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Three Shuswap equestrians selected for Canadian Pony Club team off to New Zealand

Two riders from Salmon Arm, one from Chase to compete during three-week international exchange

Three young women from the Shuswap will be off to New Zealand in the new year for a unique adventure. 

Skilled equestrians Katie Thielman and Jessica Spoletini from Salmon Arm and Carlie Wells from Chase have been chosen as members of the 2023 Canadian Team to participate in the 2023 International Pacific Exchange.

The international exchange is a biennial event involving Pony Club teams from countries in the Pacific Basin such as Canada, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand and the USA. It generally involves show jumping and cross-country jumping competitions, depending on the venue. The team includes four riders, a coach and a team manager. Those chosen for the international exchange must have a high calibre of riding and jumping ability as well as a high standard of ethics, behaviour and personal conduct. A testament to the calibre of riders in the region, this year the Canadian team is made up of three riders from B.C., all living in or near the Shuswap, and one from Alberta.

Pony Club is a worldwide organization for riders of both horses and ponies. The stated mission of the Canadian Pony Club is to build confident, competent and knowledgeable individuals in a safe, friendly environment through their passion for horses.

The 2023 exchange runs from Jan. 8 to 26.

Katie Thielman explains that a competition will be held each of the three weekends the team is in New Zealand, with team members competing individually as well as collecting team points. She is hoping all three disciplines in eventing will be available: dressage, show jumping and cross-country.

Now 18, Thielman has been in Pony Club for 10 years. She is currently a member of the Vernon Pony Club as there is no longer a club in Salmon Arm. Both Spoletini and Wells belong to the Armstrong Pony Club.

Thielman competed most recently in the BC Summer Games as well as in competitions in Alberta, which garnered excellent results plus recommendations and encouragement from coaches. At the BC Games in July she brought home four gold medals and one bronze in show jumping.

She’s thrilled to have been chosen and is excited to be travelling with riders from the region.

“It’s a very exciting opportunity. It will be during a Canadian winter when I won’t be able to ride, and we’re going to ride in New Zealand, which I’m told looks a lot like B.C.”

The team members won’t be shipping their own horses to New Zealand but will be supplied horses by the New Zealand Pony Club. The riders have been asked their height and to describe their ideal horse.

On their way to New Zealand, they’ll stop in Vancouver for a short training and team-building camp with their coach.

The team members have been asked to wear ‘Canada’ clothing during their three weeks away, so they’re currently looking at brand sponsorships.

Read more: Shuswap athletes excel in 2022 BC Summer Games in Prince George

Jessica Spoletini, who is 17, started riding when she was six and began riding English and jumping when she was eight. She progressed to eventing when she was 10.

She, too, is excited about the trip, describing it as a cool opportunity. Riding a new horse will be a fun challenge, she said, one she does regularly with quite a few horses at her barn. She rides out of Brookside Stables in South Canoe.

Her favourite event is cross-country.

“One hundred per cent,” she said enthusiastically. “It’s exhilarating and it doesn’t have to be perfect. You just have to get around and make the time… and it’s always different. I like the variety. Especially if you have a nice brave horse – it makes all the difference I find.”

Carlie Wells, 22, grew up in Strathmore, Alta. but came to Chase about a year ago.

Her grandpa was an eight-time Canadian champion in tie-down roping, so horses and riding have always been a big part of her family.

“He bought my first pony before I was born and the first time I was on a horse was the following spring.”

When she was eight she decided she wanted to start jumping. She has been a member of Pony Club since and began eventing because of Pony Club.

Three years ago she went on the International Pacific Exchange to Hong Kong, so she is excited with the opportunity to go to New Zealand. She said seeing the different culture in Hong Kong and the way horses were kept was fascinating, with so many people and buildings in such a small area. Barns were multi-level.

“It was absolutely amazing, a really good group from all over the world… It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, it was so much fun.”

The competitions were dressage and show jumping only, because in Hong Kong there isn’t the space for cross-country. However, cross-country happens to be Wells’ favourite event.

“The adrenaline rush, you have to really trust in yourself and your horse to make the right decisions and to ride it well… It is a lot of fun,” she said.

Deshann Valentine will be joining the team from the Thompson Country Pony Club in Alberta.

Read more: Shuswap history in pictures: Horse festival

Read more: VIDEO: Horses bring joy and excitement to Salmon Arm seniors
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Martha Wickett

About the Author: Martha Wickett

came to Salmon Arm in May of 2004 to work at the Observer. I was looking for a change from the hustle and bustle of the Lower Mainland, where I had spent more than a decade working in community newspapers.
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