The day is overcast yet bright. It gives a light that makes me squint my eyes and regret not bringing my sunglasses.
My boots hit the dirt of the KTRA grounds. All is quiet. Horses calmly munch on hay in the field.
I follow a loud, clear voice to the main arena. A small gathering of volunteers and trainers sit at the arena's edge on white, plastic chairs, coffees steaming beside them, completely engrossed in the lesson taking place.
No one takes notice as I find a seat on the concrete wheelchair ramp.
I set down my own cup of Joe and take out my notebook, feeling the coldness of the concrete beneath me. Cool spring breezes pull at my hair.
The comforting smells of horses, manure, and hay fill my nose, relaxing me.
Closing my eyes, I tune into the sounds around the arena: the ticking of last year's brown, crumpled leaves, still clinging to the surrounding aspen, the rhythmic clumping of horse's hooves, jingling stirrups, squawking crows. Horses in the nearby stable stamp their feet impatiently.
A strong voice with a British accent cuts crisply across the arena. I open my eyes to see a lady dressed in a baby blue, knit sweater. She is instructing two riders as they guide their horses around the ring. The riders are listening intently, sitting with perfect posture. Dust puffs up around trotting hooves; the riders click their tongues.
The horses in the surrounding pens pause in their eating, seemingly watching too.
The instructor is Mary Longden, an International Level 3 coach, an Australian ‘A’ Level dressage judge, FEI ‘I’ Level Eventing judge (until 2009), FEI ‘O’ Level Para-Equestrian judge, and an International Para-Equestrian coach and consultant.
Mary’s Philosophy: Everyone who wants to ride well, can - but only if they know where they want to go. (www.longdencorp.com)
Mary's style is sharp, commanding, and witty. She engages her audience. She makes us laugh. She asks us questions.
"So you see the rider's weight is on the right side. The horse will keep leaning toward the right to get himself directly under the saddle. What is the solution?"
"Shift the weight," the onlookers suggest.
"Yes," she calls out, "and also change the direction!"
She talks to a rider: "There are two of you. Horse and rider. One of you needs to be in control. Do you know what frontal lobes are? The frontal lobe of humans is the like this!" She holds up a clenched fist. "The frontal lobes of horses are the size of peas!"
Mary changes her expression from concentrated when instructing, to joy as she jokes. She is extremely knowledgeable, noting the finest of details, yet she is down-to-earth and personable.
"Trainers need to fix the cause, not keep trying to change the result!" She coaches her trainers.
Longtime rider and volunteer, Alicia Viner, approaches Mary timidly, leading a horse named Theo. She is to have a lesson next. Alicia is nervous and explains to Mary that she hasn't ridden Theo before.
Mary smiles encouragingly.
"Are you more afraid of the horse or of me?" she asks, making everyone laugh.
Alicia visibly relaxes and grins widely.
"You!" she says, and we all laugh again.
The lesson gets underway. Mary observes and shares tips regarding how to properly approach the mount and the proper length of stirrups.
We watch Alicia and Theo working together, paying close attention to Alicia's position in the saddle and the amount of bend in her elbows.
I admire Theo's coloring, his muscled body, the bright red bridle under wavy dark mane. I take a lot of notes, trying to keep up with the equine lingo.
When it is time for me to go, I feel humbled and honored to shake Mary's hand, goodbye. The volunteers and trainers will soak up knowledge for the rest of the day.
After a weekend of training with Mary, Alicia shares her thoughts about it on her facebook page (Alicia A V Para Equestrian):
Thank you so much Mary for giving me the tools and aids, tips and goals to work on this weekend . It's a bit difficult for me to write in words how I feel and how much your coaching and teaching has impacted my rides with Theo, from saddle fitting to bending my elbows; using my legs to get Theo going to practicing his bend.
Also transitioning from the walk to a halt and shortening as well as lengthening my reins without leaning forward. The whip as an aid makes a world of difference as well when needed.
So glad I got to experience both as a rider and a volunteer. You have made my year and I can't wait to continue to carry out the skills you have taught us both in hand and riding. So thank you for all you have done.
Thank you KTRA for giving me and several others the opportunity to meet an international equine icon!
And of course, a big thank you Mary Longden.
