For Dr. Penny Rowland, finding the balance between her professional life as a small animal veterinarian and an eventer who has represented Canada at the World Equestrian Games, Pan Am Games, and Rolex Kentucky comes down to a simple truth: she truly loves both her profession and her hobby. “I always loved animals and worked better with them than most people,” she laughs. “I’m very lucky in that I always knew what I wanted to do. Both [eventing and veterinary medicine] demand a lot from me, but there would really be something missing in my life if I decided to do one exclusively.”
Educated at boarding school in the UK and later completing her studies at the University of Kenya, Penny spent much of her life living on the African continent before returning to Canada to open her practice. In partnership with equine veterinarian Dr. Usha Knabe, she operates Cranmore Farm in Orangeville, ON.
Embarking on a journey to the upper levels of the sport was not necessarily something Penny envisioned when she first set foot on the eventing scene. Admittedly “playing around” at the prelim and intermediate levels, she suddenly found herself sitting on the right horses at the right time. A push came from Canadian eventing stalwart Peter Gray when he planted the seed in her mind to pursue a berth onthe Canadian team – a suggestion that at first seemed ludicrous. “He suggested I try for the team, and I didn’t really give it much thought at the time,” she remembers. “I hadn’t even really considered it, but he made me start thinking about it as being a possibility.” This turning point started shaping her career: “I began to get more serious about the training and seemed to just keep getting better.”
She first experienced trepidation at her decision when walking the course at the 2002 World Championships in Jerez, Spain. “I remember walking that course and thinking, “oh my god, I volunteered for this?” she laughs. “Usually, once you’ve walked it four or five times it gets better. But that adrenaline rush is good. It becomes a question of overcoming that fear and still doing a good job.”
With the threat that an eventing injury could sideline her from practising veterinary medicine, Penny plays it safe, but doesn’t allow fear to play a factor once she’s on course. “Yes, it is dangerous, we all know there is that element to the sport, but you just have to make sure you’re not foolish. I wear a helmet every time I ride. I could die in a car crash tomorrow, so why not get out there and have fun?”
Having achieved remarkable success (including earning the team silver medal at the 2003 Pan American Games) in the sport since breaking onto the international scene in 2002, Penny’s goals for the upcoming 2012 season have shifted slightly. She is no longer pursuing a position on the Canadian team: “Not because I don’t enjoy it, and not because I’m not capable of doing it, but because I am really enjoying bringing horses up through the levels and that’s about all I can fit in at the moment.”
She will focus instead on the development of several young horses in her stable. Under the guidance of Dr. Knabe, Cranmore’s breeding operation has produced many exciting youngsters over the years, including three homebreds out of Penny’s mare, Arista, whom she bought in England and competed on for several years. Her top horse is still Flying Finn, an 11-year-old Hungarian Warmblood she has owned for seven years. Another is Northwind’s Breeze, a nine-year-old paint mare who is a “really, really tough cookie” who fell into Penny’s lap when she proved to be a difficult ride. “I enjoy developing horses up to this level. I like figuring them out and bringing along horses who weren’t necessarily thought of as special at the time.”
Penny remains devoted to eventing, whether bringing along youngsters or competing at the top levels. “I love this sport because of the people in it; it’s a huge family. Eventing has a humbling effect of its own and people really support each other – it’s an amazing sport in that way.”