CALEDON, Ontario – Olympic rider Ian Millar has faced tough challenges over some of the most difficult show jumping courses in the world, but nothing like the feats he performed Thursday night at Equi-Challenge.
He had to swing a mallet in a fast-paced game of polo, climb aboard a western barrel racing horse and then perform an impromptu musical “ballet on horseback” during a dressage competition.
‘Captain Canada’ was among the equestrian leaders and legends who “changed reins” at Iron Horse Farm to delight a sold-out crowd at the inaugural Equi-Challenge, a fundraiser to benefit the Ontario Veterinary College’s new Equine Sports Medicine and Reproduction Centre at the University of Guelph.
The unusual and entertaining riding competition also included racing legend Sandy Hawley, Queen’s Plate winner Emma Jayne Wilson, star standardbred driver Jody Jamieson, Olympic dressage rider Jackie Brooks, and Pan Am eventing silver medalist Waylon Roberts. The roster of show jumping and dressage riders, eventers, pole benders, barrel racers and polo players were required to participate in riding disciplines other than their own in the innovative team competition.
The first-ever event of its kind in Canada was a resounding hit, with spectators cheering on their favourites from the ringside VIP tent. The opening ceremonies featured a representation of a variety of horse disciplines and breeds, including field hunters, Arabians, Lusitanos, Lipizzans, Icelandic ponies, Gypsy Vanners, driving ponies and an adorable miniature horse.
“What a fantastic event – I hope it will be great success for the University,” said Millar. “It should become an annual event and I’d love be part of it for a long time.”
Millar, who had not played polo or ridden a dressage ‘kur’ before admitted he had barrel raced once before in Las Vegas. He and Waylon Roberts had one of the most hotly contested match-ups of the night, careening around the barrels at blinding speed.
“That was the scariest thing I’ve ever done,” said Roberts, whose usual job is galloping horses at high rates of speed around formidable cross country obstacles.
Thoroughbred racing great Sandy Hawley demonstrated why he’s known for his sense of sportsmanship. “I’m going to be sore in the morning, but it was a lot of fun for a great cause. Many, many years ago, I did a little bit of show jumping and did a couple of hunts, but that was 30 years ago. If they’ll ask me again, I’ll be back. I’ll get some more practice and next year I’ll be better.”
Practice or not, Hawley was a member of the winning Dutch Masters Construction Services’ team which also included show jumping rider Yann Candele, dressage Olympian Jackie Brooks, barrel racer Stephanie Leyzac and polo player Elizabeth Hearn.
Candele, the night’s leading rider, illustrated why his nickname, the “Flying Frenchman” is well earned, as he played polo, blazed around barrels and executed a dressage kur with gusto.
Emma Jayne Wilson, the first female jockey to win the Queen’s Plate, put in a very respectable show jumping round (she started her riding career on hunters and jumpers) and drew laughs by riding her dressage test with jockey-style short stirrups.
“The turnout is magnificent and the organizers have put on something that is so unique. It’s impressive,” she said. “I may be riding racehorses and somebody else may be doing dressage, but they’re all horses. It gives me goose bumps to think we can get all the different facets of the industry coming together for one thing, that’s the horse; that we can come together and celebrate.”
Funds raised from the evening will go to the new OVC Equine Sports Medicine and Reproduction Centre, a specialized facility for equine athletes, offering direct access to top specialists in the field, advanced lameness evaluation and state-of-the art diagnostic equipment. The reproduction facility will offer sophisticated reproductive services such as fertility evaluation, semen freezing, artificial insemination and embryo transfer.
Photographs of the event are available upon request
Liz Shaughnessy & Associates