Kamloops CBC radio did an interview with Mary and some of the clinic's participants. Link to be available soon.
Also coming soon is a blog about KTRA rider and volunteer (and para equestrian hopeful!), Alicia Viner.
Our small wicker basket was almost overflowing with buttons. Or pins. Those old fashioned round, shiny things with pins on the back to hook onto your clothing. Those things we collected and hooked onto our 'pin boards' in the 1980's.
We had pressed our pins ourselves with a set of old, lead presses. And the pictures we pressed onto them were also old fashioned. There were pins about housewives, terrible puns, old cartoons, and mostly...terrible puns. We had laughed like crazy as we pressed them.
One late winter day, we ladies from KTRA exchanged our riding boots for city shoes and collected for a meeting at our local Red Beard Café. Our basket of pins and fundraising flyers were in our hands as we entered a bustling café that smelled delicious.
Our mission was clear: eat some darn good food, drink some darn good beer, and wrangle the owner, Mitchell Forgie into letting us display our fundraising buttons and flyers right by the cash register. Customers could choose a pin, drop a donation into a little box, and pick up a flyer about all the great things that Kamloops Therapeutic Riding Association provides to the community.
The café was stuffed full of people of all walks of life sipping on coffee and eating, engrossed in their conversations. The atmosphere was warm and comfortable. We found a table by a stone fireplace with a splashy work of local art hanging above it. The waiter brought us a half pint each of local craft beer. We told him what we were up to.
The young waiter shuffled through our pins and burst out laughing. He took the basket to his coworkers and we watched hopefully as the staff gathered around, holding up pins, reading out loud, and laughing.
That was when we met Mitchell Forgie, Owner/Operator of Red Beard Café.
'Excellent initiative,' he said, reaching across the table to shake hands. He gave a confident hand shake and an embracing smile. His appearance could only be described as 'funky'; a true hipster. Known in the community as focussed and driven, he was open and more than willing to hear about our good cause.
'No problem', he said, 'set the buttons next to the cash and we will see what we can do. What a great cause.'
We were stoked.
The buttons were put out on display for 6 weeks. About 250.00 dollars were raised as well as a lot of community awareness for our amazing non-for-profit Kamloops Therapeutic Riding Association.
'You can keep bringing more buttons for as long as you like,' Mitch told me later as I collected the funds and the few buttons that remained.
I followed up with him recently for a quick Q & A....
What made you jump onboard to help with fundraising so quickly?
I love fundraising. Big fan! We do a lot of it through BrewLoops or helping ASK with Mz. Judged; we do a whole bunch of other community initiatives. To me, it's a win for everyone. We get to help people help other people in whatever small way we can.
That said, it is really easy when you have a relationship with the people you are fundraising for; they are looking to contribute to the community and in our business (in this case through a novel idea like pins). That makes it really easy when it's a win for our guests, a win for the KTRA, and it's easy for us to administrate.
Donating GCs to a random silent auction does little to raise money or awareness for us or the organization doing the fundraising. It's really an afterthought and I think for those reasons that this type of fundraising is way more difficult for everyone. It is not really an investment in the non-profits stakeholders, or the group or person making the donation.
What was the general reaction to the buttons by your customers?
Folks were so stoked about them! They would take them to the table and look through them all, they are a great conversation starter. Many new relationships had great first dates because of them! We could have these forever and I think they would never loose that appeal.
These funds will be going toward KTRA's Soar For More campaign where donators and fundraisers jump out of a plane. How do you feel about jumping for KTRA?
Hahaha you want me to jump out of a plane? Sure! Why not?!?! ...... yikes......
Do you often take part in community initiatives?
We had a big part in getting BrewLoops off the ground a few years ago. We work hard to help along beautification initiatives on the North Shore and we are always involved in active transportation initiatives. So I would say in general we try to be as much as possible!
What do you love doing when you are not at work?
Kamloops is the center of the world for mountain biking so I do that here as much as possible. I love to climb mountains when I have time to. I love carpentry and try to find my way onto job sites as much as I can. There is so much to learn!
Mitch and his wife Edna are well known and well loved in the community of Kamloops. KTRA is very grateful to them for their fundraising efforts and for giving us the time to interview them. Thank you to Red Beard from KTRA!!