From competitions, to COVID-19 adaptations and breaking down misconceptions Gee-Gee riders explain their passion
Gee-Gees equestrian, the University of Ottawa’s equestrian team, is the most well established collegiate riding program in Canada. With 28 members competing in both the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association’s (IHSA) Zone 2 Region 2 and the Ontario Collegiate Equestrian Association’s (OCEA) East Zone, the Gee-Gees have seen success in both Canadian and American competitions.
However, despite the success the team has seen, they are still fighting many misconceptions about their sport.
Taylor McRae, president and captain of Gee-Gees equestrian, explains one of these notable misunderstandings is that the riders don’t do much.
“There’s a big misconception that the horse does everything, when really it is two athletes competing together at the same time,” said McRae.
“The overarching motto is two hearts. It really is a combination of the athlete and the horse, it’s the two of them working together.”
In collegiate competition, riders are provided a horse by the host. To prepare for that aspect of the sport, members of the team ride different horses at each practice.
“We’re riding different horses at different facilities all the time competing, so we practice on different horses every week, so that you get used to riding all different kinds,” said Aylen Ferguson, secretary and assistant captain.
“We have a pool of horses at Wesley Clover Parks [Kanata] that are available to us and at every practice we’re assigned a different horse.”
Many members of the team have been riding and competing from a young age.
“I started riding when I was seven or eight, and I’m the first horse person in my family,” said rider Maiah Lodu. “I don’t remember exactly how I got into it, but I knew once I started, it could stop. I kind of started riding whatever I could, whenever I could, however I could.”
“I started when I was about nine years old. I started hunter jumper, which is what the team competes in. But then I moved to a venting, which is the one where you actually end up going in and jumping the solid objects on a huge field. Then coming to university, I moved back to hunter jumper to begin with the team,” McRae said.
Having an equestrian team at university was a deciding factor for some athletes when deciding on schools.
“I also started when I was about nine years old, I think. I think it all started with a summer camp that I did, and I’ve been riding every single week pretty much since then,” said Rebecca Bedard. “When deciding on university, I was hesitating between two schools and the fact that they have the equestrian team here definitely made the choice for me to come here.”
Even with the COVID-19 pandemic cancelling events, the team was able to continue training with a few extra safety precautions prior to the lockdown.
“Due to the nature of our sport, we already train in small groups of three to five members so that has not changed for us. Riding is unique in the sense that once you are on the horse it is actually quite difficult to come within close proximity to other riders. So while we are riding, social distancing is already a general safety practice while mounted,” said rider Bridie Hamilton.
“This year our training groups have become bubbles, so while we love that our bond in these bubbles is stronger, we miss getting to see all our teammates.”
The Gee-Gees equestrian team has tackled the COVID-19 situation with a positive and determined approach, thinking critically about what the team can offer to both the equestrian and university community until they get the green light to return to in person activities.