TORONTO – For the first time since the onset of the pandemic, some 50 riders successfully kicked off their “show season” this past weekend, unhindered by the restrictions of Covid-19. Discipline, dedication and a love of horses, drive people to participate in horsemanship. Whether it’s for sport or recreation, horseback riding can offer great benefits for overall health and well-being.

Maja Kunce, and her older sister Martina, two students at Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School in Scarborough, relish the privilege of partaking in such a rewarding activity. They started at the tender ages of four and six respectively. While other students dedicated themselves to typical competitive team sports, they dedicated themselves to the Equestrian variety.

The two girls, now teenagers, started their prep work months ago getting their horse, Bear, ready for the first show of the season. Bear stands 16.1 hands (about 64” tall at the shoulders). The seven-year-old gelding can be intimidating. Yet, his calm disposition is infectious and capable of melting away any fear of being next to the gentle giant.

It is fascinating to watch the girls train Bear in the arena and work him over jumps (as high as 2’6”). His pedigree of Thoroughbred, crossed with Friesian and Clydesdale horse breeds, make him versatile for a variety of disciplines like Dressage and Show Jumping. It appears he loves the attention he gets when the girls groom him, wash him and braid his mane. A few treats at the ready also helps keep him steady.

Saturday’s show at Top of the Hill Farm in Roseneath, Ontario did not disappoint. There was no shortage of talent among the horses and riders that trailered in from the surrounding Northumberland County. The schooling shows at the family run farm offer more affordable options compared to some of the other professional and costly show circuit series. The beautiful sunny day and cool breeze were the perfect combination for both horse and rider. While every competitor has their sights set on the prized first place ribbon, it is the experience of showing up and not falling off that is a bigger part of the whole exercise.

Maja ended the day on a good note. She placed in each of her classes and took home a second-place ribbon in the Hunter Under Saddle division. It is a class in which the judge evaluates the horse’s movements and transitions from walk, to trot and canter.

There is still plenty of time for the next first place ribbon and more work ahead for both horse and rider. “I have learned some things I need to work on with Bear after this show experience”, Maja said after her event. “I like going to shows because they are fun and it allows me the opportunity to develop my skill as a rider in a different environment”.

Horseback riding is a privilege not many have the opportunity to experience. According to Equestrian Canada, an estimated 855,000 people are active in the horse industry in Canada (2010). Approximately 556,000 people live in a horse-owning household. Maja and Martina are two fortunate ladies committed to the care, discipline and responsibility it takes to care for such elegant creatures.

Although horse-life may not be all that glamourous, the girls both agree, they would rather spend their time “mucking stalls instead of going to malls”.

In the pic, Maja with Bear

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