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A Royal send-off to a perfect pony - rider partnership
2020-02-04

The Julia Arnold / Gavin Pendragon partnership is over - but what a ride it has been.

Since taking to various equestrian circuits with the horse the family acquired a little over a year ago, the talented 14 year-old Foothills Farms rider has climbed a steady stream of success, one that was punctuated by a first ever appearance at the Royal Winter Fair in November.

But Arnold did not just "make an appearance", so to speak. The grade nine student at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School earned placings of 5th, 8th, 6th and 3rd in a field of 19 competitors over the course of just a few days.

Despite facing the pressure and elements that render the Royal such a unique and exacting experience, Arnold would display the poise and composure of riders who routinely compete at the gathering of the country's top horsemen, hosted annually on the ground of the CNE in Toronto.

Around the same time, she and Pendragon would also celebrate a successful season on the Trillium "A" circuit, finishing second overall in their grouping. In summary, 2019 was a year that exceeded expectations, for both horse and rider alike.

"I was just really happy that we had three really good trips (at the Royal), that I laid down the best trips that I could," said Arnold over the Christmas break. "That was kind of my main goal."

The good and bad of this scenario is that it leads to a logical path of progression, and the necessary parting of the ways. "I would have loved to stay on Gavin again, but I only have a limited number of junior years, so we wanted to use them wisely," she explained.

"The idea was to get me through children's as soon as possible, so that once I move up from children's, that I have the rest of my junior years to do juniors hunters - and equitation and stuff like that."

In terms of the purchase of a new horse, Arnold admits to having only partial input. "I get involved a little," she said with a smile. "I give them my opinion, because I'm obviously the one who is riding it. (Coach) Cathy (Inch) has a lot of experience, so she will look for a horse that would be good for me for learning, because this will be my first horse." (Gavin Pendragon was considered a "pony" within the world of equestrianism)

"I like flashy horses that have markings on their face, markings on their legs, and I also look for their movements, how they jump and move," said Arnold. "And their personality too. You want to find out all of this before you go and try them, just so there's no surprises when you try them."

When it comes to acquiring just the right horse, it makes sense to take your time - just not too much time.

"Obviously, I would like a horse as soon as possible, but my main thing is that show season starts in April and May, so I want it a little bit before then, because you need to try them and stuff."

"At first, you just want to bond with the horse. Everything just comes a little easier once you get to know your horse. A lot of the bonding occurs when you're on the ground, brushing the horse, taking care of it, a lot of those things."

All of which does not even factor in the fact that Arnold will be moving on to a notably larger ride this summer, a transition ripe with its own set of challenges. "It's just a big learning curve to get off a pony and jump up to a horse," Arnold acknowledged.

"There's a bunch of things that you have to perfect. I think my goal for next summer would be just to be a better rider myself, to adjust well to having a horse. I would like to do more equitation divisions too, learning to ride more like that."

"There's always room for improvement."

Over time, Arnold has garnered a much greater appreciation for self-evaluation, diving deeper into the strengths and weaknesses that she possesses.

"Cathy always tells me that I have good eyes, that I can see distances well and stuff," she said. "When a jump is coming up, this allows you to have a better feel for when the horse is going to leave, ideally at a good distance."

"She will also always tell me that I am really left-handed," Arnold added, with a laugh. "I don't even realize it - and I don't understand it, because I am right-handed. But apparently, I am stronger with my left hand, when I ride."

"I hang on my left rein a little more than I should."

Still, as she looks ahead, the latest in a long string of very successful riders produced by coach Inch and the folks at Foothills Farms can do so blessed with the memories of a very special inaugural journey to Royal Winter Fair - 2019.

"On my last trip, they announced my score and it was like an 83 or something," said Arnold. "Then they said (on the P.A. system) that we have a new class leader, and it's on the big jumbotron. I just grabbed Gavin - I was so happy."

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