First-time competitors thriving at fair
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Tyne Alliban and her family drove more than 1,000 kilometres to compete in the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair horse show for the first time, a decision that’s already paying dividends for the equine enthusiasts from Alberta.
The 15-year-old rider had just captured a second-place finish in the one-metre jumper competition alongside her thoroughbred Stormy Spirited when the Sun spoke to Alliban and her mother Jennifer on Thursday morning.
The previous day, Alliban clinched the top spot in the 0.9-metre class thanks to her Dutch warmblood Kienika BF and took part in the dog and pony show later that night, which featured one of the largest crowds she has ever encountered.
“I was a little bit nervous, but more so excited,” Alliban said after picking up her champion ribbon for the one-metre jump.
“You just kind of get into a focus and then ignore everything else that’s happening around you.”
Alliban is no stranger to performing under pressure; she has been riding horses before she even learned how to walk.
It also doesn’t hurt that her family runs a training facility, Kaliber Equine Services, out of Carstairs, Alta., which has given her ample opportunity to fine-tune her technique over the years.
However, the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair is a brand-new endeavour for Alliban, one she hopes to repeat in the future based on her experience in Brandon this week.
“The competition is definitely another level compared to the last ones I’ve been to, in some respects,” she said. “But the atmosphere is great here and it’s a great environment. Everyone’s really friendly.”
Alliban isn’t the only competitor making their Royal Manitoba Winter Fair debut this year.
Eleven-year-old Aubree Swain, daughter of Winter Fair co-chair Clint Swain, has been generating waves alongside her horse Partner in Crime, picking up a first-place finish in Thursday’s long-short stirrup (hunter class).
Even though she’s already been riding for five years and jumping for one, this week marks Swain’s first entry into an official riding competition, which fills her mother Jenna with pride.
“There’s been lots of late nights,” Jenna said on Thursday, referencing the rigorous training her daughter underwent to prepare for this year’s Winter Fair. “Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays we barely see her because she lives at the barn. She lives with her horse, basically. So it takes a lot of commitment.”
Swain is hoping to cap off this week on a positive note with today’s Team Cup competition, which will give her the opportunity to ride alongside some of her fellow Westman residents.
“Her best friend rides with her as well and the two of them are inseparable,” Jenna said. “So it will be nice to be able to see them do that.”
While Kassidy Zrudlo, a resident of Rhein, Sask., competed in the Winter Fair roughly a decade ago, her thoroughbred Molly is taking part in the festival for the very first time.
Despite a promising start, Zrudlo revealed that Molly’s inexperience cost her a day’s worth of competition after she was thrown from the saddle mid-week.
“The big screen, the lights can sometimes be a little much,” she said.
“She’s competed at lots of smaller schooling shows and things like that, but this is definitely the biggest show that she’s ever been to.”
However, Zrudlo said this is all part of the process, with the hope that this year’s competition will serve as a learning experience and a catalyst for better things down the line.
“Even if you don’t think you belong here or that you’re not ready for something like this, it’s always worth it to [give] it a try,” she said.
Light horse co-chair Shirley Neudorf said the Winter Fair itself is in a similar state of rediscovery, since the weeklong event is still recovering from a multi-year hiatus brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the Winter Fair returned last year with slight restrictions in place, the participation rate for riders paled in comparison to pre-pandemic levels, with some participants travelling south of the border while others remained weary of returning due to health concerns.
Neudorf estimated this year’s crop of equine competitors is roughly 130, which is a far cry from the 200 participants they managed to attract over a decade ago.
However, Neudorf believes these numbers will trend in the right direction in the years to come, especially after witnessing such an impressive influx of first-time talent filling their ranks this week.
“If next year is anything like I think it’s going to be, we’re going to be bursting at the seams.”
» Twitter: @KyleDarbyson