Penny McAlpine-Clayton loves her horses.
Sure, she’s also quite fond of the family dogs and chickens and hens and pigs, but her affinity for horses is at a whole other level.
It’s all part and parcel of growing on a family hobby farm, the current home of PMC Performances Horses that remains, to this day, her happy place.
And like most everyone who is involved in some fashion with equestrianism, McAlpine-Clayton loves just about everything there is to love about horses.
“Horses are such honest creatures,” suggested the coach, trainer, rider - and all things in between. “Whatever you are putting out, they reflect.”
That is precisely why McAlpine-Clayton has so enjoyed her more recent forays into the world of equine assisted learning (EAL), a stream of the industry that she has followed after years of building up a very solid well-rounded base that extends right across the entire spectrum of equestrianism.
“When my brothers and I were young, there was everything happening on the farm,” recalled McAlpine-Clayton. “We had something like 500 laying hens; we had meat birds, pigs, cows, all of those - but the chickens were probably the biggest thing that we got into.”
Her mother would veer towards the dogs, tackling the boarding and grooming and breeding of the canines. There were lessons to be learned, far beyond how exactly to deal with animals.
“From a young age, we were all raised with a business sense,” acknowledged the lifelong Sudbury and area resident. “It was always that way around here. And we all had horses.”
Merely having horses, however, opens up a whole variety of different doors and opportunities.
“I did a lot of trail riding growing up, and my parents (eventually) got me a pony to show,” said McAlpine-Clayton. And while her sport of choice these days lies with western riding, specifically competing on the AQHA (American Quarter Horse Association) circuit, she suggested that there are likely very few facets of horsemanship that would have little or no appeal to her at all.
“Everyone thinks that just because I ride western, that I don’t like english (riding),” she said. “I still love jumping - but I enjoy the challenge of learning new things on a regular basis. There were just certain other disciplines that I always wanted, in my heart, to do, to get into, to try just for the challenge of it.”
That said, McAlpine-Clayton is nothing if not fiercely proud of the ring where she now hangs her hat.
“The general perception is that western is easy, just for fun riding,” she noted. “And yes, there is certainly a part of western riding that caters to this. But there is a whole other part of western riding that is competitive.”
Not to mention quite educational.
“Jumping might not be for everyone,” said McAlpine-Clayton. “They might want to be able to do some cool things with their horse, but they don’t want to throw their horse over a fence. To be perfectly honest, there’s a lot of things that I’ve learned from riding western that I wished I would have known in my time with Trillium.”
Over time, McAlpine-Clayton has implemented so much of what she has learned into her work with her clientele, working regularly in the barn in a teaching capacity in non-COVID times.
“You could do whatever you want at our facility, but we don’t school the hunter jumper stuff any more,” she said. “The customers I have here are geared to the all-around events, with maybe some english stuff on flatware and no jumping, or very limited jumping. A lot of people come to me just to feel comfortable on a horse and then they realize how much fun it is, and they end up showing.”
At the very pinnacle of her sport sits the All-American Quarter Horse Congress, hosted annually in Columbus (Ohio), the largest single breed horse show in the world. Oklahoma City is often the site of the AQHA World Championships Show, but there are certainly other offerings much closer to home.
“All of the sanctioned AQHA shows are either in southern Ontario, or Ottawa, or the States,” said McAlpine-Clayton. “There are people who do strictly AQHA in this area, but not enough to sustain a big show, so we offer open shows here.”
That ability to go with the flow is very much a constant in her approach when it comes to her 24/7 passion. “The quarter horse is a super versatile animal; it gives you a lot of options for growth in your riding and abilities, and different goals to set. But I love all segments of the industry.”
“It’s a lot of work, as any horse trainer or coach will tell you. There’s plenty of ups and downs, and you just don’t stop. It can be very demanding, but at the same time, I honestly love all of it. I love training the horses, but I also love the coaching part.”
“There is just something inside your soul that gives you such a good feeling of accomplishment when it comes to coaching, watching riders succeed.”
As engaged as she is with the wide world of horses, McAlpine-Clayton has not been immune to the realities of the past two years. “When COVID hit, it all came to a screeching halt,” she said.
“The business was growing, but I can’t help it grow if I’m trying to do everything myself. In my last couple of years, one of my goals was to hire more staff. I would like us to continue doing what we’re doing, but also integrate EAL (Equine Assisted Learning) with a full program.”
In an ideal world, her business will reflect the versatility of the animals that are at the very core of the PMC (Performance Horses) model. “We’re not just geared to competition - and the atmosphere here is very inviting and open.”
“Open” and “inviting” - words that Penny McAlpine-Clayton would dearly love to be able to use more often, as the pandemic slowly subsides.