Playing with swords, bending poles, bursting balloons, jumping hurdles, racing across stepping stones, diving for wooden fish, juggling tennis balls on a racket, and grabbing multiple flags while speeding past – those don’t sound like insurmountable feats.
But try it from the back of a horse – or in this case a pony (a horse less than 14.2 hands or 58 inches tall), and while racing against competitors from Australia, Great Britain, and the U.S.
Suddenly, people have a sense of what three Ontario teens, an Alberta rider, and one B.C. equestrian enthusiast were up against Sunday at Campbell Valley Regional Park in Langley.
Meigan Mullin, 15 of White Rock, was one of five members making up Team Canada, and she was one of 20 teens participating in a 17-day International Mounted Games Exchange (IMGE).
She was B.C.’s lone representative.
All the kids, 15 and 16 years old, took part in the annual exchange program organized through the international pony clubs. It was held in the Lower Mainland this time out – and several important elements of the exchange were centred specifically around Langley.
The participating teens – as well as their coaches and chaperones – travelled to Vancouver, then visited Vancouver Island, Whistler, and Langley.
They spent 16 days sightseeing followed by one day of “intense but fun” equestrian competition, Mullin said.
For her, the highlight of the trip was meeting and befriending a lot of new people from around the globe.
“We were getting pretty close,” Mullin said.
The most exciting part of the exchange for her was a day they spent white-water rafting in Squamish.
“But, then on competition day, it was ‘game on’,” she added.
Canada ultimately placed third, Great Britain winning first place, Australia taking second, and the U.S. finishing fourth.
“Then, after the competition, we went back to being friends,” shared the Grade 11 Semiahmoo Secondary student, who’s disappointed she can never compete again. The IMGE is restricted to 15- and 16-year-olds, and individual competitors can typically only participate once.
A year of prepping
Fighting off a cold, Joan Thompson can’t believe the IMGE is over.
Thompson is the co-chair of the IMGE, and deputy national director for Canadian Pony Club in B.C.’s Lower Mainland region. She said it was one of the biggest volunteer undertakings on which she’s ever embarked.
When she originally signed on, Thompson expected she might have to give up a few weekends of her life.
Reflecting back now, she called it a massive undertaking. She shared the responsibilities with co-chair Ian MacLean and a committee of volunteers who spent more than year planning nad bringing the events to fruition.
“I had no idea it was this big,” she said, noting that even though it was a huge coordination effort, she doesn’t regret a moment.
Seeing the smiles on all the kids faces during the exchange, that’s when she knew – despite all the work – that their efforts were all worth it.
In addition to the day of competition in Langley, the IMGE included 16 other days where 12 girls and four boys travelled the region.
That’s where much of the planning and coordination really came into play, arranging sponsors, donors, transportation, food, accommodations, etc.
“A lot of these riders have never travelled outside of their own country,” Thompson said.”For some of them, this is a trip of a lifetime.”
The riders took part in a range of activities from ziplining and sword fighting, to white-water rafting and whale watching. They enjoyed the Flying Over Canada 3-D documentary and a fireworks cruise in Coal Harbour.
One of the highlights, besides Sunday’s competition, was attending the global Grand Prix equestrian competition at Thunderbird Show Park in Langley.
“The reason we’re able to do all of these various activities was thanks to the sponsors,” Thompson said.
They received contributions from businesses, organizations, and even all the other pony clubs across the country.
“There were some great companies that came in and sponsored us and made it – not a good, but – great exchange.”
Thompson pointed specifically to the Tidball family and Thunderbird for making the kids – all keen on equestrian – feel like VIPs during the world-class competitions.
“We were very lucky.”
In addition to attending Thunderbird, and competing at Campbell Valley Regional Park, most of the riders and their support crews were billeted in Langley for at least four days of the exchange.
Thompson was particularly impressed with how they were treated, and described it as a “great experience” for all involved.
As for the kids, she hopes they make international friendship that will last a lifetime.
She knows her Crescent Beach family has – including her 15-year-old daughter, Emily, and 10-year-old, Lucie – who loved billeting the Australian team for the duration of the exchange.
“We’re sad they’re gone,” she said Tuesday. “We miss them all.”
After seeing the mounted games first hand, and visiting with the international participants, Emily is hoping to earn a chance to be part of next year’s IMGE, set for England next summer.
“I hear the Brits have the best horses and my daughter hopes to go over there next year to find out if it’s true,” Thompson said.
In the meantime, back here in the Lower Mainland, she’s expecting to head up efforts to increase the existence of mounted games in the province.
“We don’t have mounted games competitions over here,” Thompson said.
While the pony clubs offer a similar competition called the Prince Phillip Games (PPG), Mullin insisted it’s not as intense, not as competitive, and not as challenging as the mounted games that she just participated in this past weekend.
As way of background, mounted games are relay races on ponies, where riders are jumping on and off their animals, collecting and placing objects, avoiding obstacles – and all at high speeds.
It requires complete control of the ponies, said Thompson, who explained that none of the kids knew what ponies they’d be riding throughout the day – adding to the challenge.
Mullin, who has been riding for 12 years and currently coaches PPG at the Boundary Bay pony club, said she’d be excited to see mounted games become as popular in the local equestrian scene as it is in other areas of the world such as England, Australian, and France.
She said mounted games are much more fast paced and exciting, noting she loves the adrenaline rush that comes with both the Prince Phillip and mounted games.
“There’s nothing in B.C. right now,” Thompson said, and she feels there should be.
She picked the brains of several of the visiting IMGE coaches while they were in town, hoping the launch of mounted games might be her next significant undertaking.
“Maybe next year I could start on something like that here,” said Thompson, who was off to a three-day pony club rally at Maple Ridge Equestrian Centre this weekend with her girls.
She hopes introducing mounted games might help increase a waning interest in pony club – which she said is coming as fewer and fewer people have space to pasture and board horses.