The North Atlantic Rally Exchange was held from April 11-20, 2008 in Vancouver, Canada. Four Pony Club members, Georgina Waldman, C-3 Tuckahoe Pony Club, Delmarva Region; Lindsey Reader, C-2 Los Alamos Pony Club, Southwest Region; Maggie Sullivan, C-2 Connecticut Valley Pony Club, New York/Upper Connecticut Region; and Rebecca Barber, C-1 Rapidan River Pony Club, Old Dominion Region and our chaperone Pat Niven, Lake Effect Pony Club, Western New York Region all travelled to the west coast and crossed the border ready for fun. The Canadian Pony Club, Irish Pony Club and United States Pony Club all sent teams to participate in this cultural and riding international exchange. Following is the highlights of the trip from our own perspective.
Lindsey - Day 2 - Polocrosse/Meet and Greet
Saturday saw the first honest-to-goodness group mixing. The morning was largely spent recovering from the three hour time zone difference, twenty-hour previous day, and coping with lost luggage. That evening, all the teams and members (including our valiant, long-awaited chaperone) gathered at Mitch Gunn's house for a welcome barbeque. Mixing among teams was highly encouraged, but when we realized that few people on the same team seemed to even know each other, international mingling was permitted, and full introductions were made. Georgina handed out the very official personalized jackets, and now truly unified, we were able to join the very official group photo. Then in a scramble for helmets, boots, and ponies, it was off to play polocrosse.
Polocrosse has this reputation for being the Pony Club discipline that everyone has heard about and no one has actually done. Needless to say, no one tried to hide his excitement. All were keen on learning even our host families got involved. Faced with a limited number of rackets, we split into two groups. One group tacked up the generously-lent ponies, while the others learned the basics of the game on the ground. Then the groups switched, and the first group warmed up the ponies while the second group received their lesson. We practiced throwing, catching, cradling, and, perhaps most importantly, picking up the ball. With only six ponies, we played chukkas in shifts. The rules were slightly modified to account for our fledgling skills and a senior pony that only had one speed walk. Although we kept the game mostly to a trot, this was the first polocrosse experience for several horses. In their interest (as well as those of the older ponies) by the fourth chukka, it was decided that several of the ponies were to retire.
Two Pony Clubbers had not gotten to play yet, so two of the younger ponies were kept out. The rest of each team was comprised of Pony Clubbers on foot. Again, the rules were modified; only those mounted could score. This presented a rather hilarious photo opportunity of a pony standing patiently by the goalposts waiting for the ball, while the unmounted players duked it out in the middle of the dusty indoor arena. At least it was easier to pick up the ball from this position.
It was over all too soon. Sufficiently tired and exhilarated, we un-tacked and watered the ponies and retired to the game room downstairs. Team and cross-team bonding took place over a friendly but heated pool game (dominated, of course, by the Irish), Pony Club pin trading, and an absolutely delicious barbeque. In all, a better day could not have been had, eh?
Georgina - Day 4 - Trip to Whistler
Monday morning I awoke at seven o'clock (still a little groggy it was four am back at home) ready for the next part of the NARE trip. Today was the day we went to Whistler Mountain, site of the 2010 Winter Olympics. I could already see a lot of construction around me, especially on the road to Whistler, as they prepared for the world. And now we were heading out to where it was all going to be.
After a three hour bus ride through the beautiful Vancouver countryside (taking lots of pictures to capture it all) we arrived and grabbed a quick bite to eat. Then we went to our first task zip lining. As we found out, zip lining is when you are in your harness, get attached to a wire and proceed to step off a platform to fly across a beautiful gorge 200 ft below you. It was a beautiful sight, one that I will never forget. We had five zip lines to go across, and on the last one we were taught how to go upside down! That was quite an experience, let me tell you. Looking down 200 ft, the blood all rushing to your head and the knowledge that you still needed to get right side up in time to be caught by the break line! Everyone in my group was hilarious, and fun to be around. It was all new people that I was with, and I was grateful for the chance to get to know them all better. Tianya, Jesse and Sarah (with a broken finger!) were all from Canada with their chaperone Marlene; Kelly was there from Ireland and I was representing the United States. We were all encouraging each other to do things we never thought we would ever want to do jump off a platform high in the trees!
