“Katie, elbows! What are you doing? I’m going to put some Velcro on there!” admonishes Carole Walton, the Equine Canada Certified coach preparing the horse division of Port Alberni’s 4-H club for the 2014 Fall Fair.
She’s giving direction to five girls who are training for the 4-H Horse Show taking place during the Alberni District Fall Fair, taking place this weekend at the fairgrounds behind Glenwood Centre.
The girls, all Port Alberni residents, range between nine and 12 years old and their horses range from ponies for the younger ones to horses for the older ones. But more than the riders, it’s the horses that are making things difficult by getting a little snappy.
“That pony keeps attacking that grey horse,” Walton says. “We have problems.”
Walton has been training riders for close to 50 years now and one of the girls taking part in the Fall Fair Horse Show is riding Walton’s horse, Ruby. The 29-year-old mare has had a long run with Walton, having given her two generations of show horses.
Dolly, one of Ruby’s brood, is 21 years old now, while her foals are Kira and Peek, both American Quarter Horse Association Champions. Kira once finished ninth in the world in halter.
“These horses are lovely to ride, they’re so well trained,” Walton says.
The stable where the horses are housed used to include a clubhouse. “Back in the 70s, we had huge quarterhorse shows here so we needed a clubhouse, a place for people to congregate. We had a bar upstairs; it’s now a hayloft,” Walton says. “We had a concession across the front, we danced here, we had a riding club and parties here.”
She used to breed horses for sale but in recent years she’s stopped, worried as to what might happen without proper veterinary care.
“We have no vet in this town, no large animal vet any closer than Courtenay or Nanaimo, both over an hour away.”
So in lieu of breeding horses, she’s helping to train them and their riders.
“We have been doing lessons every couple of weeks to start and then it’s been every week after that, trying to teach [riders] how to do competitions as well as just plain ride the horses,” Walton says.
With most of the girls never having been on a horse until April of this year, the preparation is a lot of work, both in and out of the saddle. But amidst the hard work, there’s also a little time for fun.
“I try to give them some work on the ground, leading, some work in the saddle, riding and some fun, which are games on horseback and trail riding.”
It’s crucial for the girls to learn it all well, because when the fall fair comes they’ll have to do it all themselves as per 4-H rules, with no parental help.
“They had to learn how to saddle and bridle and tie up their horses properly, put the halter on. They had to learn to do everything for themselves and that’s what the preparation has been about.”
For Walton, the independence that 4-H breeds is one of the best things to come out of the program. Riding horses is fun, but if the girls can apply the independence to their lives outside of the show ring then she’s done her job.
“I’ve been at this for a long, long time, I’ve had grandchildren come back to ride, but the riders, as they look back on their young life when they used to come here have said that those were the best years ever.
“They love it.”
It’s easy to see why; the property boasts 150 acres of land to ride on and includes a quarter mile of riverbank. There’s rapids coming down from Sproat Lake; the coming together of the Stamp and Somass Rivers.
The only bad thing is that Walton doesn’t know how long she’ll be able to keep teaching.
“The awful thing is, I’m getting old and that’s not good because I want to keep doing it forever. I love it, I love teaching these kids, I love to make a difference and I think riding horses makes a difference.”
The girls get to learn how to handle a responsibility and in return get a tremendous feeling of accomplishment, something that Walton believes that young girls need.
“Girls need to feel that they have control over something because girls don’t have a lot of control,” she says.
And the horses are really testing the girls’ control here.
“Rambler… Rambler! Rambler!” scolds Paige Franks, 9, whose pony has decided that he prefers banging his feed bucket into the stable wall, spilling the feed, rather than eating from it. “That’s such a waste!”
Abbie McFarlane, 11, has a more optimistic viewpoint.
“At least the chickens will be happy.”
But Franks manages to capture Rambler’s attention.
“You don’t want this? Fine, then I’ll give it to [McFarlane’s pony] Jubejube.”
The Fall Fair Horse Show goes from Friday, Sept. 5 to Sunday, Sept. 7 with a riding clinic and 4-H Achievement on Friday and English and Western riding on Saturday and Sunday respectively.