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Memories forged at Foothills Farms

"The Rick Smith Memorial Show is kind of what Foothills has always been about," noted long-time North Bay/New Liskeard rider Mary Jackson in the days leading in to the Trillium equestrian competition that was hosted in Chelmsford over the weekend.

"It's about community, everybody wanting to see each other succeed, and old friends coming home for the event," Jackson continued. "When you come back, there's always a handful of people that maybe you haven't seen for three to five years. You really get to reconnect with old friends."

That sense of friendship within the equestrian community, most notably in Northern Ontario, was evident across the Foothills Farms facility last week, as riders from various corners of the province took part in a week-long riding camp that provides a wonderful lead-in to the weekend competition.

Eighteen year old Evelynn Hoffman of Long Lac (northwestern Ontario) captures that spirit well. First introduced to the horses on her twelfth birthday, when she decided to forego a traditional birthday party in favour of riding lessons, Hoffman is now a mainstay at Foothills.

A summer camp participant for the past eight years, Hoffman has worked the camp for the past two, combining some academic pursuits that are more convenient in Sudbury than in her hometown, with the opportunity to now work on site.

Spending the summer residing with Foothills' owner Dave Scott and family, Hoffman recalls easily her earliest memories of the sport that is now her passion. "When you're a little girl, it seems you always want a pony, you always want to ride," stated the teen, who begins her post-secondary studies at Laurentian in the fall.

"It was kind of what I expected. You start by learning how to tack up the horse, the briddle, the saddle. Then you learn how to get your balance, walking with the horse, and then the trot, then posting up, where you stand up and sit down so that you're not bouncing around like a rag doll."

Improvement would be gradual. Very gradual. "Three or four years ago, we could not even get over a pole," said Hoffman. "She (her pony) wouldn't go over it, and I couldn't make her go over it. Now, I can get her to jump a full course, and we've moved up to jump higher."

Little Current native Bronwyn Cooper is also well beyond the basics, having ridden for half of her sixteen years of age. "I think I just like the improvement you can make," she said. "I like the competition. I like everything about it."

In her mind, it is less about the need to focus on just one particular area, and moreso the sum of all parts. "The hardest part is putting everything together," said Cooper. "You want to keep your body still, you want to keep your horse moving - there's just so many things."

"And you want to make it look seamless," she continued. "You want to do all of this stuff, but not make it look like you're doing anything at all." A twelve year old native of Coldwater, Madison Rynard has returned for a second summer at the camp, even if she can't pinpoint an exact purpose for her visit.

"I just do the camp for fun," said Rynard. "I really don't have a reason to come to the camp." That said, she knows that there is still plenty of work to be done, as she competes this summer with a pony that her older sister initially grew out of a few years back.

"He's a better pony now than when he left," noted Rynard. "But I have to work on making sure I get the lines, because my horse (Dash) can be lazy. I have to make sure the number of strides between the jumps is right, or I can be in trouble."

For Jackson, chatter such as this brings back distant memories. A lifelong rider, she first learned in a western setting, before changing her mind more than two decades ago. "I went to a clinic that Cathy (Inch) was teaching back in my early twenties," said Jackson.

"I really liked her way of teaching. I was hooked." From there, it was merely a matter of transitioning to the style changes required for English riding. "There are some technical differences between the two disciplines, things that sort of get engrained in you and become hard habits to break."

"There are some things about western that interfere about what I am trying to do to jump. But it certainly can be done." Enjoying a very strong season back in the summer of 2013, capped with a solid showing at the Trillium Provincials that year, Jackson has scaled back her involvement, just a touch.

"Right now, I'm taking a couple of easier years," she said. "I ride predominantly in the hunter ring. It's kind of the slow and easy part of jumping. It's all about consistent rhythm and steady pace, and nice fluid rounds. But we don't have to jump as high, and we don't go as fast."

And in the end, the memories she cherishes most are those which come part and parcel of a tight-knit equestrian community. "Some of my happiest moments in riding have actually come through the success of my friends, seeing them start with a young, inexperienced horse, and bringing it to reach its full potential."

The kind of memories that are often forged at the Rick Smith Memorial Show, every July, at Foothills Farms.

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