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Ella-Zoe friendship might lead to Royal Winter Fair
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Ella Palladino is really hoping that the third time's the charm.

For the past two summers, the talented young rider at Foothills Farm has taken a shot at attempting to qualify for the Royal Canadian Winter Fair, the pinnacle of equestrian championships for those who roam the A horse show circuit across the province.

And for two straight summers, Covid-19 has intervened.

Now aboard Zoe (show name - Epiphany) for this particular pursuit, Palladino noted that the horse/rider relationship is progressing nicely, even if it encountered bumps along the road after a near perfect introduction.

“When I first met her, she was really, really sweet,” said the 14 year-old who remains unsure about whether to start high-school in Sudbury in the fall, or perhaps make her way to Florida to continue to develop as a rider, all while balancing her schooling in the process. “She moved beautifully; nothing like a top-end winner, but just a really nice horse.”

“Her jump is just fantastic, everything about it is so nice.”

All of which does not guarantee immediate compatibility.

“It took me six months for Zoe to like me,” Palladino said with a smile. “I had to build a nice friendship to get her to like me. To kick in and get mad at her all the time wasn’t the answer. Now she lets me touch her face, rub her ears, all that stuff.”

And for as much as Palladino would dearly love to qualify for the Royal in the three foot children’s division, she is also quite realistic about the journey, the need to look at the end goal through the lens of a very gradual voyage, one that benefitted from a late winter setting that gave the partnership a bit of a head start heading into the summer competitive schedule.

“I think this first year is more about learning,” said Palladino. “With Zoe, for those first five weeks (the pair would spend five weeks together in Florida this past February/March), I had a lot of mistakes. I had maybe one really good day. It’s all about getting experience in the show ring.”

Ironically, as she prepared to take part in the annual tradition that is the Rick Smith Memorial Show last weekend at Foothills Farm, it is with Vera (Venganza) that Palladino would participate. Given her intention to try and qualify on the A circuit in the three foot division, the local rider is limited to the heights she can compete at, even if with another horse.

That restriction is not applicable when taking part in the Trillium Circuit, that group of competitors a level below that assembled in Chelmsford this weekend. Palladino and Vera tackled a “metre-ten” for the Smith Show, their very first attempt at this height.

“You do need to have a bit more control and more pace than with the smaller stuff that I usually do,” she said. “I know that my horse can take me - it’s just whether I can ride well enough to get her over.”

While that might seem contradictory, the truth is that horses, much like humans, might be fully equipped to complete a given task - though not always nearly as motivated to undertake said task. It’s the classic “I can run a mile” versus “I want to run a mile” dilemma - except that you are not sitting comfortably astride a creature that outweighs you by several hundred pounds.

“Sometimes when we are jumping just two feet (high), she’ll step on the pole because she doesn’t feel like picking up her feet,” noted Palladino. “Sometimes I am under rhythm because she’s a little harder to get forward - but I know the horse can jump it.”

It’s all part of the learning process.

In that sense, Palladino has generally benefitted from riding a few horses simultaneously, forcing her to adjust on the fly to the particulars of one horse compared to the next. This is quite common within equestrian circles. The challenge this summer has been flipping between the hunter and jumper divisions.

“As long as I could stay in the hunter ring, that was simple, in my opinion,” she said. “Now I have a jumper and a hunter and find it difficult at times to switch. I just left for two weeks and got back on my jumper and I feel like I am starting all over again.”

Still, like most good partnerships, chemistry is key - and is most often built through simply spending time together, both in the ring and outside the ring. “If you look in my division, you can really tell who has had their horse for two or three years,” said Palladino. “They know their horses through and through.”

“I think if I have Zoe for another year or two, we would do the same.”

Northern Hockey Academy