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Work and play all part of the mix at Rick Smith Memorial Show
2022-08-21

Few local sport communities are as tight-knit as the equestrian folks.

Modest numbers make this reality virtually mandatory. Riders are seldom only riders.

At the recent Rick Smith Memorial Show hosted at Foothills Farm in Chelmsford, the diversity of horse lovers was evident.

Now 31 years old, Camille Bortolotto has long been a fixture at the event. Frequent were the times when her name could be found near the top of the class that she entered, more often than not partnered with Mad About You (Holly).

These days, it's not all about the riding any longer.

"When horse show season rolls around, I'm working 12 to 14 hours a day," said Bortolotto, who also works in a dental office on the side. "I ride here and there and help out; clip and shave the horses, either here or at Northern Legacy."

It's an environment rife with wonderful role models. "I love to help Cathy (Inch) and I love to learn from Cathy," added Bortolotto. "Being on the ground, I learn so much. She's so exceptional for everything horses."

As a rider, the adult amateur champion at the 2016 Royal Winter Fair noted her particular penchant for horses that were perhaps not quite as highly touted as some of the other options out there.

"I really like developing young horses,' said Bortolotto. "I bought my first horse and she wasn't a typical beautiful mover. She was a nice mover and had a good jump. For me, personally, because I am an amateur, you want to create something that is rideable - a horse that takes you to the jump, that goes into the ring and works for you."

Contrasting somewhat with Bortolotto, 19 year old Paige Vigneault got her start working in and around horses but did not actually begin to compete until just the past few years.

"I kind of grew up around horses but never really rode until I was about seventeen," acknowledged the graduate of Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School who lives in Lively but works primarily at Trevella Stables in Hanmer.

"My grandparents have always owned horses."

Picking up the championship ribbon in the jumper's division at the Smith Memorial Show with her current guy, Tyson (First Ballius), Vigneault has leveraged her barn experience quite nicely into a very good start in the ring.

"Working at a barn definitely teaches you what you can and can't do when it comes to ground manners for the horse," she said. "There's little fundamental basics. I just know that I was really gung-ho for showing and progressed really fast."

Truth be told, Vigneault is nothing if not optimistic about the potential that exists with her and Tyson. "When you get him off your leg and listening, he's very good at jumping," she said, hoping to get him to the metre level.

"He's fast, he's careful, he knows his turns, he knows what he's doing. It's more about me knowing where to put myself."

A native of New Liskeard who first got her taste of equestrianism via Slate Creek Riding Academy & Therapy Centre with Horses (SCRATCH), 24 year-old Isabelle Gauthier knows all about the challenges of trying to squeeze everything into some very busy days.

"I wanted to ride and show but also wanted to help out," said the young woman who initially arrived in Sudbury to study Zoology at Laurentian, only to discover that her heart lies in the Social Work program from which she has just recently graduated.

"I'm a very helpful person, but I also love the sport. I had to find the balance."

On this particular weekend, her days start extra early, around 5:00 a.m., though her very first task is part of the work that she really loves doing.

"My favourite part is the ring riding in the morning," said Gauthier. "I get a feel for what the horse needs, understand where they are going to spook or react more. The horse gets to see all the jumps that are set up."

That mindset first developed for Gauthier a few years back when Cathy Inch relied on her heavily, coached to ride a whole variety of horses at the barn.

"Each horse is different," said Gauthier. "You might have a lazy horse or one that is stiffer, that needs more work, or one of the hotter ones that are quicker on their feet. They need you to constantly talk to them."

"For me, I like a horse that has a bit more step to it," she added. "I like the fact that they are taking me, but only to a point. I like to give leg, a nice middle between the two."

Just 12 years old, Holly Heikkila has already developed that kind of a feel for the horse, in particular, when she sits aboard Spencer. "Spencer is one of the funnest horses I have ever ridden," noted the grade 7 student at St Benedict CSS.

"You have to have a softer feel with a supporting leg - but not a gripping feeling. You can't be kicking him to go forward."

Equally as comfortable with Garrett (now 17 years old and in their last season together) and Leroy (who she had rode for two years now and is looking to qualify for the Royal Winter Fair in the large pony division), Heikkila can describe with ease their comparitive jumping techniques.

"With Garrett and Leroy, when they jump, they kind of graze the jump; it's quite flat," she said. "With Spencer, it's like flying over a rainbow. It's really fun."

Where many an athlete has bemoaned the two years of Covid-19, Heikkila stumbled across more of a silver lining. "I honestly think Covid was a bit of a catch-up kind of thing for me," she explained.

"Cathy (Inch) usually goes to Florida, but for two years, I had her around in the winters. I used the knowledge that she gave me to work on things that she had given me when she's not there."

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