As any horse owner and rider who competes on the A circuit knows, the costs of the sport have increased exponentially in the post-pandemic era, thanks to inflation. In order for a rider to be competitive at the FEI level (or any level, for that matter), they need access to big money, especially when you consider how budgets increase as soon as horses need to start flying internationally, which is often the case for team competitions and Olympic qualification.

In the past, many Canadian riders were forced to decline invitations to ride for Team Canada because of the costs and due to the fact that Equestrian Canada could only partially cover these fees. Enter the newly-created CAN Jump Initiative as a way to help riders achieve success.

CAN Jump is set up to be a sustainable and consistent source of funding that can pay the costs for any Canadian rider (both senior and young riders) to represent Canada internationally. “If a rider works hard, has the horse and results, they should have no financial barriers to compete for Canada,” says Olympic show jumper Amy Millar, who along with teammate Tiffany Foster, is on the organization’s Board of Directors and spearheading this fundraising initiative. Other high-profile names on the board are Jerome David, Dayton Gorsline, Christopher Lowe, Chris Pack, Tara Rein, Karen Sparks, Beth Underhill, Paul Wood, and Tim Worden. Foster and Millar choose the board with an eye to have representation from EC, senior and young rider levels, as well as expertise from different stakeholders such as show organizers, owners, parents, etc.

CAN Jump utilizes the Canadian Olympic Foundation and is supported by Equestrian Canada. Strict guidelines have been set up to ensure all money raised is used solely for supporting equestrians representing Canada in international competition in the National Team program. Eligible expenses include travel costs (airfare for rider, groom and horse, ground transportation, accommodations), team clothing, and other expenses related to athletes that are selected to represent the country.

While EC’s High-Performance Advisory Group (HPAG) and Technical Advisor decides who rides on teams and what competitions to attend, the guidelines for what the funds can be used for are determined by CAN Jump. The monies raised are paid to and held by the Canadian Olympic Foundation. When a team travels to a competition that is eligible for support, COF transfer the funds to EC to pay the approved expenses as outlined in the CAN Jump guidelines. EC provides CAN Jump the detailed receipting and reporting on all payments made.

“With the critical gaps in sport funding, further resources are needed to get our teams to more international competitions,” said James Hood, EC’s Director, High Performance. “EC is proud of the passion and leadership that the CAN Jump Initiative is activating to bridge the gap and meet the challenge. Amy, Tiffany, and the Initiative’s supporters are showing their dedication to Team Canada and ensuring any rider that has the ability to represent the maple leaf can. It’s a formula for success.”

The donor levels of this new initiative include gold ($50k), silver ($25K), and bronze ($10K). Depending on the level of donation, donors receive a grab bag of perks including accreditation at events, framed autographed photos from a Team Canada member of their choice, Team Canada clothing, and a tax receipt. Donations between $5K-$10K also receive a tax receipt and gifts (clothing, etc.) from CAN Jump partners.

The initiative is off to an encouraging start; its fundraiser in Wellington last weekend raised $200,000 in donations. Another similar event is planned for Langley that will include a silent auction.

“The financial stresses imposed by this industry should not be a stumbling block for someone with potential to ride on the Canadian Equestrian Team,” says Foster, who has been part of Team Canada during Olympics, World Championships, and Pan American Games. “This is precisely what’s happening and what will continue to happen. We want to have the capacity to reward and thank owners for supporting Canadian riders and to have team gear that makes us feel like a team so when you make it on the team, you truly make it.”

Many in the sport see exciting times ahead, with ‘Captain Canada’ Ian Millar now at the helm for the senior jumping team and Dayton Gorsline continuing to do outstanding work with the young riders. It is factors such as having these luminaries of the sport developing and working with riders that make CAN Jump so timely.

“Canada has so many talented riders, both at the senior as well as young rider level, and this initiative is all about opening doors and ensuring Canada always sends the strongest teams possible to Nations Cups,” says Foster. “Additionally, we want to ensure that all riders who earn a spot to represent Canada will have the opportunity to achieve their dream without financial hardship.”

Considering that Amy Millar, Underhill and Foster could themselves be potential funding recipients, what are the safeguards against conflicts of interest?

Board member Tim Worden advised, “Transparency and accountability are central to this initiative. We are working hard behind the scenes to finalize a policies document that all Board members must approve. This will be posted online when it is ready and strictly adhered to. The procedures are rigid with respect to how funds can be handed out and there is a clear progression for what we will be able to fund and when.”

Amy Millar added, “There is zero conflict of interest. The HPAG and the TA choose the Nations Cup events Canada will attend each year. CAN Jump will fund as many of these trips as we can. If one of us is named to the team, then we will be eligible for our share of funds.”

Another important aspect of the CAN Jump Initiative is to promote the Canadian show jumping community and venues. “We have some state-of-the-art facilities here in Canada and we want to create an atmosphere where Canadians, as well as other riders from around the globe, are excited to come here to compete,” explains Millar. “This will involve all riders stepping up to promote show jumping in Canada, working with show sponsors to ensure they receive a return on their investment, and creating new educational opportunities for young riders.”

For both Amy Millar and Foster, who continue to represent their country at home and abroad, the CAN Jump Initiative also feels personal. “I love riding on the Canadian team, it is one of the most fun and exciting things I do,” Millar explains. “To be successful at the international level, we need to go to Nations Cups all over the world and earn our standing. This costs a lot of money and takes us away from our business which is our source of income. Paying for my own horses to travel all over the world and reducing the income from my home operation is not a sustainable situation for me and a barrier to entry for many riders in Canada.”

The CAN Jump Initiative also aims to go beyond meeting the needs of Canada’s current crop of equestrian athletes, by having a solid, dependable base of funding for future generations of riders. “I wanted to help create something that can allow ANY Canadian rider to dream as big as they want to dream,” says Foster. “We want to give young riders something to aim for! Riding for your country is the biggest honour you can have in your career, and we want to open doors for as many people as we can to do just that.”

Worden concluded, “Canada has always had talented riders but the resources and opportunities available to them have been lacking for a number of years now and this impacts their ability to reach the podium. Looking toward the future, it is a really exciting time for the sport in Canada as we have some great younger Canadian riders coming up – but they need opportunities to showcase their abilities, gain access to bigger shows, as well as to attract owners.

“My hope is that initiatives like this disrupt the current Canadian showjumping landscape and get people to think differently. How can we attract donors who are passionate about the sport and leverage this funding for maximum benefit? What opportunities exist to give the next generation experience and exposure? The status quo is not good enough but this initiative will help move the sport in the right direction.”

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