A girl and her pony

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Change Islands youth venturing into equestrian shows

When Jessica Porter dreamed of owning a pony, horseback riding and eventually participating in shows, she thought perhaps it might never happen to a young girl growing up on Change Islands, where opportunities are sometimes limited for such ambitions.

Jessica Porter with her Newfoundland pony, Betsy Spirit. One of the favourite things they do together is go for rides in the ocean waters off Change Islands when it’s a bit warmer. — Photo courtesy of Kimberley Reid

But then the Change Islands Newfoundland Pony Sanctuary was created as a breeding program for the near-extinct breed that has been officially designated as the province’s heritage pony.

And Jessica’s love of horses and her dreams of them came to fruition thanks to the support of her family, friends and the director of the pony sanctuary, Netta LeDrew, who counts Jessica among her helpers.

Jessica, 15, is a Grade 11 student at A.R. Scammell Academy on Change Islands. Children there have exposure to the ponies, but none seems quite as passionate about them as she is.

“I like the risk,” Jessica says, when asked what’s so special about riding. “It’s a bit exciting. The first time I got on Betsy’s back when I was breaking her, she threw me off.”

On Oct. 12-13, Jessica will compete in her first horse show.

She got her pony two years ago by making a deal with her dad.

The deal? That she get a 70 per cent or greater mark in every subject that school year. She became the proud owner of a two-year-old Newfoundland pony named Betsy Spirit.

Strings attached

But the deal had strings.

First of all, she’d have to take care of Betsy, and board for her pony at the sanctuary had to be covered. She made a deal with LeDrew to work in the barns in lieu of part of the cost of boarding, a deal that benefited both parties.

While Newfoundland ponies weren’t bred for riding — they are workhorses like Clydesdales — they can be ridden.

Betsy had to be three years old before her back was strong enough, and after a year of getting her used to the bridle, the saddle and being mounted, the pony was ready.

The horse still has a mind of its own and will sometimes go the opposite of where she’s directed.

“But she’s my pony,” Jessica says with a laugh.

She said there was something about Betsy that set her apart.

She rides the pony school, tethering her in a garden nearby or at the LeDrew place, and rides her home for lunch and back again.

Betsy loves to be ridden in the ocean, so Jessica takes her through the salt water.

But it’s not all fun.

There is a lot of work involved in caring for a pony and preparing for a horse show. A sense of responsibility and  maturity are musts.

Jessica’s entering the Pink Ribbon Classic, which she heard about when she took lessons at Clovelly Stables in Logy Bay last summer. Erin Gallant, executive director of the non-profit organization, says they often will work with other non-profits to raise money.

This is the fourth annual event in support of the Breast Cancer Foundation of Canada.

The organization offers the opportunity to ride to anyone who wishes to learn, regardless of ability.

Seeing a rural kid from a community like Change Islands compete at a horse show is rare, Gallant says.

She expects most of the competitors to be from the St. John’s area, with one or two from Corner Brook, Deer Lake or Gander.

“It’s nice to see someone who sort of just showed up in the summer and wanted lessons to compete,” Gallant says of Jessica.

“I’m pleased to see it happening and would encourage others who know how to ride and live in small places to think of competing.”

She describes it as friendly competition with fun being the main goal.

Judges provides feedback, which makes it a learning experience as well as a competitive experience.

Gallant says that the camaraderie is the best part of the entire experience and considers Jessica brave to give it a try.

Jessica had to borrow a horse for the competition, as Betsy isn’t trained for that. Luckily, her friend Stephanie Coates offered up Teddy, a quarter-horse.

Then she had to find proper riding clothes, which were purchased from another friend in Twillingate.

Friends have stepped up to help her with the costs and while she still needs some more money to pay for the board at the stables for Teddy, she’s hopeful she will find a way to raise it over the next month.

Because the event is a fundraiser, Jessica will also be asking for pledges in the upcoming weeks from friends and family who want to not only support her in the show, but also support the  Breast Cancer Foundation.

All pledge money goes towards that cause.

Jessica is excited about the chance to be in the show.

She isn’t nervous, but she admits she’s “kind of winging it.”

For a girl who once rode her pony all the way up to the ferry wharf on Change Islands — nine kilometres — she has proven she’s determined.

She’s  proud to be the first to represent her hometown in a sport that just a few years ago was something she couldn’t have even learned.

She’ll have a little time to meet Teddy and practice before the show and then she will give it her best shot.


Organizations: A.R. Scammell Academy on Change Islands, Breast Cancer Foundation of Canada

Geographic location: Change Islands, Newfoundland, Logy Bay Corner Brook Deer Lake Twillingate

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