“The feeling that you have when you’re on the cross-country course with your horse and it’s just you and your horse and you’re jumping the different elements, the different natural elements — I can’t think of a word to describe it because it’s amazing,” said the 67-year-old Red Deer grandmother, who has been participating in Eventing on and off for around eight years now.
The sport, which is also referred to as horse trials, is an equestrian event which has athletes and their horses compete against each other across three disciplines including dressage, cross-country and show jumping.
“As a horse trialer you have three different disciplines that you have to participate in and score in,” explained White-Russell, noting the three scores are then compiled into one to determine the winner of an event.
While she has always taken a keen interest in horses and horseback riding, White-Russell was a bit of a latecomer to the world of Eventing.
She said her interest began when she was younger and she had the chance to try the sport for the first time.
“I tried it a few years ago, when I was younger, I did one and I just loved it,” she recalled of her first experience with horse trials, adding that it was around eight years ago that she took her first horse trials lessons with coach Jamie Hoffman at Extreme Stables just east of Ponoka.
Growing up in England, White-Russell didn’t have the opportunity to learn how to ride as a child.
It wasn’t until she was an adult living in Canada that she climbed on the back of her first horse.
“I had the opportunity as an adult and started to ride and it’s been my passion ever since,” she said, noting that she didn’t have the chance to own a horse of her own or do anything with horses until she was almost 40.
But it wasn’t until she was 55-years-old that White-Russell decided to take a run at competing in Eventing with a horse of her own.
“I had gotten away from riding for about 10 years. I didn’t really have a horse. I rode, but not my own horse; I rode other people’s horses and that kind of thing,” she said.
“Then at 55 I decided I had enough energy to start a young horse.”
She bought a young colt and began training him and three years later the pair were ready to compete in their first beginner horse trial.
“I’m a late bloomer,” laughed White-Russell of that first season, which she competed in at the age of 58.
She noted that she really enjoys the competition side of horse trials because it always pushes her to be better.
“It drives me. Not to better than anyone else but it drives me. I have someone judging me who doesn’t know me, doesn’t know how I ride, doesn’t know my horse and is just judging me on my riding ability. From those scores I’m able to work on things that need improving and that’s what drives me. It helps me to keep learning, keep improving.”
But nothing lasts forever and the Red Deer rider was forced to take a four-year long hiatus from the sport after her horse got sick.
It wasn’t until just over a year ago that she decided to get back into the game.
“I got a new horse just over a year ago and I started again. Last year was my first year back,” she said.
Her new horse’s registered name is Damzel, but White-Russell said she prefers to call her Lucy.
“She’s a little older, so she’s quiet. She’s lovely, she’s very sweet.”
White-Russell and Lucy don’t go to competitions alone, though. The pair are almost always accompanied by White-Russell’s three grandsons, Logan, Adam and Marshall, who at the ages of 13, 11 and nine respectively have all taken up their grandmother’s favourite sport.
“It’s amazing. Of course it’s amazing. I feel very blessed to be able to do that. We’re at the shows together, we look at the courses together, we talk about strategies together. That’s huge, that’s quite amazing that I can do that with my grandsons,” said White-Russell of being able to share her passion with her grandchildren.
She said that while the trio chose to become involved with the sport because of their grandmother, it has never been a driving force in their lives.
“This is a fun thing that we do as grandparent and grandsons. It was their decision it wasn’t that they automatically got into it because I was doing it,” she said, adding the fact that her grandsons have continued to participate in the sport makes riding with them even more special.
All four of the family horse trialers live in Red Deer but ride out of Extreme Stables, which means a lot of hours on the QEII Hwy.
“I spend a lot of time on the highway,” laughed White-Russell, who generally makes the trip five times a week to ride and train with her horse.
“It’s a labour of love. I do it because I love it.”