Little did Christine Wiggins’ grandparents suspect that their 10th birthday gift to her ‒ a week at riding camp – was the first step towards their granddaughter’s future career.
Wiggins continued with riding lessons at the same barn where the camp was held, but when it closed, she became a student at Fiddler’s Green Stables in Stittsville, near Ottawa. There she came under the tutelage of Becky Nuth, a trainer with extensive experience in Pony Club, hunters, jumpers and eventing.
“My parents supported my riding, but they weren’t horsey and were not in a financial position to do more than weekly lessons, so I worked my butt off for any extra riding,” Wiggins, 35, recalls. “Becky would give me rides on school horses that needed extra work. I wasn’t very good at the time!”
Fast forward a quarter century. Nuth continues as head trainer at Fiddler’s Green, the stable started by her family, and Wiggins is her training and business partner.
When Wiggins started criminology and psychology studies at Carleton University, she lived at home and continued riding, as she knew she wanted to become a professional equestrian. At 18, she bought her first horse – a Thoroughbred mare named Rapid Tidy (Reffie) – on a payment plan.
“A friend of mine who evented and rode at Fiddler’s owned her and had to sell her,” says Wiggins. “She thought Reffie would love the jumpers and would be perfect for me. I got a great deal on her and she taught me so much.”
Two years later, Nuth helped her import Zanzibar, a six-year-old Dutch warmblood gelding, and Wiggins hoped she could develop him to the 1.20 metre level. Together they moved up to 1.45 metre competition.
“I kept asking and he kept doing it,” she says. “Everything he did for the first time, we did together. Looking back on it, it seems more amazing. He was so game for everything.”
Wiggins won the first-ever Canadian Emerging Rider Award for Eastern Canada in 2011 and competed in her first grand prix with Zanzibar a year later. The pair competed in numerous grand prix with top placings and qualified two years in a row for the Talent Squad.
After graduating from university, Wiggins started riding full-time for Fiddler’s Green and she and Nuth partnered in training and developing horses and teaching students. While Nuth continues to be her key mentor, Wiggins also has trained with Hugh Graham, Darren Dlin, Jenn Hamilton and Jill Henselwood.
“Before we had a farm in Florida, I’d work with Hugh during the winter. If I need help, he still always has time for me,” says Wiggins. “It’s really wonderful to get feedback and training from someone who’s had such a diverse career and ridden at such at a high level. Jill Henselwood is in our area and has been very helpful in developing my career. But I would never be where I am without Becky. She realizes the benefit of learning from those top riders. Everything I learn from them I bring back to Fiddler’s Green.”
Nuth’s current string includes Evalien, a 12-year-old Dutch warmblood that won her first grand prix at Caledon Equestrian Park in 2019. “She has a top-five finish in everything. She’s so fast and careful. She’s a really winning 1.40 metre horse.”
Nuth and Wiggins’ mother also invested in a jumper for Wiggins, Cabaliero 2, an 11-year-old grey Holsteiner gelding by Clinton I. Wiggins had first spotted the horse jumping with one of Jill Henselwood’s clients.
“He’s my dream horse,” says Wiggins. “When I first saw him, he had such presence and seemed so happy to do his job.”
When Nuth posted a Facebook ad looking for a grand prix horse for a young professional, Wiggins was shocked when Cabaliero 2’s owners answered.
“Becky sent me the video and I said ‘oh my gosh’ when I saw it (and recognized him),” Wiggins says. “I brought him to Florida this year for the winter circuit and he’s been amazing. We started at 1.20 metres and ended at 1.45 metres.”
While Wiggins spends the winters competing south of the border (this winter included a stop at the fabulous new World Equestrian Center – Ocala), in mid-April she returns home where she and Nuth coach riders of all levels. “We go to bronze, silver and gold shows. If the shows overlap, we have a good team at home that allows us to be in several places at once.”
There are currently 42 horses at home in Stittsville, plus six Wiggins took to Florida. Fiddler’s Green has a small riding school as well as client boarders and their horses.
As she works on her own jumper goals, Wiggins still rides in the hunter and hunter derby classes as well.
“Hunters take a lot of accuracy, patience and skill,” she says. “Our job is to make it look like you’re doing nothing and it takes a lot of skill to do that in a stylized way to get the best jump. For jumpers, you have to be pretty darn brave and trust the horse.”
Wiggins aspires to move up to FEI grand prix classes this year and believes Cabaliero 2, or Larry as he’s known in the barn, is the horse to take her there.
“I think he can. The feeling he gives me is incredible,” she says. “He’s hilarious and is so lovely to deal with in the barn. Sometimes he’ll get nervous and you just have to give him a moment to realize he’s fine.”
Her parents, who had no experience with horses before that fateful week at riding camp, are now her staunchest supporters, says Wiggins. “They are so proud and loved it this year as the Florida shows had live feeds they could watch. I would barely finish a round and I’d get a text from them!”