A series of interviews created by Dorothy E. Chiotti
All Rights Reserved ©2018
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 people who make a quiet and empathic, yet important, contribution to the equestrian industry. The “Unsung Heroines of the Horse Industry.”
Our first heroine is Eira Engzell, 30, from Stockholm, Sweden, the life, and business, partner of professional showjumper/hunter trainer and, most recently, show organizer for the Lord Simcoe Series near Barrie, Ontario, Jean-Francois Santerre of Santerre Show Stables (www.santerreshowstables.com). Eira wears many hats, including barn manager, trainer, coach, and show groom, and shares her thoughts about a life involved with horses and her work at their home base in Mono, Ontario.
DEC: Do you come from an equestrian family? If not, what was their reaction when you chose this life?
EE: No one in my family really has an interest in horses or the sport. Despite that, my parents, while maybe not ever fully understanding my choice of lifestyle and the magic around the horses, have been very supportive and proud of me for following my dreams.
DEC: What was your introduction to horses and when did you know they would play an important role in your life?
EE: I started riding at age two after bugging my parents to bring me along when my two older brothers went riding. While they lost interest after a while, horses quickly became the most important part of my life. As a child I would make up barn plans and draw up stalls in my parents' garage, thinking that if I could prove that we could easily fit a couple of horses there, they would agree to it. In my early teens they finally agreed to a horse if I did all the barn chores myself and helped to pay for her by working on the weekends. I am forever grateful for that and everything I learned during the years I had my lovely Lady of Lord (Lula) and all the fond memories we created.
DEC: How long have you worked with horses and what's your background? Did you receive any special training?
EE: For as long as I can remember I've spent as much time as possible in the barn. At the riding school I helped out to earn extra rides and gain knowledge. As I got a little older I would find barns where I could work during afternoons and weekends. I've worked in many different barns, mostly in Europe where I grew up, but also here in North America. I’m a strong believer that you can always learn something, both from what people around you do right, but also from things you see that can be done better.
One experience that will always stand out is a show stable where I worked for a couple years in my early teens. They specialized in higher level PRE/Andalusian dressage stallions, and their horses were like nothing I'd experienced before. Used to the well-worn ponies at the riding school, these horses were so alive, so sensitive, so different. Working there and learning to care and handle these incredible horses opened a whole new world for me, and my passion for high-level sport horses was born.
DEC: You worked in the hospitality/service industry for a while as a trained sommelier. How has this experience helped you when interacting with clients?
EE: Serving champagne at a wine barn in Stockholm's business district is quite different to the life I live now, but of course in some ways it has a lot of similarities. No matter the context, people around you want to be seen, and no matter what business you run a big part of it always comes down to superior customer service.
DEC: What does a typical day at the barn/show look like?
EE: At the barn a big portion of the day is obviously a lot of routine work: mucking, feeding, turnout, tack cleaning and grooming, as well as riding all the horses we have in training. When running a barn there's always something that needs to be done to keep the environment welcoming, safe and tidy. As well, farm management such as maintenance of paddocks and pastures, manure management, etc. requires ongoing attention.
At shows it depends on what horses we have with us and what classes they're showing. No matter what the day looks like, I always love to take the horses out for hand-walks and grass as much as possible. This helps to keep them happy and feeling good, so as soon as I have a spare moment that's what you'll find me doing.
DEC: What aspect of your work do you enjoy most? What's your least favourite thing?
EC: To me, there's nothing more fun and gratifying than seeing the horses develop and do well, both when in training with us, but also after they're sold and doing well with their new owners.
The least favourite thing is also what I love ~ this is a way of living and not a 9-5 job. Sometimes I think it would be nice to have a full weekend off, but then when I cool down my horse after a good ride or hear the horses nicker for me at night check, I know I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.
DEC: As a mother, how do you find balance in your work/family life?
EE: Of course it's a hard balance and you have to make sacrifices. We have a two-year-old daughter and she's always tagging along. In fact, she was just two weeks old when our show season started that year, and she is growing up at the horse shows and in the barn. My husband and I work very closely together and share the same goals and dreams, and I know without that work/family/life balance would be more difficult. You have to enjoy working together and be a team to succeed. Luckily our daughter enjoys the horses and the shows. We always make time for her as well, dedicating part of the day for her to do something fun.
DEC: What are your goals/ambitions?
EE: Our ambition is to import, develop and show high quality jumpers and hunters, mainly focusing on younger horses. We have some very good horses in the barn now that we're excited about, and I'm looking forward to seeing what the future holds for them.
DEC: Any advice for those interested in working with horses?
EE: Learn to drive a tractor and how to do basic first aid, and take pride in having your horses looking and feeling their best.
DEC: What life lesson has your experience working with, and being around, horses taught you?
EE: I think horses taught me to be here and now. When I was younger I would overthink everything, but when being with horses I had to put everything else aside and be with them in that moment. It gives you some breathing room.
Eira's Five Fun Facts +1:
Favourite horse colour: Greys have always had a special place in my heart.
Favourite horse breed: I like KWPN for their athleticism and how competitive they are in the sport; PRE/Andalusians for their sharp mind and eagerness to please, and I've always had a weak spot for Welsh Mountain ponies.
Favourite horse book: As a kid I read every horse book I could find. My favourite Swedish book series, that I read over and over again, was about a girl named Sandra and her journey with her horse, Vildros.
Favourite horse movie: Into the West ~ an Irish movie (1992) about two boys and their horse that I think everyone should watch.
Favourite grooming tool: Nothing more useful than a good curry comb!
+1: Your personal hashtag would be #swedishtouch
Please share your favourite quotes for life:
"Life is more beautiful if you fully put your heart into what you do." – Anonymous
"In my opinion, a horse is the animal to have. Eleven-hundred pounds of raw muscle, power, grace and sweat between your legs ~ it's something you just can't get from a pet hamster." – Anonymous
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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