Though separated by some fifteen years of age or so, Sabrina Day (30) and Julia Arnold (14) shared the same dream. Over the course of the next two weeks, both local riders will see that dream come true, representing Foothills Farms at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto.
Still, the events in which they are competing are every bit as diverse as the stories and backgrounds that both young ladies bring with them, as they prepare to showcase their skills, and those of their respective horses, on the biggest stage of the year.
Blessed with a family background that included multiple hobby farms within the Day family clan and the all-but-mandatory riding lessons for the pre-teens that are spread out between Chelmsford, Dowling, Azilda and other nearby locales, Sabrina was somewhat immersed in an equestrian environment in her youth.
“Eventually, I got into riding a little more, bought more horses, started on the Trillium circuit, but the Royal was never part of the vision at that point,” she explained. That leap of faith would come only when the stars aligned, not all that long ago, with Day finding exactly the right partner to accompany her on this voyage.
“About three years ago, I bought a baby horse (Extraordinary Day or Flynn, as a barn name) from Northern Legacy,” stated Day. “There is a class geared to babies, and it got me thinking about it a little bit. When my horse came on-line a little more, as we were watching him and working him, we realized that it was a possibility to try for that class, so we worked towards that goal – and here we are.”
Day can be forgiven if she believes there is a sense of destiny that has taken her from that original encounter, when her young gelding was but eight months old, to the point where she and her horse are part of the field at the Lieutenant Governor General’s Cup.
“I had always wanted a certain horse, and I had an idea of what I wanted,” she said. “When he showed up in the RPSI inspection, he had everything that I wanted. There had to be lots of chrome on the horse. He had to have white legs, he had to be a certain colour, he had to have a certain facial look to him, with markings on his face.”
“I wanted all the lineage and the good jumper and everything, but I wasn’t going to buy a horse if I didn’t like the way that he looked.” In fairness, for this particular under saddle class, which brings together three year old Canadian breds still too young to jump, judging is based largely on movement, appearance, conformation and type.
“He’s very calm and quiet,” added Day. “He has a little dorkiness to him, with just enough sass to keep me on my toes when I least expect it. We work well together.”
And while all riders tend to form a very tight bond with the horses they show most often, there is perhaps a touch of additional closeness when that connection occurs at such a young age, for the horse.
“Because I’ve had him since he was eight months old, I did a lot of ground training with him, getting him used to anything that might scare him when he is out and about,” said Day. “I’m looking forward to just having a good ride – placing, winning would be a bonus. I want my horse to have a positive experience.”
“And I’m looking forward to being there with my coach (Cathy Inch), with her and I doing this together, because we’ve worked so hard for this.”
In fact, the imprints of the Sudbury Sports Hall of Fame long-time horseman are also quite visible with Julia Arnold, the grade nine Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School student who will also be making her first appearance at the Royal early next month.
After falling just short of making the cut in the summer of 2018, Arnold and her horse, Gavin Pendragon, were not about to be denied the second time around. “About the middle of the season, I knew we had a chance,” said Arnold. “I had been really consistent, kind of staying in second or third place overall, all year.”
“It doesn’t really matter what place you make it in, as long as you make it to the Royal.”
Though Gavin is actually making his second appearance at the national event, the young rider will be taking centre stage, at this venue, for the very first time, carrying with her all of the additional emotions and thoughts that one would think would be present at the setting.
“I don’t usually get too nervous,” said Arnold. “I just have to make sure not to get into my own head, to make sure I don’t over-think things. Just do what I usually do and forget about the rest. Because it’s my first time, it’s mostly for experience. Anything above that is icing on the cake, as my mom and my coach always talk about.”
As the Royal draws near, so too does the steadfast approach that Arnold intends to utilize, focusing her attention, even as the need to find every little bit of improvement intensifies. “You have to stick with what you know,” she said. “What I know has gotten me to this point, so I should just stick with it, not really changing too much, just remember what she (Cathy) keeps teaching me, and just have fun.”
“There is always a little bit of fine-tuning, because I am still learning, always learning,” Arnold continued. “But it’s a little less now, because I am used to Gavin and he’s used to me. We’re more of a team now.”
Cathy Inch is a mainstay at the annual tradition that is the Royal.
Julia Arnold, for her part, noted that she has been before, just not in this role. “I always love seeing the big jumper classes with the really good riders, and I also love the shopping there,” she said with a laugh.
“We’ve been to the Royal, but have never been in the barns as a rider.”
It’s a dream come true, that both Sabrina Day and Julia Arnold will share, in the coming weeks, the pinnacle of uniquely different stories.