There are just some things in life that never change, like a little girl’s love of horses.
The same sentiment can still be said of 28-year-old Shawna Wells. The Alberni born-and-raised equestrian coach and trainer has worked at Spruce Meadows, and for Canadian show jumping legend Ian Millar in Ontario and Florida, but these days, you’ll find her back at home on her Beaver Creek farm – in the barn, of course.
“Like every girl, I had a dream of having a horse and jumping,” Wells said. “I still watch jumping on TV and get excited when the horse goes over the jump, my heart races.”
Following the opening of West Brooke Equestrian Centre in July 2012, Wells has been working hard to strengthen the horse community in the Alberni Valley.
“Growing up here, there wasn’t a lot of community,” she said. “There were a couple of riding schools – which I grew up with and loved – but there was also a lot of diversity.”
The world of riding horses is generally classified into many different types of disciplines. Some of those include dressage, show jumping, western pleasure, barrel racing, and cross-country. And then there are those horse owners who keep horses at home but ride them non-competitively.
While Port Alberni has always been well serviced in the western riding genre, Wells said she has seen many local riders have to look to out of town venues to expand their riding skills or showing experience.
“Life happens and either you come back or you fall in love with a facility elsewhere and don’t come home,” she said.
West Brooke was born to not only address the needs of Alberni horse owners and riders but to also make the wonderful world of horses accessible to all.
“You drive down Beaver Creek or Walker Road and how many horses do you pass,” she said. “Part of my goal has been, ‘how do we find all these people and horses and bring them together and just enjoy horses,” Wells said.
“Part of where I also felt Port Alberni was lacking is in coaches bringing in new students, that are good with children, that educate children of what horses are about and bring in new ‘stock’ that will be our next equestrian generation.”
Wells opened her first riding school and training facility, Secret Creek Stables, directly across from West Brooke’s Drinkwater Road location. From those humble beginnings, Wells saw the opportunity for growth, and was ecstatic when the 17-acre equestrian facility West Brooke now operates on came up for sale.
The property features a large indoor riding arena, which is crucial for all-year riding in Port Alberni’s notoriously wet weather.
West Brooke is currently home to 12 school horses and more than a dozen boarders, and offers lessons, leases, clinics, shows and to riders of all ages and levels.
In addition to hosting clinics in a variety of disciplines, West Brooke has also been home to Parks and Rec summer camps.
The facility hosted its first horse schooling show Dec. 1, with 30 participants, and will host another, named ‘Spring Fling’, on April 26. Admission is free and families who are interested in learning more about horses are welcome to come out and watch the show.
Wells said there is a misconception amongst some families that horses are too expensive, but she said it is quite comparable to other extra-curricular sports like hockey.
Wells, along with her mom Darlene Coulson, co-owner of WBEC, are hard at work expanding the facility, as revenue allows, to accommodate bigger events, similar to those in Victoria. Next on the wish list is a round pen and outdoor riding arena, with grass rings in the future.
“I want to take the experience that I’ve learned everywhere else and bring that back here and show people a way it can be done without the drama and make [West Brooke] something for everyone,” Wells said.
“It doesn’t matter what saddle you ride in, whether you ride a donkey, or ride sideways, just come ride with us.”
To learn more about West Brooke Equestrian Centre, please visit the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/westbrookeeq, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Niomi Pearson is a freelance journalist formerly of Port Alberni