Welcome to the first installment of a new feature where we introduce the members of the EC Jumping Committee. Up first is Fran McAvity, a life-long equestrian whose passionate pursuit of volunteerism has served both Equestrian Canada and the Jumping Committee well over the years.
Born in Saint John, NB, and now residing in Vancouver, BC, Fran has been involved with equestrian sport from coast to coast. When she’s not officiating at international events, which takes up approximately 18 weeks of her schedule each year, Fran is taking trips around the world; some include horses while others do not. A self-proclaimed tennis freak, she plays every day that she’s able to and has recently discovered a new interest in snorkeling which, again, ties into her love of travel. So far, Maui, French Polynesia, and Antigua are some of her favourite snorkeling spots. As Fran says, “If the water is warm, I’m there!”
Let’s learn more about this energetic individual whose zest for life is practically contagious!
What age did you start riding and what was the name of your pony?
I was six and the first pony I rode was Barley Queen. It was at Southlands Riding Club in Vancouver. Barley Queen was owned by my mom’s best friend who had four daughters, so everyone got to ride Barley Queen!
I started in Pony Club and went on to do bits and pieces of everything and eventually went all the way up to Intermediaire 1 in dressage. I was reserve champion to Inez Fischer-Credo who represented us at the 1964 and 1968 Olympics in dressage.
In the 70s, I was big into eventing and rode on the Canadian Equestrian Team in 1975 and 1976. I broke my back in the selection trials for the 1975 Pan American Games and ended up going to Mexico City as the spare. Back then we were tough; I was back running again six weeks after breaking my back! I was living and training in Caledon, ON, with the likes of Jimmy Day and Liz Ashton.
Then I switched to show jumping and did that, competing in the High Junior/Amateur division with my last two horses until I was in my 50s. When you can’t beat the juniors anymore, it’s time to retire! That’s when I switched to judging.
Do you still ride for fun?
Off and on. My last big ride was in Botswana in 2019. It was a riding safari; we lived in camps and rode out from the camp every day. The animals don’t mind the horses coming around, and it’s so quiet and peaceful to take it all in from horseback. The elephants came and drank out of the swimming pool and we would listen to the hippopotamuses at night. I’ve never seen so much wildlife in my life! Magical.
What roles do you currently play in equestrian sport?
I have my Senior Hunter, Equitation, and Jumper Judges’ cards with EC. I’m also an EC Senior Steward, an FEI Level 3 Steward in jumping, and an FEI Level 2 Steward in eventing. I’ve been asked to steward at the World Championships for eventing next year in Italy!
As a volunteer, I’m a member of the EC Jumping Committee, the EC Nominating Committee, and the EC Awards Alignment Committee. I’ve just come off the EC National Rules Committee, which I chaired for six years and plan to return to when I’m eligible again. Provincially, I’ve been with the British Columbia Hunter Jumper Association for over 25 years as well as been involved with Horse Council BC. I am also a long-time member of the Royal Horse Show Ring Committee at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.
I’m also very active with the International Jumping Officials Club. This keeps me in touch with what’s happening internationally so that I can apply it in Canada and make sure that we’re current from the grassroots all the way up to the podium. I’m all about equal opportunity for people across the country. You never know where your next great star is going to come from!
What is your favourite competition memory?
One that sits in my memory is jumping clear and having the third-fastest time in my very first jumping derby. It was in the late 90s in Victoria, BC. Peter Holmes had designed the course with banks, open water, grob – everything – and I had a fairly young thoroughbred horse that had so much heart and tried so hard. It was the first time he had ever seen anything like it in his life. It was a mixture between eventing and jumping – you were jumping all these natural obstacles at speed. This really speaks to my character – I love the thrill!
Favourite horse show venue?
That’s a tough one! I would have to say the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto. It’s been in my heart for ever and ever and ever! There is something special about The Royal. There just is! I’ve been there for 40-plus years on the Ring Committee. Three years ago, they made me an Honourary Governor of The Royal – a true honour.
That’s my favourite indoor show, and my favourite outdoor show is Spruce Meadows.
Which competition is still on your bucket list?
There are so many! I would say Olympia in London.
What is your dream vacation?
The Galápagos Islands! And I’m signed up to go next year!
My favourite trip that I have taken so far was going to Italy with my horse buddies. Ten of us went for three weeks of total adventure – and we didn’t talk about horses! Another one was going to Bimini for a week with 16 top FEI Eventing officials and swimming with the wild dolphins. The rule was no horse talk for the entire week so we laughed and played hard instead! That was one of the best trips I’ve ever done in my life. It was fascinating!
Cats or dogs?
That’s easy! Dogs, specifically Cardigan Welsh Corgis. Everyone who knows me will remember Albert. I’ve had a lot of different breeds over the years, but the Corgi is my number one.
Last show you binge-watched?
“Prime Suspect.” It’s a British crime show starring Helen Mirren. I love the way the British do crime shows. They have a wonderful way of not using physical violence to engage you; they use the mind to draw you in rather than car chases and big explosions. They always leave you wondering what they’re going to do next!
Favourite motto or saying?
“You can always take away a score, but you can never give back a ride.”
Name three things that are always in your fridge.
Wine, vegetables, and fruit. You didn’t ask what is always in my freezer – Costco steaks! They come four to a pack, vary a bit in size, and are about 40 bucks. You can pick a six-ounce steak one day or a nine-ounce steak if you’re really hungry. The other thing I always have in the house is chocolate. So, we could forget the vegetables and fruit and just say that the three things I always have in the house are wine, steak, and chocolate!
If you could ride any horse, which one would you pick?
My horse, Tron. I want to reincarnate him! He started as a hunter and ended up as my junior/amateur jumper when I moved to Toronto and was training with Jay Hayes. He was one of the kindest animals I’ve ever owned. He was my best buddy! I cried for two years when he died. He went with me everywhere. Those were the days when I used to trailer myself. He was an amazing athlete, and so kind and so special.
Funniest horse show moment?
One year at Bromont, Jay had entered me in the junior/amateur division but thought I should do a warm-up class, so he put me in an open 1.30m class with an immediate jump-off. I had just watched Ian Millar go and knew there was no way I could do those same inside turns. So, with my thoroughbred, I decided that I would go around and just go as fast as I could. We ended up beating Ian by .06 of a second. He was so mad! He found me later and asked how I had beaten him. I explained that there was no way I could do the inside turns so I just went around and went as fast as I could.
Later that year, Ian was at The Royal with Big Ben and there was a class where everyone was doing the inside turns. Ian and Big Ben went in, took all the outside turns, and won! Afterwards, Ian told me that he had learned something from me that day in Bromont.
Best part about your job?
Being an official has given me some incredible opportunities including attending several major games. I’ve also been to events like Millstreet in Ireland, Blenheim Horse Trials in England, and even gone all the way to New Zealand. In jumping, I’ve worked at the best of the best, such as Spruce Meadows and the Nations’ Cup Final in Barcelona. I’ve been really lucky to be at some amazing competitions and that’s the biggest thing I would say to people – the world is there for you to explore! The bonus is the wonderful people you meet along the way with the horse being the glue that keeps us bonded.