By Linda Hazelwood

A Forward-Moving Equestrian Community

After a “spring of surprises,” a “summer of fluctuation,” we move into a “fall of uncertainty,” and with a nod to Shakespeare, possibly a “winter of discontent.” We’re talking about COVID-19 of course, and how it has affected horse owners and competitors, and those wishing to become certified as Equestrian Canada Coaches and Officials.

For any provincial/territorial sport organization (PTSO), it’s been a difficult time, as each province opened for business on a different time scale and with different permissions. It was especially hard for the national office as it struggled to provide directives which would encompass all the changes in a timely manner.

In many provinces it was the PTSO which set the operational plans; in Manitoba, it was the Manitoba Provincial Health Officer. Manitoba Horse Council (MHC), as the PTSO for equestrians, wrote and submitted a “Return to Competition” plan¹, which was approved and subsequently applied to all equestrian activities in the province, regardless of whether it was arranged by a member club of MHC or not.

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Driver Tauni Jensen and Navigator “Rusty” Jensen take part in an equipment safety check performed by Brian Thompson and Fred Gutoski (not pictured) prior to a Manitoba Driving Society clinic. Looking on is the COVID-19 Compliance Official for the day, Jack Boughen. Photo: Linda Hazelwood

MHC’s Acting President, Geri Sweet, commented, “It’s hard enough to mount a competition at the best of times, but to be able and willing to do it when numbers are restricted is noteworthy. The organizers are unlikely to do more than break even at such competitions, there are likely less volunteers because people are leery of being in groups, but those who have stepped forward have worked even harder. At a recent competition I worked with a rider’s mother, who volunteered to spend long hours at the security gate welcoming in everyone and collecting attestations and waivers — the rider’s visiting grandmother volunteered with her! I have been impressed with the patience shown by everyone coming onto the competition sites, their understanding of the need to take precautions, and their appreciation of those organizing the competitions.”

Firstly, MHC wishes to thank all the competition organizers who have accepted the protocols for their events, and done their best to still have those events and fit them within the restrictions from the province. Secondly, a big thank you to all the volunteers at each show, whether doing gate duty, barn monitor, equipment sanitizing, etc. Competitions could not have gone on without you. And last but not least, thank you to competitors who after the first settling-down period, accepted the social distancing, the masks, sanitizers, and other restrictions placed on them. Photos from those events still show people out and about, having a great time with their horses and their friends.

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Eleven-year-old Lillian Curry competing at a Manitoba Hunter Jumper Association (MHJA) show at the Red River Ex. Lillian’s father, Andrew Curry, has been a major organizer of MHJA shows for a number of years. Photo: Margie Forbes

Manitoba’s Coaching Committee is also moving forward on a new basis, planning for revised professional training for coaches with a mixture of pre-prepared webinars, provincially-produced training videos, zoom consultations for evaluations, with just the minimum of hands-on evaluation and testing in the ring. It all takes time and a lot more work to move out of a comfort zone, but this will not be a temporary progression; it’s the way the world will be.

When all this started, most of us were thinking in terms of weeks. We now know we are thinking in months, probably years. We had no idea what it would do to our lives, but we are adapting. Being able to compete, talk to our rivals in the ring, albeit at a distance, is helping physically and mentally.
Kudos to all organizers, volunteers, participants and committee members who are making MHC and Manitoba equestrians a forward-moving community.

¹Manitoba’s COVID documents are based on those prepared by Equestrian Canada, with changes to suit provincial activities and requirements.

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Main Photo: Wendy Carnegie (on Cinco de Mayo) and nine-year-old Elsie Garn (on Ginger) completing a 25-mile Competitive Trail Ride at Sandilands Provincial Park. Credit: Darice Whyte