Excitement is building in the Ottewell household as two young equestrians from Collingwood, Dougie and Abbi Ottewell, prepare to showcase their skills at the Royal Winter Fair National Horse Show in Toronto this weekend.
The event, now in its 101st year, draws competitors from across Canada and around the world. The show will run from Nov. 3, to Nov. 12 and the Ottewell siblings are set to compete on different days. Dougie will take the stage this Friday and Saturday, while Abbi will follow with her performances on Saturday and Sunday.
The Ottewell family left for Toronto on Wednesday in preparation.
The siblings have been riding since they could walk and started horse showing independently at the age of four. Abbi will be riding Moody Blue, affectionately known as "Blue," in the pony jumper division, where the jumps can reach heights of 1.0m and widths up to 1.10m.
On the other hand, Dougie will be riding Touch of Gold, or "TG," in the Small Pony Hunter Division.
Both riders said they have their own unique challenges to overcome.
“Blue isn't always the most careful pony, but he is brave and likes to go fast, which is good if I make the jump-offs,” said Abbi.
According to Dougie, TG is a very fancy pony that jumps well and moves even better. But, he said, “sometimes, she isn't always brave, especially if I am a bit nervous. So, I have been practising really hard since I learned that I qualified to make sure that we are ready to face all the jumps in the big coliseum.”
Their passion for riding and showing was instilled by their parents, Scott and Sara Jo Ottewell, who are also coaches and trainers. Scott also owns Gladstone Farm which is run out of Sandy Acres in Nottawa.
The Ottewell family travels to horse shows throughout Ontario as a family, juggling their equestrian pursuits with winter hockey commitments. In the winter months, Dougie also plays forward for the Collingwood Junior Blues U13 local league, while Abbi takes on the role of goalie for the Collingwood Lightning U15 Girls rep team.
When asked about their love for riding, Abbi expressed her deep connection with the bond between horse and rider. She also cherishes the time spent with friends and family at horse shows, where she feels at ease in a community that shares her passion.
“When I'm at the shows, I'm able to just relax and be myself because I'm surrounded by other people who also love horses and the sport,” she said.
For Dougie, it's all about the thrill of the ride and the satisfaction of winning.
“Sometimes TG can be a bit too fast, but I am learning to like that, because I know in the jumpers that if I go fast, I win. And I really love winning,” he said.
However, competition comes with its own set of challenges. Abbi admits that putting too much pressure on herself or her pony can be daunting.
“I still need to get better at just letting mistakes go and continuing,” said Abbi. “It's not the end of the world; I have many more years of showing and competing.”
Dougie finds it frustrating when nerves affect his pony's performance.
“She can feel when I am nervous and that makes her nervous,” he said. “I have worked hard and practised so that I get less nervous.”
This year marks Abbi's second appearance at the Royal, and she said she feels less nervous and more excited compared to her debut. She is ready to focus on competing at her best.
“This year, I don't have the same nerves because I know that last year I was able to overcome my nerves and jump around,” she said. “That means that I should be able to focus more on being competitive rather than just getting around the course.”
Abbi is also excited to reconnect with friends and share the stage with her brother, and even said that her Grade 8 teacher planned a class trip to the Royal to see them perform this Friday.
For Dougie, competing at the Royal for the first time involves a mix of nervousness and excitement. Dougie is looking forward to seeing his horse show friends and soaking up the unique experience of competing at the Royal.
Plus, he is particularly proud of the progress he and TG have made since the start of the season.
“I plan to just focus on me and my pony and just enjoy riding her,” he said.
As they head to Toronto to compete at the Royal, the Ottewell siblings are gearing up for an experience they know they will cherish for a lifetime. This year, it's more than just a horse show; it's a family affair.