My Royal Experience 2016

  It's that time of year again. It's when the weather gets colder, we start riding indoors and the show season comes to an end. It's also the time of the year when you can hear the whispers of excitement from equestrians in the Toronto area and beyond because they all know one thing...

Picture from:

http://www.royalfair.org/

  ...The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair is here!

  I was lucky enough to be able to visit the fair once again this year. This has been my third year and it has yet to disappoint me. There is just something so special about the Royal. If you've never been and you have the chance to be in the Toronto area in November, you should definitely go.

  All three years, I've visited on the Wednesday when the Longines FEI World Cup is the featured competition. I guess you can say that I have a soft spot for show jumping. It's great to be able to see the top end of the sport competing against each other live. Those of us who call the Toronto area our home are very lucky to have the opportunity to witness such great competition in our own backyards.

  So, we woke up early and hit the road. We arrived at the Exhibition Place just before 10. We wandered through the vendors while they were getting ready for the day and stopped whenever something caught our eye.

  We made notes of the times of the events that we wanted to visit so that we didn't miss a thing. We watched the President's Choice Superdogs and a sheep herding demonstration in the Animal Theatre ring.

Pure Horse Sense Blog- Sheep herding demo @ the royal winter fair

Picture taken by me

  Of course, we also watched many horse competitions. We enjoyed watching anything from the Clydesdale Unicorn Hitch to the McKee Family International Jumper Competition. Sadly, during the McKee competition, McLain Ward knocked down a jump which took him out of the winners' circle. This was the first time that I wasn't going to see McLain winning both the McKee and the FEI World Cup since I've been attending the Royal. This time, it was Shane Sweetnam on Cobalt that brought home first place in the afternoon competition.

Pure Horse Sense Blog- McLain Ward jumping at the royal winter fair

Picture taken by me

  Whenever we had a break between watching the demonstrations and the competitions, we were visiting the horses in the Horse Palace, petting the sheep or walking through the rows and rows of cows.

  Before we knew it, it was already 7 pm which meant it was almost time for the evening's paid events. We took out our tickets, got out hands stamped and were directed to our assigned seats. What I enjoy about the evening shows is that you don't just watch the FEI international show jumping competition, but they also showcase other competitions in the equine world too.

  They started with the Belgian Six Horse Hitch, then the Single Road Horse to Bike Championship, next was the Four in Hand Coaching Class Performance and finally the Single Harness Pony Open. All of these competitions are amazing to watch. Though I personally don't know exactly what the judge is looking for, I can appreciate the time and dedication these people have for their passion.

Pure Horse Sense Blog- Belgian Six Horse Hitch at the royal winter fair

Picture taken by me

Pure Horse Sense Blog- Four in hand coaching class at the royal winter fair

Picture taken by me

Pure Horse Sense Blog- Single Road Horse to Bike Championship at the royal winter fair

Picture taken by me

  Now along with watching these competitions, the Royal also showcases an equine performance of some sort for the evening. This year, it was a six horse polo match (USA vs Canada). As someone who has always wanted to watch and try polo, this was really exciting. Seeing these riders direct their horses with speed and precision as well as hitting a ball is no easy task. Especially when the ring is the size of a hockey rink. I will admit, it was a little crazy because the ball was flying into the audience a few times, but it was also very entertaining. You can bet that I now, more then ever, want to see a real polo match one day.

Pure Horse Sense Blog- Canada vs USA polo match at the royal winter fair

Picture taken by me

  Then came the main event. The jumps were set and the riders walked the course. We watched many of my favourite riders count their distances while they made their way around the ring. Before we knew it, the first rider, Jonathon Millar on Bonzay, was in the ring. We watched and cheered on each rider all while crossing our fingers that at least two people would go clear.

The first to go clear was Nick Skelton on Big Star. It didn't take long for us to get the second clear as the next one in the ring, Mac Cone on Gasper Van Den Doorn, did just that. So, we were guaranteed a jump-off. Now, we just didn't know how many there would be. In the end, there were five total; Kent Farrington on Creedance, Shane Sweetnam on Chaqui Z and defending champion McLain Ward on HH Azur.

Pure Horse Sense Blog- Mac Cone at the royal winter fair

Picture taken by me

  So, the jump-off track was set. The first two; Mac Cone and Nick Skelton both didn't go clear. Next in the ring was Kent Farrington. You could feel the tension in the air as the audience knew that this man knows his way around a jump-off course. With every clear jump, Farrington went faster and cut more and more corners. The audience got more and more anxious while they silently cheered him on and held their breath. He was now at the home stretch. He jumped the last oxer and the crowd cheered loudly as he landed on the ground quickly followed by a disappointed sigh as the rail fell out of its cups.

  Next in the ring was of course McLain Ward. You could tell on his face that he was confident. I'm sure his game plan had just switched to his favour. He didn't have to try and beat Kent Farrington's amazingly fast time anymore. All he had to do was stay accurate and go clear. And he did just that. Azur seemed to coast through the course with ease. Now the only one who could beat Ward was Shane Sweetnam. Unfortunately, he too knocked a pole which gave McLain Ward his first place once again.

