Carol-Anne Robinson wants to bring endurance trail riding, an equestrian sport, to northern Ontario — and she's training riders who might want to compete.
Soon, she hopes to take on riders and their horses to train for the sport that is near and dear to her heart.
To learn the story of how she came to be so enamoured with the sport, we'll have to start with suspension yoga and natural horsemanship.
And some curly-haired, hypo-allergenic horses.
By day, Robinson is a physiotherapist but she describes herself as a lifelong learner with a rather large and eclectic range of interests.
"I'm always taking something," she said. "Usually involving horses, yoga or physiotherapy."
She's accredited with the Certified Horsemanship Association and she incorporates a variety of techniques from myofascial release, neuro-development technique, raindrop technique and equine rehab. She's also accomplished at natural horsemanship along with hoof care and trims and she's a certified aroma and suspension yoga instructor and 500 hour Kaivalya.
Her love of horses began at an early age and it's only been growing through the years, despite the fact that she's allergic to horses.
"I would say it began when I was born because nobody in my family ever had horses but I've loved them for as long as I can remember," she said.
She started riding when she was ten years old and got her first horse in 1987, at the age of 14.
After graduating from university, Robinson moved to Wawa and leased a horse for a year before making the leap into horse ownership as an adult.
In 1997, she purchased a gelding and boarded him for a year before acquiring land and then going on to begin teaching a riding instruction program of her own creation in 2010.
At that time, she had one horse and one pony on the property she and her husband share in Wawa.
In 2018, she revamped the program to be more holistic and include both aroma yoga and suspension yoga in it. She decided to call it EquinAY and the name has also become a cry of triumph with calls of EquinAY NIEGH NIEGH rising from instructors, students and parents whenever a difficult skill is mastered.
"I wanted to teach kids to not just be a rider. There's more to horses than just getting in that saddle," she said. "I want my kids to be horse people. I want them to have a safe foundation in all their skills."
The introduction weekend consists of three-and-a-half days and includes posture and physical alignment as well as emotional regulation on the first day, followed by horse behaviour and how to recognize or understand what the horse is feeling and thinking.
The next morning, students learn about how to care for horses through chores and they continue to reinforce these skills while building on that foundation as they observe and interact with the horses to better understand horses and their behaviours.
"They all roll their eyes on the first day when they get assigned manure but, on the second day, they all want manure because I teach them how to meet and greet their horses," she said. "It's a safe, foundational feel of being around horses... where to stand, how to touch them and how to behave when they're in the paddock."
They also do some simulations and suspension yoga to get a feel for where in space their bodies are and how to balance lightly and confidently on a horse.
She has two Bashkir Curly Horses, a buckskin mare named Mirage, and her foal, Kinzy, a bay that grew to be over 15 hands tall. She's worked with them extensively to prepare them to safely and effectively instruct children on how to be good horse people.
Her preferred method of training is Natural Horsemanship, which she describes as learning to deeply and fully understand horse behaviour while cultivating a safe, focused and connected partnership between horse and human.
In 2020, Robinson participated in a virtual endurance trail ride organized by Sue Downing, a former board member of the Ontario Competitive Trail Riding Association and the online Events Organizer.
She fell in love with the sport as it combined a few things she really likes, the first being trail riding, and the second being working closely with a well-trained, superbly conditioned horse on a challenging, long trail.
She rode (Princess Leia) in Fillin The Gap, a horse belonging to Pauline Fleming, in her first competitive trail ride and with Pauline riding Echo's Boy. Before they crossed the finish line, she was already working on ideas about how to develop the sport in northern Ontario.
"I put some feelers out and I have a little group involved but I would love for more people to get involved," Robinson said.
The plan so far is to have two training rides run in the summer of 2023, during the last two weekends in July, in northern Ontario, one being in the Algoma area and the other in New Liskeard.
Participants will learn what competitive trail riding is all about from volunteering to riding in an event.
"The focus is on the well-being of the horse and the rider," she said.
The sport is open to a wide variety of breeds and sizes of horses and, although there tends to be a strong representation from Arab breeds, there is a good number of 'a-typical' horses as well, Robinson added.
"Some of the experienced endurance riders from southern Ontario have said they would come north and help with the training rides," she said. "Hopefully we can have a northern branch. It's just so lovely. It really gives trail riding a purpose, and its variable experiences and experience levels all in one place."
She went on to explain that she's excited about the prospect of expanding endurance trail riding to northern Ontario because it brings together all the things she is passionate about. It combines a sound foundation of skills including conditioning, understanding, communication and teamwork between horses, riders and trainers with the enjoyment of nature in circumstances that are as challenging as the rider wants to make them.