There is an excitement that is easily discernible in the voice of equestrian coach Cathy Inch, even after all of these years. And with the highlight of her summer, the Rick Smith Memorial Foothills Trillium Show, set for this coming weekend in Chelmsford, it wasn’t going to take a whole lot to ramp up her emotions.
“This weekend seems to always be the best weekend of the summer to have a horse show,” Inch stated, handling some of the final preparations Thursday evening at Foothills Farms. “The weather is usually beautiful, and it’s sort of our middle horse show, so everybody is sort of broken in and feeling pretty good about their horses and their matches and their teams.”
For the Sudbury Sports Hall of Fame coach whose name has become synonymous with the riding sport in this area, this alone is reason enough for a little giddiness. “It definitely hasn’t grown old, particularly because there are new partnerships that you want to go well, maybe more experienced riders with new horses. That part of it is exciting.”
To some extent, that dynamic will be part of the flavour of the 2017 Show. “Riding is cyclical, and at this point in time, there’s a whole new group of people breaking into the circuit,” said Inch. “There are some newly paired horses and riders. With a few shows under their belts, we really look forward to them having a good show this weekend.”
If the theme of this summer, out at Foothills, is an influx of relatively new fresh faces, few are likely more fresh than the multi-freckled vision of seven year old Holly Heikkila. Though she first started riding at the age of four, it is only over the course of the past few months that she has really fallen in love with the sport, starting to take her knowledge to a whole new level altogether.
“I’m jumping courses this summer,” Heikkila beamed with pride. “I have to learn how to keep my heels down, make sure I go on to my “two point” at the right time, and make sure I keep my rhythm.” As she readies for her first major show on her home course, the talkative youngster is radiating the confidence that comes with developing a really strong partnership with one particular horse, in this case, her pony, Garrett.
“He has a horse stride, and sometimes he’s a little spooky,” said Heikkila. “I have to make sure I don’t feel afraid, so that he won’t feel afraid.” Once her summer riding is done, the multi-sport athlete will move on to her role as a hockey goaltender, somehow finding a very creative way to link the two sports that, I suspect, are not linked all that often.
“In riding, you have to make sure that you keep your fingers closed tight on the reins, and that helps you grab the puck when you’re a goalie.” No such cross-training in the cards for the more experienced rider that is Elliot Lake native Crystal Guillet. Moving to the Sudbury region at the age of 24, she would start as a late adult student, recalling the eye-opening experience that was the move from casual western riding to the English riding of these shows.
“You have to prepare to be humbled, don’t expect to just figure this out within the first few lessons,” explained Guillet. “It requires patience, it takes a lot of hard work and consistency, and you have to listen to your coaches. For me, I have to remember not to get too down on myself.”
“Being an adult, we sometimes tend to overthink every little thing that we are doing. But this is definitely one of those activities where you continue to learn and advance.” Like Heikkila, Guillet is feeling in a very good place right now, when it comes to the connection that she has created and grown with her long-time partner in the ring.
“I bought Summer as a two and a half year old, and I was fortunate enough to bring her to Foothills and have some consistent training,” stated Guillet. “I had never had a baby horse before. This is our first year where we are actually doing quite well as a team, and our goal is to make it to provincial championships. It’s been a six year journey, but it’s been an awesome one.”
That notion of having “riding in the blood” is nothing new to fourteen year old Hannah Fera, the youngest of three girls in the family, all of whom are familiar faces to those who follow the equestrian scene in Sudbury. “Me and Caleigh ride the same, Olivia rides a little bit different,” suggested Fera.
“With Caleigh, it’s almost like we’re not quite the same rider, but we look very similar – our legs, our arms, how we move. And we’re both very short and tiny.” Fera has spent the bulk of this summer aboard “Mo” (short for Motown), a comfortable fit for the soft-spoken teenager who favours the hunter division events.
“I’m used to riding ponies, but he (Mo) has a shorter stride, so he’s pretty easy to ride,” she said. “He’s very sweet, almost like a puppy personality, but he can be a little bit moody, sometimes. Overall, he’s a really nice horse.”
In fact, the Rick Smith Show will include a number of horses that are born and bred in Northern Ontario, including a very solid contingent from the Northern Legacy Horse Farm, primary sponsor to this weekend’s derby class.
“It’s going to be our feature class,” noted Cathy Inch. “We’re going to do a derby demonstration so people understand what a hunter derby is, and have the judges commentate on what they are looking for. That’s a bit of a new flavour this summer.”
The weekend also marks the first time that Inch’s son, Jed Smith, a well respected course designer, will be putting his talent to use at the Trillium Show that honours the work of his late father. “I really like his flavour,” conceded Inch. “He’s very much like his father. Things are pretty simple and straight-forward, but a lot of fun.”
While the event will run from Friday right through until late Sunday afternoon, Inch suggested that the ideal viewing time for casual fans would likely be mid-afternoon on Saturday, with the derby event highlighting the festivities.