Many provinces in Canada have faced the same issues for years: a shortage of officials and not enough support for riders or show organizers. The Nova Scotia Equestrian Federation (NSEF) faced the same challenges, so they used time during the pandemic to develop some remarkable new programs to address these issues head-on. With $20,000 in funding from Support4Sport, a program from the province’s gaming authority, motivated staff, and the invaluable support of the community, Nova Scotia launched an online officials training course, an athlete performance program, and an online competition management platform.

Training for Officials

One of the barriers to hosting shows is having enough local officials who are trained in the rules and safety aspects of the sport. To add a further challenge, horse shows that are part of the NSEF Scotia Series, a group of provincial level shows, often host a variety of disciplines at the same time from pleasure driving, to western performance, to dressage and hunter/jumper classes, so it’s important that officials are well versed in the rules in each discipline. While Equestrian Canada offers official certification, NSEF was interested in offering a grassroots program to support those interested in learning more about the basics of the sport to help support the organizers who host Scotia Series shows.

“The program is meant to train new officials who are experienced in the sport but need some training on the technical parts,” said Sheila Currie, Nova Scotia’s Director of Technical Development. “We had a lot of judges that were strong in one discipline but not another and many of the Scotia Series shows have a combination of disciplines, so we had to fill the gap so that they had that base knowledge.”

“Our team of staff and volunteers put the courses together and invited technical experts to give us their feedback,” added Currie of the courses that are online and include a series of videos and tutorials using The Horse Portal from Equine Guelph. “The course is open to anybody who wants entry level officials training. Many provinces have courses for officials but I don’t know of another province that offers this type of online foundational training.”

“While the course gives a great foundation, we also recommend mentoring,” added Heather Myrer, NSEF’s Executive Director. “It’s a good introduction for people to see if they feel comfortable going to the next steps. While the course doesn’t confer status, it does give education, including safety and basic understanding of competition rules.”

Athlete Development

The NSEF also recognized that there was no formal pathway for their athletes to follow who were interested in progressing with their performance goals.

“Our athlete performance program is something we created ourselves because we felt there was a gap between entry level and performance level and how athletes set goals to climb that athlete development ladder,” said Myrer.

As a result of developing the Athlete Performance Program, they had access to the Canadian Sport Centre Atlantic’s Sport Science program which allows athletes to access the integrated sport science services such as nutrition, fitness, and mental performance services.

Athletes must qualify for the program through an application process which requires that they state their performance goals and how their plans fit within a High Performance pathway. Based on their level of performance, athletes who are accepted are eligible for some funding towards various support services including training camps.

“We try to put on three to five training camps a year, or we support athletes in our program who are attending an approved training camp,” said Currie. “Also, if a good clinician is available and already coming into the province, then we would typically support them by assisting with their funding, depending on their tier placement.”

Alinta MacLeod has been an identified athlete since 2019 and has found the services have greatly helped her performance with her mare, Fintan’s Wing.

“I found working on mental performance incredibly helpful, especially entering the ring and remembering that I can totally do this,” said MacLeod. “It really helped me not only improve my marks but how I looked at the comments from the test, including how to interpret them and how to use them to better move forward.”

“I also worked on strength and conditioning training at St. Francis Xavier University with Josh Crouse. We worked on my overall strength as well as conditioning of the huge main muscle groups that equestrians use such as back, core, thighs, and upper body. With the extra cross-training I was able to move Fintan’s Wing faster within the level and help her progress faster.”

“Overall, I think the program is amazing. It really helps athletes come out of their shell and find out what is out there and what is available to them. It helped me move forward within my sport.”

Horse Show Management Software

Perhaps the most ambitious of the new programs offered by the NSEF is their online horse show management platform.

NSEF worked with Wisebox Solutions CEO Colin Schmidt (who also happens to be a vaulter) to build this all-in-one competition management system. Not only does the program offer Scotia Series and customized class options for a variety of disciplines, it’s linked to the database for coaches and officials, and keeps track of membership requirements such as Safe Sport and concussion training. It produces all sorts of reports that are helpful to show organizers such as schedules, online entries, stall reports, standings, and much more.

“We wanted to acknowledge and support sanctioned competitions,” said Currie about the program that is free for any Scotia Series horse show to use. “We also want to encourage safety and safe sport compliance and make sure that all our members have the proper insurance. All these elements are important aspects of sanctioned competition.”

“When it comes to Safe Sport, EC’s jurisdiction falls to those who have sport licenses, but there are many more sport-related participants who don’t fall under the EC purview when it comes to competition structure,” explained Myrer. “We play a role in providing a safe and enjoyable sport experience. So we took it upon ourselves to create a system that tracks Safe Sport standards, which is why it’s so important for competition managers at all levels of sanctioned competition to use this system.” NSEF is working with EC to link Ecampus to their database so there is no duplication of information or work.

As with introducing any new technology, the biggest challenge is often training people to use it. The NSEF are ready and willing to help with the transition.

“It takes time to get used to, but once you get used to it, it’s easy. We understand that it’s hard changing from the old Excel or paper method but it’s worthwhile,” added Currie. “Emily is the program manager and here to help and support competitions with the transition. Don’t get frustrated, call Emily!”

NSEF is working with EC to have the EC ecampus linked to their database so there is no duplication of information or work. These forward-thinking efforts by the province’s equestrian community will help provide a path for athletes to follow and ensure that they have well-run shows at which to compete along their journey.