On Saturday, September 11, the Whitecourt Woodlands Rodeo grounds were packed with activity for the first of many events by the River Valley Pony Club. Organizers held The Big Jump, which is the first event of its kind in a decade. Kathleen Skrecek, a pony club mom and the main organizer, said they hope the event becomes annual.
“This is happening at the end of a very busy show season, minus the whole COVID thing. We wanted to have some riders up here in Whitecourt and put us on the map as far as the jump show circuit goes. We are going to offer them western hospitality here. Riders can win up to six place ribbons, but then we also have huge prizes from really generous local sponsors, and Alberta companies in the equestrian world have been so generous with us too.”
The event featured 29 riders from Whitecourt, Sherwood Park, Edmonton, Stoney Plain, Fairview, and Grande Prairie. Skrecek said they had hoped for more but that they were happy to see the riders in attendance enjoying the grounds. Word of mouth will help them raise their numbers at future events. “We want to make this a destination for showjumping, and we have to start somewhere. If you don’t prove yourself first, then people don’t know about you, and there are so many other shows that pop on the circuit. Considering we aren’t known yet, we didn’t do too bad,” she said.
The reason there hasn’t been an event held locally in so long is due to manpower. Skrecek said that in the future, they would need support from the horse community to spread the word and get events like The Big Jump more known. “We will need volunteers to make it annual. It can’t just be a handful of moms from the Pony Club. We need our horse community to help us.”
As a regular volunteer with the Whitecourt Fish and Game Association, through Ladies League and Junior Archery, Skrecek describes herself as a go-getter. Upon seeing how much travelling happens in the Pony Club world, she saw an opportunity to bring that action closer to home. “We travel so much, and we have lots of great riders in our Pony Club, and we wanted to bring something home. I wanted them to showcase how good they are doing in show jumping to their families and friends. I wanted us to be on the map as an event to hit up.”
In talking with parents and coaches in attendance, Skrecek said that she heard great feedback. “People have been very kind. This is a learning experience for us as we figure out what works and what doesn’t. People have been so supportive and grateful. It will get better every year.” As for the name, she said it came from the space, not the jumps. “We call it The Big Jump because the arena is big. When we are in these lower levels for shows, the arenas are usually smaller, and we wanted the kids to have a big course, designed by Chris Gould from Touchstone Farms. We wanted them to have a great time and a full experience with the grandstands. We have a beautiful facility to hold an equestrian event, and we want people to come here and enjoy themselves and come watch a great show.”
Funds from the event will be split uniquely, explained Skrecek. “One-third of it is coming to our Pony Club, so we can pay for clinicians so our kids can have more education. Also, to pay for testing because testing is expensive. Another third will go towards the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #44 because it is 9/11 today. We had an opening ceremony where we had Oh Canada, a moment of silence and two riders carrying the Canada and Alberta flags in the arena. The final third is going to stay here with the Whitecourt and District Agricultural Society, and it’s going towards them building permanent covered stabling.” She explained that they need the covered stables to have livestock shows such as sheep, cattle, 4H and horses. “People need proper stabling for their animals. We want to help build up our equestrian community and our livestock community.”
Skrecek said they divided up the prizes so that riders within Pony Clubs around the province had an extra opportunity. “We have prizes for high point open rider, which is someone who doesn’t belong to a Pony Club, and then we have a high point Pony Club member prize and ribbon. They are all out here to get the big prizes,” she smiled. The youngest rider to take part was eight years old. To learn more about Pony Club and stay up to date on their events, visit their Facebook page, River Valley Pony Club.
Serena Lapointe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Whitecourt Press