Marni [pictured above] with Tud and Slick.
Polished. Professional. Perfect. The show ring… the open stage of the equestrian world where horses, riders, drivers and handlers, depending on the discipline, perform and shine. Awards are won, and lost, in a heartbeat. Dreams are realized or delayed. Either way, those in the spotlight don’t get there on their own.
Behind the scenes the equestrian tapestry of achievement is woven with the blood, sweat and tears of a formidable team of unsung heroines (and heroes). These are the grooms, farriers, chiropractors, massage therapists, coaches, barn help, veterinarians, nutritionists, etc. who work tirelessly to help create the optimal health, wellness and fitness of both horse and rider for success in the show ring.
This series of interviews is designed to acknowledge and celebrate some of the skilled and empathetic people working tirelessly behind the scenes to keep the equestrian dream alive.
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Our second Unsung Heroine is horse trainer, stable hand, groom and Standardbred foster mom, Marni Reimers of Majic Horses Training Farm in Mono, Ontario. Marni owns and operates this small rescue, rehab and boarding facility with the help of her supportive husband, Jan, and from the moment you meet her the depth of her passion for the horse is obvious. I caught up with her for our photo shoot on a chilly winter’s day, and with the help of BoBo the farm dog and Pigeon, the barn cat, we captured a few memories.
Here’s her story ...
When and how did you first get involved with horses?
My first experience occurred when I was about seven years old. I’d begged and pleaded with my parents for so long they finally had to give in and took me to a local ranch where a big, old chestnut mare named Penny was saddled up for me. I can still recall the first touch of her velvety nose (I had to reach up really high!) and the calm feeling and contentment that came over me as I breathed her in. The ranch hand took us to a fenced in ring and lifted me into the saddle. We must have walked around for an hour. Mom asked, "Aren't you going to go any faster?" No, I wasn't. I didn't need to. I didn't know how to ride, but I knew instinctively I belonged in the saddle.I spent my childhood, teens and 20's asking for riding lessons or horse camp for Christmas. As soon as I was big enough to wield a pitchfork I mucked out stalls at a local ranch all day for the privilege of a one hour ride. As well, I saved up my allowance to buy my own curry comb or hoof pick to bring to the farm for these special rides. As a teenager I got a job at a local hunter- jumper barn so I could be around horses all day.
When and how did you acquire your first horse?
I met Tud, my first horse, 25 years ago when I was in my mid 20s, had two small children and had been out of the saddle a few years. I'd answered an ad looking for a part-boarder. He was a fiery 14.3 hh smart, athletic Arabian/Quarter horse redhead. I fell in love instantly. His owner was heading off to school, so although I was only part-boarding I really had him to myself.
About six years later, my family moved to a country property. For the first time in my life I could have my own horse. Tud was gifted to me by his owner, and I brought him home. So he wouldn't be alone I adopted a horse from the Ontario Standardbred Adoption Society (OSAS), and my love affair with this breed began. Tud is 36 years old now and still lives on my farm.
How did you get into training rescued Standardbreds?
When I adopted Oliver in 1999, my only impression of the breed was of pulling a sulky on the racetrack, trotting or pacing at lightning speed. I learned quickly that Standardbreds are kind, willing, hardy, and extremely versatile. I retrained Oliver to work under saddle and had many adventures with him, doing local hunter/jumper shows, long hacks, and refining our flat work. I was impressed with OSAS, which always goes the extra mile to ensure a happy and successful life for their horses after the racetrack. They stay involved, appointing a guardian to answer questions and ensure you and your new Standardbred are a good fit and that the horse is happy and healthy in its new environment. I decided to volunteer as a guardian, site-inspector, etc., and soon began fostering Standardbreds and retraining them as riding horses.
What is the most challenging aspect of your work retraining these horses?
These “affordable Warmbloods" are generally willing with huge hearts. In most cases, they take readily to being ridden and are steady, reliable mounts. The most challenging part of their retraining is reassuring them it's "okay" to canter (or trot, if they were pacers). These horses naturally trot and canter beautifully at liberty, but as soon as you put tack on them they work like those gaits have been trained out of them. It’s a mental, not physical, block and it takes patience, ingenuity and much positive reinforcement to teach them that not only are these gaits allowed, they're encouraged! The most rewarding moment is when they "accidentally" break to canter. You feel them tense up, expecting a reprimand. When you praise and pet them their ears swivel in confusion and then perk up with joy as they realize they're allowed to use this natural gait under tack. The other challenge is teaching them the leg aid, and gently and gradually re- muscling them out of the straight, inverted balance used to pull a sulky, and showing them how to soften and bend. They're used to turning like a bus ~ if they bend the cart flips over.
TO BE CONTINUED NEXT TIME...
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WHO IS DOROTHY E. CHIOTTI?
Dorothy E. Chiotti is an accomplished writer and fine art photographer based near Orangeville, Ontario. Her equestrian photojournalism video, Unsung Heroines of the Horse Industry, a spin-off from her photo project, Barn Mavens, featured at Toronto’s Urban Gallery “Women at Work” exhibit during the ScotiaBank CONTACT Photography Festival in May 2018, is a selection at Equus Film Festival 2018 in New York City. For more information, visit www.aimwellcreativeworks.com