The great ability for major events to inspire new generations of participants is captured perfectly by Canada’s 2023 Pan American Games Dressage team. When Bromont hosted the 2003 North American Young Riders Championships, one young girl pointed to a dressage rider and told her mom that she wanted to do that. In part, achieving that dream helped build the powerhouse team of Quebec women that are winning medals for Canada.
In 2003, Mathilde Blais Tetreault was just 11 years old and riding with her local Pony Club when she attended that fateful event in Bromont. What she saw inspired her and spurred her mother, Joane Tetreault, to create a program that has helped inspire a generation of Quebec dressage riders.
Joane is quick to point out that she built on the original program created by Roz Farber, who had hosted many clinics with Albrecht Heidemann over several years. Mathilde participated in that program for a few years but when Roz stopped hosting these events, Joane began investigating how she could create a high-performance program that would best continue her daughter’s training.
“My husband is a university teacher and so training and education are part of our values. Other kids come to Quebec to learn other sports like hockey, because we are good, so we looked and asked where are the good ones in the world of dressage, and it was Europe.”
With that in mind, Joane contacted Albrecht and asked how they could continue the work he had already started.
“I went to Albrecht and asked him how can we continue, knowing that without any resources for training the girls won’t go anywhere. Albrecht didn’t want to travel anymore, and I wanted daily training. Not just once in a while every three months, but a really deep and intensive training program.”
In 2010, they were able to secure the necessary work permits for Albrecht to move to Joane’s Montreal-based farm and lead the program that would last five years.
Around the same time, Naima Laliberte’s father, Guy, called Joane; the two had gone to school together and were long-time friends. Guy asked Joane what she thought they could do to help the girls pursue their dressage dreams, so Joane explained the agreement that she had just made with Albrecht. The two struck a deal and became partners in this intensive dressage training program that has launched the careers of several Canadian team riders.
“There were two main things to the program. First, it was an intensive and daily program,” explained Joane. “We put all the infrastructure in place, like good footing and everything we needed to welcome this trainer. We also went to get some good schoolmaster horses. Second, the girls need to be exposed, so that’s what started the Florida training.”
Since Albrecht had been giving clinics across Canada and the US, he had a large customer base on the continent. At the height of the program, a group of 15-20 horses with eight or so riders would travel to Florida to train for a few months over the winter.
When this program started, Mathilde was 18 years old and both her sister, Laurence, and Naima were 14, but this high-level training at such an early age laid the right foundation for their future success.
“I was in CEGEP, which is like college in Quebec, so I would do school in the afternoon and nights and riding in the morning from 6 am to 12 pm,” said Mathilde. “It would depend on the days, but mostly it was that and then the whole weekend.”
The younger riders would do something similar, riding in the morning and going to school in the afternoon, but would only ride one or two horses compared with the six or seven Mathilde would get on.
Though Beatrice Boucher, who trained with her mother, Isabelle Ouellette, wasn’t part of this program, she was very much part of the group who would all compete together and were on many of the same teams. The shared success and experiences motivated them all to be better and achieve more.
“We did the Juniors and Young Riders together, so even though we weren’t part of the program with Albrecht, we were all together. We all won individual and team medals together,” said Beatrice. “Together as a team we were really strong.”
The program served its purpose and gave the group the correct basics to build from. After five years, Mathilde moved to Europe to continue her training while Albrecht continued to work with Camille Bergeron for a couple of years at her farm, and Naima and Laurence continued their own training with different coaches.
“It was an understanding between Albrecht and I that I grew a bit out of that particular program, and I had to go and experience other things,” said Mathilde. “He really taught me everything that I know about horsemanship, which has followed me throughout my career. To this day I do things that he taught me when I was young.”
As more countries find the cost of hosting major events a challenge, it’s good to remember their significant value to inspire. This group, who grew up training and pushing each other, are now a powerful force, winning medals at the most senior level of the sport.