A Canadian equestrian dynasty began with a determined red-headed Irish Catholic girl who grew up on Island Park Drive in Ottawa, ON, where her family stabled her ponies in their rear garage. She became the matriarch of the Laframboise family, a name recognized nationally and internationally in the eventing world. Second- and third-generation Laframboises have carried on her legacy.
Mary Anne Coulson’s grandfather imported Irish racing and steeplechase horses and her parents and grandparents field hunted with the Ottawa Valley Hunt. So did she, often riding across the Champlain Bridge to Aylmer, QC. When World War II brought hard times, her ponies were sold. Mary Anne went on to become a nurse and married Guy Laframboise, a young doctor she met on a ski hill.
After she gave birth to five of their eight children, she bought a horse, then a pony, then another. Initially, the family boarded their horses, but as the herd grew, Mary Anne and another hunt family rented a farm in Aylmer. Although she had no competition background, Mary Anne sought knowledge from books and magazines and knowledgeable horsemen. She started a boarding and riding stable, got into breeding and helped to establish the Canadian equestrian coaching system along with people such as Tom Gayford, George Morris, Michael Gutowski, Michael Herbert, Claudia Cojocar, and Geoff Gowan. Mary Anne had met young Ian Millar when he lived next door to where she boarded. After she opened her own stable, she introduced him to his future wife – one of her boarders, nurse Lynn Doran. Randy Roy also became a family friend.
“Freedom within a good structure”
Mary Anne and Guy’s eight children, born between July 1953 and February 1964 – Lise, Lorraine, Estelle (Teddie), Moira (Momo), Julie, Guy, Deidre (Dede) and Nicole (Nicky) – all rode. They participated in Pony Club, field hunting, hunters, jumpers, dressage, and equitation and went on to excel at eventing. Six daughters made the Canadian eventing team Talent Squad, short or long list, and Lorraine, Momo, and Dede competed at the international level.
The kids learned riding skills primarily from their mother and European calvary trainers General Michael Gutowski and Colonel Frederick Graffi. Mary Anne adopted American trainer George Morris as a mentor when she worked with him to establish the certification program in Canada and he called her ‘Mother Superior.’ Lorraine’s first pony was schooled by Ian Millar and her first junior horse, Maggie Mayflower, was an Anglo-Arab mare bred by Torchy Millar’s mother that Lorraine rode to many hunter and equitation wins.
When the Laframboises headed off to horse shows in a six-horse box, “whoever could not fit in the front rode in the back with the horses, getting covered with hay,” recalls Teddie.
In 1970, Mary Anne and Guy bought a derelict farm in Luskville, QC, that had no plumbing or electricity. “We had 25 to 30 horses in Aylmer. The broodmares and foals were transported and we rode the rest along back roads twenty kilometres to the new farm. The first summer we camped out there with eighteen kids and no showers or lake,” Teddie says. The family developed Farm of The Mountain into a training and competition facility that they owned and operated until 2007.
Guy, fondly known as ‘Doc,’ was a pioneering ear, nose, and throat surgeon and had been a world-class downhill skier. He did drags for hunts, built cross-country fences, and invented a boot polisher to clean the family’s riding boots.
“My father used to tell us if you are going to compete you might as well win. Intimidating at times, but underneath was the feeling that I always could,” says Momo.
“My mom’s attitude was ‘why not?’ She was one of the fighting Irish, my dad the French philosopher. It was a great balance for us, especially as young athletes and horsewomen,” adds Lorraine.
On the farm, the kids fed horses, mucked out stalls, and had to bring in 8,000-plus bales of hay each summer. Mary Anne used a large ship’s bell to summon the family to meals. She often took the kids out of school to ride or go to the cottage in summer or ski in winter.
“She balanced our lives with living close to the earth and excelling at school. Part of the reason we excelled was because we had so much freedom within a good structure,” explains Lorraine.
