HORSE DAY: Beauty of the Beast
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HORSE DAY: Beauty of the Beast

This weekend is Ottawa Horse Day, an annual family event held to give people a chance to get up close with horses. It’s happening at Wesley Clover Parks on Saturday, June 6 from 11 p.m. to 4 p.m. It’s a chance to see show jumping, miniature horses, polo, breed parade, and will include food, pony rides, and a kid zone. More details, visit here. In light of this event — here, an article about the horse community in Ottawa.


This article was originally published in the May 2015 edition of
Ottawa Magazine

With stencils on his quarters, a braided mane, and boots on his legs for protection, a horse and rider wait for one of the jumping events. Photo: David Kawai

For a burgeoning capital city, Ottawa has a surprising amount of horse activity. What’s more, much of it is within city limits. In the east end, children can visit the stables of the big black beasts of the RCMP musical ride. Meanwhile, in the west, there’s the reborn Wesley Clover Parks — formerly the Nepean Equestrian Park — a large piece of agricultural land to the north of the Queensway, west of Moodie Drive. On any given weekend throughout the spring, summer, and much of the fall, you’ll find row upon row of horse trailers visiting for some form of equestrian competition.

The skill and age ranges are vast, from international show jumpers soaring over coloured fences up to 1.6 metres high and two metres wide — that’s larger than the back of a Ford F-150 pickup — to local competitions where some riders appear barely old enough to walk on their own two feet. Perhaps that’s why they choose four instead.

Screwing a stud into a horse’s shoe offers improved traction. Photo: David Kawai

In the horse world, no matter the kind of riding you’re involved with, a huge amount of time is spent preparing. It doesn’t matter whether you’re going out for a jaunt along country lanes or gearing up for a big show, your horse must be clean, in good shape, and have properly fitting equipment. At a competition, the attention to detail for preparation is magnified tenfold.

A rider and her pony — along with a young member of the support team — head for the dressage warm-up area. Photo: David Kawai

Horses must first be washed so that their coats are soft and shiny. Some riders choose to stencil designs onto their horse’s quarters by brushing the hair in different directions. (If you look closely at the RCMP horses, you’ll see a maple leaf.) Depending on the venue, manes must be braided, a time-consuming ritual that results in many small balls of hair all the way down the horse’s neck. If there’s any jumping involved, it’s safer to screw studs into the horse’s shoes. These studs are like cleats in a soccer shoe and give extra traction on slippery surfaces.

These are the details that show real commitment and care for your horse. Successful riding is all about a strong bond and profound understanding between horse and rider. The longer you spend around your horse — riding him, playing with him, grooming him, feeding him, observing him — the deeper your mutual understanding will become. Then, when you really need him to pull out the stops at a competition, he’ll do it — just for you.

A horse and rider are reflected in a pool of water as they prepare for their dressage test. This is an exercise in precision — not to mention communication between rider and horse. The horse is asked to perform a series of moves in sequence at walk, trot, and canter in front of a judge who gives scores based on a variety of criteria. Photo: David Kawai

On the English riding scene, there are many different forms of competition. Apart from dressage — the equivalent of ballet on horseback — most involve some form of jumping.

When the jumps are coloured and can be dislodged from their supports, riders are competing in the show-jumping phase of the competition. Photo: David Kawai

One form of competition, eventing, involves three different disciplines in one day: dressage, cross-country, and show-jumping. It’s a combination of finesse and fine tuning, precision jumping over coloured hurdles in an arena, and braveness and courage over fixed natural obstacles such as ditches, stone walls, and fallen trees at high speed in the countryside.

Behind every horse and rider, there is usually a support team. Happy horses need a high level of care. They need access to food and water, and they must not get too hot, cold, or wet. Some animals do not like to be left alone; others hate loud noises. Some won’t be tied up; others hate getting into a trailer. On the day of a competition, all these needs are too much for one rider all alone. That’s where the support team comes in.

Penalties are accumulated for any mistakes, such as refusing to jump, knocking a pole off, or going too slowly. Photo: David Kawai