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Shuswap, North Okanagan equestrians compete for Canada in international competition

Riders from Salmon Arm, Vernon selected for Pony Club International Virtual Dressage competition
Katie Thielman from Salmon Arm and her horse Rose took part in the 2022 BC Games in Prince George in July, bringing home four gold medals and a bronze for show jumping. (Photo contributed)

While the name “Pony Club” might sound a bit like a child’s play group, the name is misleading.

The Canadian Pony Club is a member of the Pony Club International Alliance, which provides international training, competition and connections for equestrians like Salmon Arm’s Katie Thielman and Vernon’s Ellie Rayner.

Both riders, members of the Vernon Pony Club, are currently competing as part of the Canadian team in the Pony Club International Virtual Dressage competition.

(Despite the descriptor ‘pony,’ the clubs include horses of all heights.)

Katie, 18, and Ellie, 15, are each competing on one of five teams representing Canada. Riders selected each submit a competition video featuring them doing a designated dressage test. Although some competitions include show jumping or cross-country jumping, this one is dressage only.

Katie spread the word about the virtual competition to encourage younger riders to take part.

“It’s the magic of what can be done on a smart phone,” she smiled, noting the alliance does a great job of getting riders in distant pony clubs together in any way possible.

“We all love horses and competing at a high level – it’s nice to compete with people with the same goal and seeing what each different country’s standard is.”

Because it’s difficult for young riders who may not have the experience or the funds to compete internationally, the alliance has created an opportunity with the virtual dressage competition for them to see how they stack up.

Katie, as well as two other riders from the Shuswap, recently participated in an actual in-person Pony Club competition and trip in New Zealand.

Read more: Three Shuswap equestrians selected for Canadian Pony Club team off to New Zealand

Katie, Jessica Spoletini from Salmon Arm and Carlie Wells from Chase teamed up as members of the Canadian Team participating in the 2023 International Pacific Exchange.

Katie bubbles with enthusiasm as she describes her three weeks in New Zealand in January, which were preceded by a stop in Vancouver for a short training and team-building camp with their coach.

Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand took part. Highlights included scrambling up the teams for the introductory competition, so everyone got to know each other quickly.

“It was so much fun!” Katie said, emphasizing what a refreshing outlook the trip provided.

“It was amazing – such an awesome opportunity to be able to go there and see a different Pony Cub culture – it’s a lot bigger in New Zealand than here… It was inspiring to see a larger scale.”

Katie said the teams did a lot of touring, two or three destinations each day, covering the whole South Island from top to bottom. There they met other riders, business owners and horse owners. They helped out at horse shows.

“We had dinners with the owners, we toured all over the place and people were so happy to meet us.”

They went swimming a lot, went hiking for a day on Aoraki/Mount Cook, went on a boat tour of glaciers. They went to the race track where they saw Mick Schumacher’s car and a Delorean car all decked out like Back to the Future.

“A different type of horse power, we were calling it,” she smiled.

Throughout the trip the teams toured on the same bus, stayed at the same Airbnbs and got to know each other well – everyone got along.

“It was just so cool to meet everyone. By the end of the trip, it was really hard to say goodbye to everyone,” Katie said.

Read more: Shuswap athletes excel in 2022 BC Summer Games in Prince George

Back to the International Virtual Dressage competition, Vernon’s Ellie Rayner is thrilled to be participating.

She said she started going in horse shows just before Covid, so she hasn’t done many – four jumping and one dressage.

“I’m very excited for it. Even though it’s online, it’s a bigger deal to me, because it is international,” Ellie remarked.

Ellie has had a few problems with horses, so she’s pleased to be able to borrow an experienced mare for the international competition.

“She’s very good,” Ellie said happily.

Ellie’s mom Carla Rayner said they’re very grateful for Katie and her family.

“Katie has been a bit of a mentor for Ellie; she knows the ins and outs of Pony Club. Our family doesn’t have a horse background,” Carla said, expressing her family’s gratitude at having a supportive team like the Thielman family to help them.

Carla also extols the virtues of Pony Club.

“I think it’s important for people to know it’s a well-respected international association…

“When people know you have a Level A in Pony Club, you can travel and work anywhere in the world in a specialized industry. It’s very cool for kids to get these opportunities in an industry that’s kind of a rich person’s sport.”

Katie agrees Pony Club has a lot to offer.

“So many good resources. I support the local Pony Club as much as I can.”

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Ellie Rayner from Vernon practises in preparation for recording a video for a dressage test she was submitting to the Pony Club International Virtual Dressage competition to be judged in June 2023. (Photo contributed)

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Martha Wickett

About the Author: Martha Wickett

came to Salmon Arm in May of 2004 to work at the Observer. I was looking for a change from the hustle and bustle of the Lower Mainland, where I had spent more than a decade working in community newspapers.
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