I was going to WIN! First things first, the struggle to find a suitable horse. I’ve always loved arabians, they are beautiful and spirited but unfortunately, nowadays, not many arabians are for sale. The times have sure changed! The market was flooded with them when I left the game. After several months and many test drives, I found the one! TW Kenora was my ticket back to CTR. However, 21 years gives a person a lot of time to lose any and all self confidence. The animal that was delivered was not the gentle, 15hh bay gelding that I had bought, he was now a 20-foot, fire-breathing dragon! What had I done?!
Kenora and I spent the next two years developing a bond and I rediscovered my confidence as a rider. Now, how do I get back into the sport? My mother happened to run into Kelli, a friend from days long gone. She mentioned my new(ish) acquisition and my desire to get back into distance riding. Well, it just so happened that a club meeting was being held that very week, less than two miles from my house! How serendipitous! It is here that I meet Iris for the first time and, not long after, we become riding companions and fast friends (She still hauls me and my horse all over the province to ride; I am forever grateful).
Our first season introduced us to endurance riding. My first attempt was a 25 on Saturday, followed by a 15 on Sunday. I had the opportunity to enjoy my first 15-mile ride with someone who has become one of Canada’s best-known competitors, her resume includes completing the famous Tevis Cup, Tracy Vollman. So, in our first year we completed 25’s whenever we could, including at least one back-to-back weekend. What an accomplishment!
Following that, we prepare to up our game, increase our mileage and enter the open division in CTR but alas, Kenora has come up inexplicably and consistently lame. He had a good heart and he did everything I asked of him but he didn’t love the sport, he preferred to be a trail pony who gets pampered and treated like a pet. And so, the hunt starts again.
In 2014, in a leap of faith, I bought Grace (PA Bijon). We had our trials in the first year. She escaped in Bird’s Hill Park two weeks after I got her home, wearing nothing but my brand-new Specialized saddle; I unintentionally tried to override her at her first competition. 25 miles in 35-degree heat in May with half of her winter coat still hanging on. She told me, in no uncertain terms, that this would not be happening, and I couldn’t argue with that and so, there were rides that we didn’t finish, some for running out of time, some were rider option. Since then, we have competed in and completed many rides in both the novice and open divisions. In 2016, we completed our first 50-mile endurance ride at Spruce Woods in the outrageous August heat. We came in last but we finished! The following year we completed 420 competitive miles in one season, we even hit a ride in North Dakota. That was a crazy year!
Grace and I have competed in other 50-mile rides since then and, for every one we started, we finished. We have come close to a pull but so far it hasn’t happened and I’d like to keep it that way, but, one just never knows. Riding with others that complement your journey is definitely a bonus (Yay for Team Turtle!). It’s a long ride when you go it alone. But no matter what else happens, ride YOUR ride. Don’t compromise your efforts by trying to chase someone else’s goals.
I would never have known what my horse and I were capable of doing if I had never made the first attempt. Turns out my ultimate goal doesn’t include “winning” in the literal sense but winning by achieving small goals, one at a time. And it turns out, I just enjoy riding with my friends! I also like helping others to achieve their goals.
One of my goals is for Grace and I to get our Decade Team award, comprised of ten 50-mile AERC sanctioned rides in 10 years. So far, we have achieved three of ten; there have been a few speedbumps in the last few years, as life inevitably gets in the way of one’s goals, but this year we are getting back in the game.
This year I will also be starting my new horse, a Kentucky Mountain mare named CJ (Dreamcatcher’s Calamity Jane). She won in her Training Division doing CTR, so now we set our sights on the Novice Division and LDs. My goal for her this year is to complete ALL the rides we start, stronger than when we started. She is not an arabian, so the conditioning program that I have for Grace will not work for her. It will be a lot of trial and error until we find a system that works best for us. It will take longer to get her ready for the higher mileage rides too, as she has a different skeleto-muscular build. Bigger muscles and bones take longer to disperse the heat and she will need far more conditioning than Grace but she will be just as successful with the right program.
My “ultimate goal” is to attain as many miles as I can while maintaining sound, happy, healthy horses and keeping it “fun”. If it isn’t fun, it’s not worth it. Life is too short to do things that don’t bring me joy.