New horseback riding club hopes to attract university students

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Near the end of Central Saanich Road, not far from enormous riding arenas and white-fenced paddocks, a small boarding stable houses several horses. Among the tenants at Tantivy Stable is Flirt, a young paint mare. Flirt, though she may not know it, is the reason that a new riding club has formed in Victoria.

The Victoria Versatile Horse Association (VVHA) was formed on May 1 and already boasts more than 30 members. The club’s founder, Sherri Hewko, hopes to bring riders from every discipline together on trail rides where participants earn points. The more points riders earn, the more levels they move through. Ribbons are given out for each of the three levels as they are attained.

“Generally around here, people stick to the ring pretty much and they don’t get out on trails as much, and I really wanted to expand people’s and their horses’ riding experience together,” says Hewko. “I thought it would be great to bring everyone together and share our knowledge in different disciplines so we can all become more well-rounded as a horse-owner partnership.”

Hewko places a high premium on earning a horse’s trust through as many avenues as possible. Her partnership with Flirt, whom she’s owned since March of 2010, was originally fraught with challenges.
“When I got her, she was just shy of 700 pounds. Now, she’s 1 100,” says Hewko. The malnourished horse would attack people who went near her food and act up under saddle.

“I would just come up to her and be myself and not have an agenda,” says Hewko. “And when she was almost killing me with her antics, I would just take her up and down the road, or just sit on her hay.” The key to turning Flirt into a quiet, healthy horse was “just undemanding time” at first.

From there, Hewko tried to work with Flirt in as many ways as she could think of. She tried basic dressage (riding in an English saddle on the flat), jumping, cross-country (jumping over solid obstacles on an outdoor course), Western and bareback riding. Those are just a few disciplines in the pair’s repertoire.

In spring of this year, she decided to form the VVHA in the hopes that other riders would see the benefits of versatility.

Carol Lewis joined the group at its inception because she wanted to spend more time riding in groups.

“What was happening was, we were coming out, each of us leaving within 15 or 20 minutes of each other,” says Lewis. “Then you’d come back and be like, ‘You were riding? How did I miss you?’ So we were missing each other and riding alone. This way, we have a local place to make a connection so that we can actually plan rides and get people to come out and ride together.”

Hewko says that the trail rides are competitive, but riders are not competing against each other. Personal achievement is the metric for success. “You get a certain amount of points for completing the route. On top of that, there’s optional challenges at certain points along the way testing different skills of different disciplines.”

Challenges might include jumping over a log, crossing a stream or even swimming a horse in a deeper body of water. All the obstacles are intrinsic to the landscape.

“It tests your ability to deal with what comes up,” says Hewko.

Hewko, a UVic humanities graduate, hopes that university students who may have given up riding to pursue studies will consider joining the VVHA. She adds that some members may be willing to loan horses to interested riders or help them find a horse to lease.

VVHA members organize rides — usually about three per week — via Facebook. Planning ranges from informal queries (“Who wants to go for a ride tonight?”) to more formal announcements. July 15 will see many members embark on a ride worth 25 points.

“The point is to be able to get together and ride with other people, because we often don’t make enough time to ride,” says Lewis.

For more information on the Victoria Versatile Horse Association, visit their listing on horsejournals.com.

To view more photos of the club, visit the Martlet’s slideshow.

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