With many of the northern riders having only participated in perhaps four shows on the Trillium Circuit this summer, Cathy Inch and the rest of the local contingent were understandably cautiously optimistic entering the Trillium Championships in Ottawa earlier this month.
All the more reason for the sound of delight in the voice of the Sudbury Sports Hall of Fame coach and rider as she shared some feedback from the traditional fall event.
"There were some tremendous results that made northern Ontario look very strong," said Inch, who brought along ten riders from Foothills Farm but also worked with a few folks from Sault Ste Marie as well as the crew from Northern Legacy Horse Farm.
"We had some phenomenal results. Most of the riders went beyond our expectations."
Representing Eastwood Stables in Powassan and coached by Shelley Ellis, young Paige Lamont finished first on her small pony, Girl Scout, in a Pony Derby division that included no less than 49 entries.
Closer to home, Christine Kinsella claimed the champions mantle on her horse Gamekeeper in the Trillium Working Hunter division, while fellow Trevella Stables representative Lindsay Rovinelli also emerged victorious in the Adult Amateur Hunter division, with Gamekeeper again under saddle.
As for the Foothills folks, Keilan Emmans and her horse California Dreaming teamed up for quite a haul of ribbons: champion of the Hack Division and reserve champion of the Modified Children's Hunter; third in the Invitational Equitation Finals.
Holly Heikkila was on fire from start to finish of the Trillium meet, riding her pony (Leroy Brown) to a reserve champion placing in the Modified Pony Hunter division, while also taking top spot in C Equitation and the invitational My First Ride Off Equitation final.
Add in a reserve champion showing in the 2'6" Children's Hunter division on Camille Bortolotto's horse, Mad About You, as well as a fifth place finish in the category that Paige Lamont won and you have the makings of a highly successful show for Heikkila.
Riding for Katriina Routsalo and the Northern Legacy Farm, coach Inch guided Northern Lights to a first place finish in the Developmental Hunter division, with the same horse also emerging as the champion of the Modified Adult Hunter division with Paige Leclerc at the helm.
"Paige is a new mother, just back riding since spring and she was every bit as good if not better than she always has been - which is amazing," said Inch. According to the local woman who has cliniqued right across the province and in many parts of the States, the overall showing of the northern riders is a testament to a total team effort.
"We had an unbelievable support staff - our grooms are great," said Inch. "We're pretty blessed in that we have an almost overqualified team."
With Trillium Championships behind her, Cathy Inch will catch her breath. While there is a definite adrenaline rush that helps carry one through the week-long competition, it also makes for a very busy stretch of days.
"There were five different rings going at one time," she explained. "Getting to the ring on time can be a difficult challenge. Good horse shows and good organizers are used to that and they have very good people on the "in gate"."
"The "in gate" people will work with me," Inch continued. "They will communicate with me, they wait, they move people up - they know I will make every effort to get there. I'm pretty lucky; I think I get a good amount of respect and I think I've worked hard to deserve that."
And after a showing like the one Inch and companions enjoyed in Ottawa, all of that work feels extremely worthwhile.