  I won't say that I'm disappointed. It was an amazing night of show jumping with many of my favourite riders that I look up to; McLain Ward also being one of them. What I will say is that I really enjoyed watching Kent Farrington ride the way he's known for. I'll be honest, I think that if that rail would have stayed in its cups that Azur wouldn't have been able to beat Creedance's time.

Pure Horse Sense Blog | McLain Ward and HH Azur at the royal winter fair

Picture taken by me

  But that's show jumping for you. Anything can happen right down to the last second.

  I hope you enjoyed reading about my experiences at the Royal this year. If you'd like to read more about the Longines FEI World Cup's placings, winnings and order of go (or the other results of yesterday's horse competitions), you can click this link here.

  Also, FEI's YouTube channel has interviews with Mac ConeNick SkeltonMcLain Ward and Kent Farrington after the jump off. If you're interested, click on their names and it'll take you to their videos. They even show you parts of their jump-off ride.

  Until next time, happy riding!

  More Pictures:

Pure Horse Sense Blog- Belgian Six Horse Hitch at the royal winter fair

Picture taken by me

Pure Horse Sense Blog- Ian Millar at the royal winter fair

Picture taken by me

Pure Horse Sense Blog- Tiffany Foster at the royal winter fair

Picture taken by me

My Royal Experience: The Venue

  On November 12th, I had the chance to go to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair that is held annually in Toronto. If you are unaware of what this fair is, the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair (also known as the Royal Winter Fair or just simply the Royal) celebrates all things agricultural in downtown Toronto, Ontario.

Picture from:

http://idontblog.ca/free-tickets-to-the-royal-agricultural-winter-fair/

  I've always wanted to go as this fair is always publicised as being a big deal for agricultural lovers, especially horse lovers. So this year, we bought the tickets and off we went.

  The exhibition place was much larger than I expected. It was filled with vendors selling equine jewelry, custom saddles, custom boots, tack, souvenirs and so much more. There were rows and rows of little shops to visit and spend your money.

  As you walked past that section, you were then invited into food stands that will meet anyone's cravings. Whether you wanted pulled pork, funnel cake, BeaverTails, poutine or a sandwich, there was something there for you. Although many of the options weren't very healthy, they all looked delicious. I'd recommend Smoke's Poutinerie if you have never had a poutine before as it was the best one I have had since living in Ontario (and coming from someone who was brought up in Quebec, that's saying something!).

Oreo funnel cake

Picture taken by me

  Within the food section of the building, there are various food competitions going on. Some of these competitions include best vegetable or fruit, best tasting jam or cheese and best butter sculpture.

  All of these areas of the fair were great, but it wouldn't be an agricultural fair without the animals. If you could think of any farm animal, it was probably at this fair. They had chickens, geese, cows, pigs, rabbits, sheep, ducks, goats and so much more. There was even a petting zoo for the kids. Many local farms had brought their best animals to the fair to compete against other. The best part was that you could walk around and watch the owners take care of their animals. There weren't any barriers so you could easily reach out and pet each animal if you wanted to.

Picture taken by me

Picture taken by me

  We had a blast at the fair. We will definitely try to go back again next year.

  If you're wondering where the horses fit into this fair, don't worry. I'll talk about that part of the fair in the next posts. It will be too long of a blog post if I shared everything now so stay tuned!

  What I will say is that seeing the horses and the competitions were the highlight of the fair. Also, if you're a fan of FEI, then you'll also know why we decided to visit the fair on that particular day.

  That's all I am going to say for today and I hope you are all having a good week.

  Until next time, happy riding!

Don't forget to read the other posts about my experience at the Royal if you've missed them:

Part 1 - My Royal Experience: The Venue

Part 2 - My Royal Experience: The Horses

Part 3 - My Royal Experience: The Shows

How to Find a Stable

  For any of you who are wanting to ride again (like me!) or maybe you're wanting to switch barns or maybe you want to try riding for the first time, you may feel like finding a stable is a difficult task. I get that, I'm in the same boat. But as I find myself narrowing my options down, I've learnt a few things that I thought I'd share with you.

  If there's one thing I know to be true is that horse people know other horse people. I mean, you know about me and other bloggers because you share the same passion. So horse people in your area know about the stables around you and what they are like. Talking to them is the best place to start your search. Maybe they'll be able to recommend a stable that would be the best for you or they'll tell you to stay away from another. If they ride, ask them which stable they go to and how they like it there.

  If you're not sure where to find horse people, a tack shop or feed store is the perfect place to find them. Ask the employees and look at their bulletin board ads. Usually, the employees are just as passionate about riding as you are and are happy to help you out. If they aren't much help (like the situation that I went through today), don't get discouraged. Visit another store and continue to do your research.

