Two jumpers training at the Pemberton Valley Equestrian Centre had particularly superb 2018 seasons, finishing in the provincial top three in their respective categories.
For starters, Sally Warner was the British Columbia Hunter Jumper Association's reserve champion (or second place) in the one-metre amateur jumper division all while riding a new horse named Lexington von Darco. Meanwhile, Gabby Holland took third while riding Icarus in the 1.10-m junior jumper division.
Warner explained that both she and her horse are both veterans, but it still takes a little while to forge the relationship.
"He's got good competition miles under his belt, but when you ride a new horse, you're always learning about each other and it takes some time to really develop a bond where they trust you," she said. "You're with an animal that weighs 1,200 pounds and they don't have to do anything they don't want to do unless you have that trust and bond together.
"It involves a lot of communication and 90 per cent of that is non-verbal."
After her strong results this year, Warner will move up to a more challenging height next year, especially after finding a groove in her riding with her new steed. She decided to retire her previous horse.
"He's got quite a bit more of an engine than my previous horse," she said. "It was more about learning to ride him and getting used to the fact that he is faster and sometimes can react unexpectedly to things. I had a few more falls this year than I normally do."
Warner, a local real estate agent, added she was proud to fare so well in the sport while also enjoying her busiest year professionally.
Trainer Shirley Hills noted she was proud of her riders, who performed admirably against riders with far greater financial resources, noting some horses in these events were purchased for prices in the "high six figures."
"(The season) was very successful. It's astonishing sometimes, it's a pretty small barn and we're at some very top-level shows, and people come from all over North America to compete at them. They arrive with their big, fancy rigs and their fleet of grooms and everything else and we roll in and we hold our own and then some," Hills said. "It's dedication and commitment to doing the hard work between the shows."
Hills explained equestrian can teach some life lessons, in that hard work can beat money, and that problems can be faced head on instead of avoided.
"I'm a classically trained instructor and I don't really go in for quick fixes," she said. "Everyone's on a little bit of a budget and that's not always the case in this sport with some people. When they start having problems, a lot of times, they'll just go and get a new horse.
"I don't really believe in that. I believe you work through your problems and then once you've made a very good effort to work through the problems, if it can't be resolved, then we might think about a new horse ... I think in doing that, that's made everyone better riders."
While Hills typically has riders finish in the top three at the end of the season, she was particularly impressed by the contexts in which Warner and Holland accomplished their feats. Warner, of course, had her new horse while Holland had moved up to the 1.10-metre category from the one-metre division for this season.
Hills also noted the accomplishments of Judy Ameli, who finished in the top 10 on a new horse while increasing her jumps from one metre all the way up to 1.25 m this season. As well, Laura Wetaski took fourth in the .70-metre, long-stirrup division in her first season, while Christiana Durfeld also posted top-10 finishes in the 1.0m Amateur Working and Performance Hunter divisions over the course of the season. Other riders this season included: Gabrielle Meloche, Dr. Laura White, Sula Coulson and Ava Caldwell.
"I'm always most happy when people do their best," Hills said. "I felt everyone did that this year."