Laura Giffen and her Swedish Warmblood, John Wayne. (Charles Vanegas / The Eyeopener)

Just Horsing Around

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By Susana Gómez Báez

With nine years of competitive riding under her belt, then 15-year-old Laura Giffen fell off her coach’s pony.

“He cartwheeled over me and landed on top of me. He stood right on my chest,” she says, nonchalantly.

Fortunately for Giffen, she suffered no injuries from the incident, except a scratch on chest from the pony’s horseshoe. But falling isn’t a rare occurrence. In 2006, Giffen stopped her count of times she had fallen off at 80.

“After you’ve fallen off enough times … you accept the risk,” she says.

The second-year business management student started training when she was five years old and began riding competitively at six. She’s owned three horses in that time, two of which were show horses. Her childhood revolved around her hobby so much that when she was 13 and her parents had to travel for work, she was left with her training coach to live on a farm for a year.

“My dad was in I think either California or Colorado at the time. So I’d see him once every six months and then my mom was working in Muskoka,” she says. “She’d come home some weekends, but mainly I was just living in Thornbury with my coach.”

Soon after her parents came back from their business trips, they got divorced and Giffen says she felt her horses were the only familial support she had.

According to her, the time at the barn was not only “perfect for a 13-year-old” but also great training. Giffen says it taught her how to ride other people’s horses comfortably.

“I was riding minimum six horses a day, seven days a week,” she says. “I’ve been very fortunate. I think that’s why I can just easily catch-ride horses just because it doesn’t take me long to figure out how the horse goes.”

This helps her when competing for the Ryerson equestrian team since riders do not get to use their own horses.

Last week, Giffen placed third in the open division at the Ontario University Equestrian Association championship. But despite her success in the sport, her goal after graduation is to pursue brand marketing or real estate development.

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