• Pamela Richardson

Rigaud girls compete at Royal Winter Fair


PHOTO BY EBY BANFILL

Erin Oswald, 11, shows great style in the ring with her pony Perfect Day. She was competing last week at Toronto's Royal Winter Fair.

“I’ve been going to Toronto’s Royal Winter Fair with clients from our barn for almost twenty years, but this year is the first time I got to take my own kids to compete,” said Duncan Oswald, who with wife Holly runs Dunelm Equestrian Centre in Rigaud. They aren’t only the parents of Heather, 13 and Erin, 11, they are their trainers too.

Duncan said the girls were totally “on the job” at the prestigious ‘Royal’ where they recently competed, and not in the least bit intimated by their surroundings. The world’s largest combined indoor agricultural show and equestrian event takes place annually, in November.

Heather showed her pony Brookside Look at Me in the pony jumpers and Erin showed Perfect Day in the small pony hunter division. The girls had to qualify for The Royal; in general the top two in each province, based on points won at competitions, get the nod. “We found out just after Thanksgiving that they were ‘in,’” explained Duncan, and so the next month was intense with lessons and training. While they didn’t win their classes, the parents felt the girls were focussed and handled the pressure really well. “We were excited and nervous,” said Heather speaking for the sisters,“ but it was really, really fun.”

PHOTO BY EBY BANFILL

Heather Oswald, 13, rode her pony jumper Brookside Look at Me at "The Royal" recently. She and her sister are trained by parents Duncan Oswald and Holly Hallett of Dunelm Equestrian Centre in Rigaud.

It is on the way to the arena that things were not so routine! The Royal is a showcase for world-class competitions, not exclusively horses, and there are cattle, sheep, goats, poultry, rabbits, dairy cows, draft horses and more being paraded, bouffed and judged. Heather and Erin competed throughout Quebec and eastern Ontario all summer long but their ponies have never seen cows or even large draft horses. Holly said it was amusing to see how the ponies reacted. “They were shocked.”

Holly and Duncan agree that the two girls are independent of each other when it comes to practising and preparing. “While they will help each other out and look out for each other, their own pony comes first and foremost.”

It is a dream to compete at the Royal, and now the sisters share that honour with their mom Holly, who rode her own pony there a few decades ago. It must be in the genes as their grandmother, the inimitable Trish Oswald, was a huge inspiration to children, ponies, families and riders from the moment she opened Dunelm in the 1960s. “Mrs. O’s” old-fashioned horsemanship is legendary and her influences are apparent in Heather and Erin.

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