Millen, Tania Articles

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Every horse sport has unique movements which require specific footwork, balance, and training. Some movements appear similar while still being unique to their sport. For example, dressage riders bring their horse’s front end around their hind end in elevated pirouettes; ranch riders do 180-degree turns while tracking cows; and reining horses do 360-degree spins at high speeds. They’re all turning around but for different reasons and in distinct ways. What’s the purpose of these turns, when do riders use them, and how do they differ? We asked a dressage rider, a ranch horseman, and a reining judge to explain.

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From May to August, 2022, 17 adventurers aged 27 to 70, rode over 3,640 kilometres across Mongolia in 84 days as part of the Blue Wolf Totem Expedition. It was the longest charity ride in recent history and combined exploration, fundraising, and adventure.

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Pivoting for Lifelong Learning Opportunities - Riders often pursue the same horse sport for years, competing up and down the levels depending on their horse and how life unfolds. But some riders choose to change disciplines altogether — by choice, necessity, or because their horses want to do something different. It’s something riders at all ages and life stages may experience but the learning curve for a new sport can be steep. We interviewed three riders who are embracing new-to-them horse sports and meeting the challenges that brings.

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Grooming is an enjoyable way to bond with your horse, and most horses love to be fussed over, but cleaning a male horse’s sheath is an unpleasant chore that owners and riders tend to avoid. From potentially being kicked, to lack of knowledge or squeamishness, those with geldings and stallions often shirk the task altogether. However, veterinarians agree that cleaning and inspecting a horse’s sheath is a necessary and regular part of maintaining their health.

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Queen Elizabeth II passed away on September 8, 2022 having been the longest serving monarch in British history. In the short time since, much has changed. Her son, Prince Charles, has become King Charles III. Canada’s Royal Anthem is now God Save the King. Eventually, the King may replace the Queen’s visage on Canadian coins. But for the horse world, the Queen’s unceasing passion for horses will remain a lasting legacy.

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Contact with a horse’s mouth via the bit is a generally accepted principle when riding or driving. But a horse’s mouth is incredibly sensitive and many riders around the world are successfully guiding their steeds without bits. Where did the idea of contact come from, what is it, and do riders really need contact with a horse’s mouth to convince their horse to perform?

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Dressage is far more challenging than you think it is. On September 23, 2022, the Canadian Eventing Development Foundation hosted a one-day dressage symposium with Peter Gray at Alborak Stable, west of Calgary, Alberta.

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This complex memoir recounts Johnston’s internal tussles and deep reflection on finding meaning in the latter part of life. After splitting with her long-term partner, leaving her job of 16 years, and losing family relevance, Johnston — a 60-year-old woman from Vancouver Island, BC — goes to Africa on horseback safari. Her writing invites readers to question their limiting beliefs and internal barriers while navigating life’s challenges and opportunities. Nuanced storytelling and Johnston’s willingness to share her raw feelings while hoping for “an opening in the dark forest” of her life drew me in.

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Fundamental Communications for Training, Riding, and Caring for Your Horse - “A willing servant is still a servant,” says Sharon Wilsie in her introduction to Essential Horse Speak. It’s the premise which started Wilsie’s lifelong journey of understanding how horses communicate. She explains what she’s learned to date in her new book, Essential Horse Speak.

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By Vivien Gorham

Nimbus Publishing Limited, 2022; Fiction; ISBN: 9781774710654; 296 pages; paperback. 

Reviewed by Sage Millen 

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Are you a midlife novice horsewoman wondering about the ins and outs of having a horse? If so, this book can help. It’s clearly designed to answer questions for women who are finally living their dreams of riding or owning a horse — whether they’re new to the horse world or returning after a long absence.

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There are no shortcuts - “Riding is like digging a swimming pool with a spoon,” says John Madden. “It’s really hard work and takes a long time.” On July 6, 2022, the Canadian Sport Horse Association (CSHA) hosted The Madden Method Symposium at Eventyre Farms, southwest of Calgary, Alberta. “This was a one-off event,” says Marie MacAuley, the symposium chair. “It will never happen again.”

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Representing Canada at the Olympic Games is the Holy Grail for many riders, but not every rider has the good fortune to get there. Those who represent Canada at the Games all have very different stories about how they qualified, the experiences they had, and the exceptional horses they were fortunate to ride. Canada’s top-placed three-day event riders from the 1976 through 2008 Olympic Games have had many years to reflect on their Olympic experiences and fortunately, five of those determined men and women were happy to share some of their life lessons, anecdotes, and wisdom with those who want to follow in their hoofprints. These are their stories.

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An Explainer - “In sport horses, we see a lot of injuries,” says Dr. Sarah Malenchak, who owns Westhills Equine Veterinary Services in Stony Plain, Alberta. “But we want the horses feeling as good as possible as soon as possible so they can go back into work. Plus, we want them to heal properly, so they don’t reinjure themselves,” she says.

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Working and Playing Together - Operating family farms and ranches can be challenging, but according to these three Canadian families, there are plenty of benefits, too.

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Most horses aren’t simply pasture pets — they provide some sort of active service to their owners. But many horses are not totally sound, and most horse sports don’t allow lame horses to compete. Lameness generally means a horse is in pain; hence, it’s not acceptable to ride lame horses. So, what can owners and riders do? Gerard Laverty says many horses that are less than 100 percent sound are living comfortable lives as “serviceably sound” partners. “It’s most horses that have saddles on,” he says. Laverty teaches the farrier science program at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, British Columbia and has his own farrier business.

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The 21st Century Rider - Many Canadian riders are throwing their leg over horses well beyond the age when others are pursuing more sedentary activities. For example, about 19 percent of Alberta Equestrian Federation members were over the age of 56 from 2015 to 2018. In British Columbia, approximately 19 percent of active Horse Council BC members were over age 60 in 2018. Meanwhile, in Quebec last year, about 12 percent of Cheval Quebec members were age 60 and over. Nationally, approximately 22 percent of Equestrian Canada sport licence holders were older than 50 in 2018, and 10 percent were older than 60.

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Polocrosse players in Alberta and Saskatchewan are gearing up for a full season of competition in 2022. “We’ve got an active group here. Last weekend, we had 10 people playing 10 horses,” says Gayle Smith, the secretary of Bridge City Polocrosse Association (BCPA) near Saskatoon. She says there are also eight kids learning the game and “they’re really doing well with their little cow horses.”

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Twenty years ago, the Oregon Horse Center in Eugene, Oregon held an indoor trail competition using log obstacles, water ponds, and dirt embankments to transform their arena into mountain trails. That event was the beginning of competitive mountain trail, where neatly dressed riders navigate an untimed, subjectively-judged course of obstacles typically found on wilderness mountain trails. In Canada, two organizations promote the sport — International Mountain Trail Challenge Association (IMTCA) Canada and the British Columbia Mountain Trail Association (BCMTA)— and each has their own rules, judging criteria, and obstacles.

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Satisfying the horse-specific needs of stallions is imperative for their mental and physical health. However, it can be challenging to provide living arrangements where stallions aren’t just surviving — but thriving. Kelly Brook Allen is one stallion owner who is adamant about her horse’s welfare. “He gets to live a normal life,” she says. Allen owns Canoa Farms in Merritt, British Columbia with her husband, Ron Stolp.

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