When it comes to trying to get a handle on the lay of the land within the various local equestrian circuits, there are a lot worse places that one could start than with Sudbury Hall of Famer, Cathy Inch.
While there is no denying her long-time affiliation with the Foothills Farms crew in Chelmsford, the former owner of the facility also promotes, almost non-stop, equestrianism, in general. It was certainly no surprise to find her among the supporters of Sudbury harness racing legend Mike Noble earlier this month, as he joined Inch in the exclusive club, part of the HOF Class of 2018.
At an introductory level of riding, Inch points to the NEC (Northern Equestrian Circuit) as the very starting point for athletes who may ultimately move on to earning a berth at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto. “It's basically a bunch of different levels that are offered, right up from just above beginner level,” said Inch.
“They have walk trot, they have a little cross-rail jumping class, and lots of other things. A lot of the barns use the NEC to introduce people into a circuit. For some people, it's their main circuit. It's nice for the kids to get a feel for travel, but not too far. They can sleep in their own bed at night, so it's not crazy expensive.”
While it's obviously a tad unfair to generalize when it comes to rider progression, Inch suggested that youngsters who begin taking lessons in the fall should be ready to handle their first competition by the following summer. And with it, all of the additional independence that is required and, hopefully, enjoyed.
“When you ride in a group riding lesson, there's five or six horses in there with you,” she said. “Now, if it's an over fences, a jumping class, they have to enter the ring by themselves, without an instructor yelling every bit of details to them. They have coaches that will help, but that's before they go in and when they come out. It's like their solo flight.”
Certainly, every effort is made to provide a relative context to the riding neophytes. “The results, at this level, are not as important as learning about the sportsmanship, and generally feeling good about the job they have done,” suggested Inch. During the summer of 2018, the NEC will feature a grand total of six shows, two each at Trevella Stables (Hanmer), Foothills Farms and Hillsview Stables (Lively).
There are still four shows remaining, but here are the champions and reserve champions from the event hosted back on June 9th at Trevella:Beginner Division
Champion - Emilie Riddle (Gizmo)
Reserve Chgampion - Lily Grynspan (Garrett)
Intermediate Hunter Division
Champion - Meagan Thomas (Rio's Arabella)
Reserve Champion - Mickayla Riddle (Studly)
Open Hunter Division
Champion - Michaela Smet (Expo 67)
Champion - Allie Ellis (Messin with the Kid)
Reserve Champion - Molly Zinck (Made You Look)
Modified High Hunter Division
Champion - Laurie Drabick (Cha/Ching)
Reserve Champion - Stephanie Theriault (Grand Saluut)
Modified Low Hunter Division
Champion - Alexa Rannelli (A Touch of Class)
Reserve Champion - Mikayla Montini (Fly With Me)
Novice Hunter Division
Champion - Jini Vander Westhuisen (Cassie)
Reserve Champion - Veronica Mongeon (Cole)
There is a temptation to think that the Trillium Hunter Jumper Association grouping, with shows now ranging out to Powassan, Whitefish (Northern Legacy) and Palgrave, is the natural progressive step, up the ladder, for riders who conquer the NEC. Not that simple, explained Inch.
“The one thing people have to understand is that the NEC circuit, the Trillium circuit and the “A” (national) circuit all have the ability to offer a little something for everyone.” In fact, there are beginner classes that are in play, even for “A” circuit events. The difference, in many cases, simply comes down to the dollars a family wishes to commit to exposing their young rider to competitions which include increasingly larger fields of elite riders, even if they need not go head to head against these folks.
In general, it would be fair to suggest that equestrian enthusiasts view the three circuits as providing a minor to major leagues ascension when it comes to their sport. “For the most part, the Trillium circuit is when the kids have had a year or a season of NEC under their belt, and they feel ready to move on,” stated Inch.
There are seven shows, running from the beginning of June through Labour Day weekend, with athletes vying for one of the seven spots up for grabs, in each division, that will qualify them for the Trillium Championships at Palgrave. “If you're going to commit to it (the Trillium circuit), you really would like to hope to get a spot to go to championships,” said Inch.
With two events in the books, following is the listing of the riders who have claimed champion status either at the Trevella or Eastwood Trillium Shows:0.9m Jumper Division
Trevella - Alicia Groom (Harrington)
Eastwood - Shauna Gauthier (Midnight Mickey)
1m Jumper Division
Trevella - Laurie Drabick (Uptown Girl)
Eastwood - Laurie Drabick (Uptown Girl)
Developmental Hi/Low Hunter Division
Trevella - Cathy Inch (Enspire)
Eastwood - Cathy Inch (Enspire)
Low Hunter Division
Trevella - Christine Kinsella (Gamekeeper)
Eastwood - Cathy Inch (NOrthern Lights)
Trillium Hunter Division
Trevella - Cathy Inch (Berde)
Eastwood - Cathy Inch (Diamante)
Adult Hunter Division
Trevella - Paige Leclerc (Que Sera)
Eastwood - Camille Bortolotto (Chauffeur)
Trevella - Bronwyn Cooper (Northern Lights)
Eastwood - Miranda Boudreau (Diamante)
Pre Baby Green Hunter Division
Trevella - Bronwyn Cooper (Northern Lights)
Eastwood - Katriina Ruotsalo (Elusive)
Short Stirrup Division
Trevella - Ella Palladino (Sugarbrook Blue Print)
Eastwood - Kadence McCartney (As You Wish)
Pony Hunter Division
Trevella - Julia Arnold (Mackay's Wine N' Dine)
Eastwood - Mercedes Shulman (Halloween Charm)
Child/Adult 2'6 Hunter Division
Trevella - Crystal Guillet (Rio's Summer Rain)
Eastwood - Crystal Guillet (Rio's Summer Rain)
Modified Child/Adult Hunter Division
Trevella - Katriina Ruotsalo (Northern Lights)
Eastwood - Jamie Moussa (Dressed to Impress)
Trevella - Anyk Mainville (Gamekeeper)
Eastwood - Anyk Mainville (Gamekeeper)
When it comes to the “A” circuit and the Royal Winter Fair, Inch is nothing if not realistic. “Here's the biggest problem with equestrian show jumping, at that level – it's hugely expensive,” she said. “We have had some very talented riders at Foothills, with some very very realistic and smart parents. Olympic aspirations are few and far between. Canada is a very difficult country to succeed in equestrian sports.”
Still, there are those athletes who conjure up images of talent well beyond the norm. Kari Bradley (“unbelievable talent and guts – went to Royal Winter Fair three years in a row on a mare that nobody else could have taken there”), Leah Blanchette (“cool as a cucumber...amazing focus”), Paige Leclerc (“beautiful attitude, wonderful to people, but inside, she had one desire, and that is to win”) and Sarah Russell (“incredibly focused and smart”) are but a glimpse of those blessed with clear riding acumen.
At one time, however, they were all beginners, sharing the same dreams, the hopes and aspirations that are prevalent even in this very next wave of Ian Miller hopefuls. “There's some nice, young up and coming riders right now,” said Inch. “It takes a really good attitude, and a lot of brains. When they do what they are asked, and they begin to feel what is going on underneath them, then it all comes together.”