Only 14 years of age, local athlete Haley Franc has already made her mark on the field of horse reining.
Capping off her most successful season yet, she was recently named Equine Canada Junior Equestrian of the Year during a ceremony in Ottawa.
“I felt very honoured and proud, because there are so many talented riders out there and I was so excited that I was the one they chose,” the Rivier Academy student said.
Her mother, Tracey Franc, said that she’s proud of her daughter not only because of the award, but the dedication she’s given to the sport of horse reining.
“She spends a lot of time riding and schooling her horses outside,” she said by phone from their local area home, as Haley was fittingly training her horses outside.
Around horses since she was about five, Haley first got serious while part of the Western Trail Mates 4H Club out of the Red River Riding and Roping Arena.
“We put her in lessons, and then she really started to do pretty good … so she wanted more of a challenge,” Tracey said.
Haley found this challenge in reining -- a horse riding competition where riders pull off manoeuvres while the horse drags its hind feet. Judges rate competitors based on how fluid the movements are and how well the rider and horse co-operate.
“You really need to focus on keeping their position, like shoulders straight, head in frame, and they need to be rounded out and using their hind legs all the time,” Haley said. “You have to keep them correct all the time, and you have to be correct, too -- you need to be in the right position.”
Haley trains her two horses, Jacs Shy Boy (nicknamed Shy) and Smart Pepinic Chic (nicknamed Lil’ G), whom she rides in competition.
I felt very honoured and proud, because there are so many talented riders out there and I was so excited that I was the one they chose. - Haley Franc
Shy is a nine-year-old horse Haley has worked with extensively, while Lil’ G is new to the Franc household.
“It is never super easy -- it’s always a challenge and you’re working hard for something, and then when you do good it really pays off,” Haley said.
Haley’s successful season has included several other awards -- perhaps the most prestigious of which first place in the Adequan FEI North American Junior and Young Rider Championships held in Lexington, KY, in July.
"We were just overjoyed," her father Rick told the Herald at the time. "She has been doing really well, and we knew it was possible. But just to see it happen, it was great. It was a dream come true, absolutely."
During last season’s competitions, Haley rode her trusted companion, Shy, although she’s currently training Lil’ G to potentially compete in future events.
After being given the winter off, Haley also started taking Shy out a couple weeks ago in preparation for the coming season.
Recognizing the help that she’s received over the years, and continues to receive, Haley said that the coaches she’d had over the years -- most recently Locke Duce of High River, AB -- her parents and other supporters deserve a sincere thank you.
This year’s competition season will begin in May, and extend all the way to early December with an event in Oklahoma. Most events are held in Albert and Saskatchewan.