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Quality Inn - Sudbury
Paul Lefebvre - MP for Sudbury
Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019
Blanchette makes a return visit to the Royal
by Randy Pascal

Making her third appearance in the past five years at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto, Foothills Farms' junior rider Leah Blanchette has developed a sense of the routine.

Thankfully, or perhaps not, taking a different horse each and every time to the event has provided for a unique and memorable experience, with another pathway about to unfold as the 18 year-old Valley East native makes the trek south, later this week, with Christophe.

"The first time I went (2010), I really didn't know what to expect," said Blanchette following a recent practice at her home away from home on the outskirts of Chelmsford.

"Now I know when to do things, I have a game plan. The "Royal" is more work than any other show, there's so many more days leading up to it," Blanchette continued. "We have warm-up times at 5:30 a.m. when we have to be on our horse."

"It's a more tiring show, because there's lots to it." If the demands of the event that runs from November 7th to the 16th at Exhibition Place on the shores of Lake Ontario can take their toll, the riding itself does not.

Working hand in hand with world reknown equestrian coach Cathy Inch, Blanchette is a markedly different rider than she was some four years ago. "Well, definitely more experienced, with a few more years and plenty more shows," she said.

"It's more technical things, like learning to gauge the distances for the jumps. For equitation, it's a matter of knowing what is the right way way to ride, what's stylish for that division. I have more knowledge of that."

A younger horse than Blanchette has ridden in the past, Christophe can be a little "spooky", even "silly" in the words of the young lady who has developed an extremely comfortable bond between athlete and animal.

"He's a lot more work, where the other horses already knew their job," Blanchette explained. "He needs a lot more prep than my other horses. He needs to be ridden six days a week, where the other horses were a little more laid back."

"It's more of a learning experience for me on a different type of horse." A learning experience that has produced impressive results, as the local tandem qualified for the Royal on the provincial Trillium Circuit, despite participating in notably fewer events than most of their southern Ontario counterparts.

"My biggest problem has always been to get a connection with the horse," noted Blanchette. Some four years ago, Inch would term her student a "soft rider", one who tended to excel on horses that did not require a great deal of energy to be created.

This profile has provided teacher and rider a focused direction in practice. "For the equitation classes, it is really getting the look, the right ride that they (the judges) want to see," said Blanchette. "That was a big thing that we were working on this year."

Aging out of the junior division following the 2014 Winter Fair, the first year student at Cambrian College looks forward to furthering her passion with horses, even if the question marks that appear annually at this time remain in play.

"So far, I don't have a game plan as far as knowing what horse I'll be riding next year," stated Blanchette. "Probably won't know that until the spring. But I'm a really competitive person. I like doing well and improving my riding."

"I think that's why I enjoy riding six days a week. You're constantly working on new things that you need to improve." Improvement, that she hopes, pays dividends later this week at the Royal Winter Fair.

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