Once we finished the adrenaline pumping zip lines, we were allowed three hours to go around Whistler Village and see what the town had to offer. That week, the TELUS World Ski and Snowboarding Festival was being held at Whistler, so there were many interesting events being held all day and there was always good live music playing. There was a fun atmosphere, and as we were going around to all the shops I was really amazed to be part of it. On the way home, all of us relived our daring zip line experiences and became great friends. Just another amazing and memorable experience to add to my NARE trip.
Rebecca - Day 6 - Foxhunting in Canada
On Wednesday morning, the Fraser Valley Hunt Club treated us to a private foxhunt. We were invited to help them exercise their hounds. Upon arrival at Darcy Kerkhoven's, Nicomen Farm, we assembled in her ring for a quick briefing and warm-up on a collection of borrowed horses. Our Field Master, Angus, arrived in his hunting pinks along with Karen, the Whipper-In. Angus discussed the rules of the hunt, as well as his expectations for the ride. It was then we learned that the majority of the foxhunts in British Columbia are drag hunts. For this particular drag hunt, fox urine was laid over a pre-determined route. The trail was fresh because the "fox" was just 100 meters ahead of the first flight. Following the scent today would be two couples, which is four hounds.
As we left the ring we assembled into two groups; a first flight and a hill topping group. The pace of the hunt felt perfect. We were presented with many opportunities for good runs and several straightforward fences to jump. There were even some confidence building combinations. The most challenging obstacle of the day was an extremely wide ditch. The majority of the crafty ponies decided to go through the ditch instead of over it. The atmosphere of the hunt was jovial as well as extremely exciting. We had many opportunities to ask the staff questions. Thus proving that the Pony Club pursuit of knowledge does not stop at the border. The terrain we hunted over was stunning. Although the ground was quite soft from the previous night's rain, beneath the top layer the footing was firm enough for a safe ride. The highlight of the day for me was galloping along a wide swath of riverbed, beside the water's edge. The sight was breathtaking.
When we arrived back at the barn, a few hours later, everyone was ecstatic. The enormous smile on each rider's face was testimony to what an amazing day it had been. In true Pony Club fashion, we cared first for our horses and then for our cold, muddy selves. Within half an hour, our group had gathered for the hunt breakfast. As we ate, we talked about what hunting is like in each of our home countries and regions. (Ireland's hunts sounds amazing!) We also had the opportunity to learn more about the history of foxhunting in British Columbia. After such an exhilarating morning, I was sad to see our foxhunting experience come to an end. In addition to gaining practical knowledge from the hunt, I was able to acquire new skills that will benefit my riding at home. Most importantly, I have wonderful and treasured memories of that day, foxhunting in Canada.
Maggie - Day 9 - Island 22 Event
On the last weekend we were at NARE, the first event of the season took place. The morning was very cold, only 2 degrees Celsius and snow had fallen overnight. The youngest daughter from my host family was competing. We had gotten up early to braid and clean tack. From their house, the trip took around an hour. When we arrived, we parked the trailer and quickly got the pony unloaded, and tacked up. Then we maneuvered several mounting blocks, so that the rider could mount up without touching the muddy ground in her tall boots.
Two dressage rings were running in a large sand ring. The judges were seated in trucks due to the weather. In dressage warm-up we saw many other local NARE hosts and participants getting ready. After dressage, we walked the cross country courses. Cross country would be run on Sunday, when most of the NARE participants were flying home. The cross country course was amazing, involving a small water jump and many open fields.
Stadium came next. The course was placed on a slightly sloped grass field. There were many slick spots and we saw three horses fall at the same spot. Luckily those riders did not sustain injuries. The rider I was grooming for had a double clean round, luckily, with no slips.
On the last night when we were all together, we had a tearful farewell party. There were many hugs and promises to keep in touch and invitations to visit at any time. The next day everyone was flying east to home, but none of us will ever forget the amazing, exciting experience we all had for nine days in Canada. It was quite a time, eh?