  The internet makes things so much easier to find new places. Try typing in different keywords into search engines and see what you come up with. Google Maps is also a great option when finding a stable because then you'll be able to know just how far away it is from where you live.

  The only real problem with search engines is that some stables rely on word of mouth alone and may not have a website. So when you may not know anyone who rides or they don't recommend you places to visit, you may never know they exist. There is a way around this though. If they are a recognised stable, they will have a membership with an equestrian association. These associations will usually have a stable directory that you can use to find other stables.

  Visiting local horse shows is also a great way to discover stables. You'll also be able to see how they do in comparison to other barns and you'll be able to listen to the instructors coaching their students before they enter the ring. If you're interested in a few of the stables while at the show, it's the perfect opportunity to talk to them. Because they are in a high stress environment, you'll be able to see how they handle stressful situations and if they are proud of their company. Do they take the time to talk to you or do they just hand you a card and go about their tasks? Are they excited to talk about their barn? Obviously, don't try to talk to them as they are running from one area to another. At every horse show, there will be a break period where riders and staff can eat and just breathe for a bit. Wait for that moment before you approach them with your questions.

  I hope some of these tips were helpful for you if you are looking for a stable. I'll link another post here where I talked about different things to look for when choosing a barn. If you can think of any other ways to find a new stable, please leave them in the comments section below.

  Until next time, happy riding!

Values

  As riders, we can get caught up in the drama and gossip at our stables. We can agree or disagree with each other when it comes to horsemanship approaches. We can focus on the upcoming competitions and strive for first place. Among it all, we can lose focus on our key values and find ourselves in a place where we never thought we'd go.

  It's time to step back and assess our situation. What are your values?

  I think we can all agree that the horse's well-being is a top priority for us as riders. We put our horses first, even before ourselves. A good rider will admit that they are at fault and not blame the horse. So when you've found yourself so focused on winning (or whatever it may be) and you're using more severe bits and spurs than you thought you'd ever use, where do you go from there? Claiming that the horse has become desensitised is not the answer nor is blaming your trainer. If a horse can still feel a fly land on his stomach, he's not desensitised and a trainer cannot force you into doing something you don't want to do.

  Sometimes it's best to take it back to basics. Forget about riding complex dressage tests or challenging jump courses. Bring your tack and artificial aids back to a minimum and practice getting a response from a softer leg, seat or rein aid. It may take some time for your horse to get back to this way of riding, but it's worth it in the long run.

  Some of my other values when it comes to riding included honesty and trust. You need to be honest with yourself and your horse. Own up to your mistakes and move forward. Though this may be easier said than done, don't forget that your horse is a sensitive being. He can pick up when you're tense from refusing to admit your mistakes even when others won't. If you can't be honest and true with your horse, how can he be honest and true with you?

  This is where trust falls into place. Both you and your horse are a team. You need to trust each other and know that you can work together. As challenging as it might be, a rider cannot take full control of the task at hand. You need to be able to trust your horse enough to know that he will do what you ask of him correctly. He also has a mind of his own and if you don't believe that he's going to jump the fence in front of you, there are great chances that he won't.

  What are some of your values that you have as a rider? Write them in the comments below or make your own blog post about them. I think most riders will have similar values, but we just tend to forget about them during our day to day lives. It's important to keep them in focus though. That way, the horse will always benefit from what we are doing.

  Until next time, happy riding!

A Good Sport

  Horseback riding can be fun, but it can also be stressful. It can be challenging, especially at a show, to keep your cool. There's so much you need to do and so much on your mind that it can be overwhelming. Hopefully though, once you get in the saddle, you can block out all the stress and just enjoy the ride.

  When we enter the ring, we aim to be perfect no matter what discipline you do. We are judged against others to find the best of the group. All we can do is our best and hope that is enough.

  But what about out of the ring? Does our attitude change?

  The International Society of Equitation Science (ISES) and World Dressage Masters have developed a Code of Conduct. This code talks about the "guidelines to ensure optimal horse and rider welfare and safety at competitive events." It talks about things like stabling and safety. What I want to talk about in this post is topic number 8; Psychological Well-Being of Humans. It has three points that they believe is unacceptable behaviour:

  • Swearing or using abusive language towards others (i.e. grooms, trainers, parents, other riders, organizers, officials, etc.).

  • Any manifestation of physical or psychological violence towards others, including horses.

  • Behaviors otherwise considered threatening, abusive or offensive.

  If we are expected to reach perfection in the ring, we should be expected to be good sports out of the ring as well. I don't think it should be that hard to be kind to our competitors, trainers, grooms, horses and everyone else involved in a show. Yes tensions are high, but if you can control them in a ring, you can control them in the barn.

  I don't know about you, but winning a 1st place ribbon by cheating or being a bad sport just isn't that rewarding. It's much more rewarding to win because you worked hard to get there.

  So what do you all think of this? If you would like to read the rest of the Code of Conduct, you can read it here.

  I hope you are all doing well and that you are enjoying your weekend. Thank you for reading Pure Horse Sense.

  Until next time, happy riding!