Dominating the Eventing Scene
Lorraine and Juliet Graham were among the first Canadian eventers to go south to train in winter in the early ‘70s. In 1973, Lorraine, 18, and Soyam, a gelding by Soysambu (sire of many Laframboise mounts), won the individual gold medal at the 1973 Continental Junior Championships at Jokers Hill. A Thoroughbred gelding, Reef, discovered by Ian Millar and Randy Roy that didn’t work out as a hunter, was purchased by Frances O’Brien for Lorraine. With Reef, Lorraine was Canadian Eventing Champion in 1980 and was short-listed for the 1982 World Equestrian Games in Stockholm. Several times, Reef and Lorraine conquered Rolex Kentucky’s challenging course. Nicky rode Reef to a top-10 finish at the Chesterland International event in 1984 and also took him to the Young Riders’ Championships the same year, where they finished 4th. Dede took him twice to Rolex, ending up 4th in the four-star in 1987.
Lorraine was a member of the Canadian Team from 1976 to 1983 and was a Canadian national and Olympic eventing team coach from 1991 to 1993. She was also coaching young riders, but when she was busy trying for the Canadian Team in 1980, 22-year-old Teddie coached the Quebec team going to the NAYRC in Red Deer, AB. The upstart team, that included younger sisters Dede and Nicky, won gold. The following year, Dede won individual gold on a Ted Leggett-bred Soysambu offspring, Kinburn, coached by Lorraine. Kinburn also was an international level mount for Momo. Her numerous riding accomplishments include a win at the two-star level at Ridgewood and a 1997 silver team medal at the Pan Am Games.
Breaking New Ground
Farm of The Mountain became a popular a competition venue. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the events offered five levels and as many as 180 horses from the US and Canada would compete in a single day. Both Laframboise parents had medical backgrounds, so stable management and medical care at Farm of The Mountain was first-rate. They often discussed ways to deal with equine medical issues around the dinner table and Mary Anne was always willing to try the latest veterinary medicine techniques. They insisted to their children and students that the horse’s needs always came first.
Laframboise clients included Equine Canada staff member Fleur Tipton, who was boarding with them when Mary Anne encouraged her to apply for the EC job. Lorraine coached cardiologist, Olympic rider (highest-placing Canadian at Barcelona 1982) and now High Performance chair Rob Stevenson, and Davina Henderson, alternate for the 1984 Olympics. Lorraine, Teddie, and Momo also coached numerous young riders to medal wins at the North American championships. Several alumni now have their own stables and/or pro eventing careers.
All Laframboise children pursued post-secondary educations. Teddie, who holds business and education degrees, worked briefly as a financial consultant. In the late 1980s she returned to work at Farm of The Mountain for five years. After she married Andy de St. Croix, they moved to Stevens Creek Farm, a tree nursery owned by Andy that they transformed into an equestrian operation. The Laframboise matriarch, Mary Anne, 87, lives at Stevens Creek and in 2015, was honoured with an Equine Canada Lifetime Achievement Award.
As well as coaching national and Olympic eventing teams, Lorraine has been a consultant on long-term athlete development and high performance coach training and certification. Under the mentorship of world-renowned sport psychologist Terry Orlick, she developed a program of mental training for event riders and is a respected expert in equine exercise physiology (she holds a degree from the University of Ottawa with an emphasis on exercise physiology and sports psychology). She coaches hunter, jumper, and equitation students as well as eventers.
Momo continues to be a prominent rider and coach and has been named to the national team numerous times. Her business is based in Mono, ON, at Torchy Millar’s farm and she continues to head south each winter to compete and coach. Her students include short-listed Canadians Nicole Parkin and Rachel McDonough.
The Laframboise Tradition Continues
Several third-generation riders have continued the family tradition, including Jennifer O’Neill (Lise’s daughter) who rides jumpers and was 1.40 circuit champion in 2015 at Angelstone and a member of the Quebec Young Rider show jumping team; Sophie Laframboise (Guy Jr’s daughter) who rode on the Quebec Young Riders team at the NAJYRC in 2009 and 2010, finishing fourth and eighth and was top Canadian both times; Haley Armstrong-Laframboise (Momo’s daughter) who rode to advanced level and competed at the NAJYRC four times; and Moira de Ste. Croix-Laframboise (Teddie’s daughter) who rode to intermediate level in eventing and was top Canadian rider in the one-star division at the 2014 NAJYRC.
A love of horses may be ingrained in their genes, but Teddie and Lorraine say the remarkable Laframboise legacy is largely due to the influence of the feisty red-headed girl who grew up with ponies in the garage.
Says Lorraine, “Mom always told us to go to the top … even if you come from a little town in rural Quebec. Seek out the best people and you will get the best results.”