One of these things is not like the others.
True, the Rick Smith Memorial Horse Show at Foothills Farm is but one of several stops on the Trillium Equestrian Circuit in Northern Ontario. Yet, spend a day or two on site, and it’s clear there is something of a different feeling in the air.
Perhaps it lies in the fact that the Show provides an annual opportunity to celebrate the life of Smith, the long-time local horseman, largely responsible for the facility that is Foothills, who passed away in January of 2008.
But there is also a special feeling that surrounds any chance riders and breeders from across Northern Ontario have to gather in support of their love of show jumping, and the animals who make it all possible.
“You feel it in the people,” noted Camille Bortolotto, who along with “Holly”, her horse of the past ten years, have been among the many mainstays of the event. “They come and celebrate Rick’s life, obviously.”
“But then there is the fun. We have all of these extra divisions, and it gets everyone excited about riding. We do our divisions for points, and to get to championships, and to get our horses experience, but you get to go into these extra divisions, and just have fun.”
Like most on the grounds of Foothills this past weekend, Bortolotto acknowledged a lifelong love of horses. “I came out of the womb and asked for a horse,” she laughed. “My dad got me into golf, soccer, hockey - I cried when he put hockey equipment on me.”
Starting lessons at the age of nine, Bortolotto was rewarded at 16, beginning a parallel voyage with horse and rider that she is sure never to forget. “She (Holly) was young when I got her, and I was so inexperienced. I had a lot of good coaching. It took me a while to get to where I am. Now, I am so much more in synch with her, we have such a bond.”
Yet it is not just the riders who are acclimatized to the “specialness” of the Rick Smith Memorial. Owner of the Northern Legacy Horse Farm in Whitefish, Katriina Ruotsalo has come an awfully long way, as well, since first following through on her childhood dream of owning a horse.
“My husband got me a little quarter horse,” Ruotsalo recalled. “He was fifteen hands at most, and I was terrified to ride him. Cantering was the most terrifying thing ever. Long story short, I ended up here at Foothills, and Cathy (Inch) threw me on a horse, and I started riding English.”
“Ten years later, I now have fifty horses, and we are doing a lot of breeding and showing.” Though her realm in the equestrian world is vastly different than Bortolotto, Ruotsalo shares the same appreciation for the mid-July tradition out on the back hills of Chelmsford.
“Basically, I’m bringing a lot of babies here this year,” said Ruotsalo. “I’m bringing a lot of horses that have never been to a horse show before. The Trillium Shows allow me to bring babies to a show that is comfortable, convenient, where there are friendly people, and the grounds are friendly, so it’s not overwhelming to the horse.”
“It allows people to see them, and then perhaps look at purchasing locally, instead of importing from Europe.” In terms of horses, or more specifically those which accompanied Ruotsalo and some of her riders on the weekend, “babies” are generally four year olds. And with any luck at all, they will be four year olds who will make a good impression.
“The first thing that always attracts people is the look of the horse,” said Ruotsalo. “People like pretty horses. Then, you’re looking for a good-minded horse, meaning it’s safe, especially if you’re buying for a child or an amateur rider. You want a horse that is not going to be spooky.”
Having accompanied Inch on a number of equestrian related jaunts over the past decade, Ruotsalo is thankful for the words of wisdom that have been shared by the ultra-accomplished local rider and teacher, inducted into the Sudbury Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.
“She always reminds me just to enjoy it,” said Ruotsalo. “If you’re not enjoying it, don’t do it. At the end of the day, be happy with what you did, and what your horse did. When everyone here is together, it’s about having fun, it’s about camaraderie.”
Comments like that are music to the ears of Chelmsford elementary school teacher Kari Bradley. As much as anyone, Bradley has been at the side of Cathy Inch, either as a rider, teacher, or event organizer, for most of her life. “I’ve been at Foothills since probably 1982, when I was eight years old,” said Bradley.
And while there are several aspects that she looks forward to, Bradley has developed a natural affinity to a calling that would seem second hand. “It’s taken a few years to really enjoy the teaching, which is funny because I’m a teacher by trade,” she said with a smile.
“I am not good with beginners, I find it really stressful. I’m scared people are going to fall off. It’s great when people do really well, and earn great ribbons, but if they suddenly work a horse where they are actually doing things properly, or have progressed up three inches in height, I like that a lot.”
It sounds like Bradley has absorbed, all too well, the teachings of Inch. The respect is evident in every word that she shares of the local woman, who along with her late husband for whom the event is named, became the cornerstone around which the local equestrian circuit could grow.
“I think it’s probably the same for every sport, and Cathy is great at instilling this, but it’s all about the basics,” said Bradley. “It’s about the foundation of proper riding – proper positioning, proper communication with the horse. The stronger they are in the saddle, the better.”
“She (Inch) is constantly improving, whether she’s attending clinics, or at other horse shows, learning from other pros,” added Bradley. “And when she is looking for the proper horse for her students, she is looking for a horse that they can really progress on.”
“It might not be the perfect match right away, and it might be a lot of work for the student, but she wants the students putting in an effort, being committed. We’re very, very lucky to have her” - and lucky to share the memory of her long time companion on the weekend of the Rick Smith Memorial.