Jan 21, 2016 Comments Off
By Hayley Picard
For young competitive equestrian riders, finding balance is key. Balancing academic pursuits with the demands of training and caring for their equestrian partners while maintaining their emotional and physical health can strain the limits of even the strongest athlete. It has been an ongoing learning experience for 17 year old Kassidy Keith of Nanaimo, BC who attends the only school in Canada with an on-campus fully integrated equestrian program.
Keith is in her Grade 12 year at Queen Margaret’s School (QMS) in Duncan, BC. QMS offers an environment where students who love to ride are supported by faculty and staff. “I have been riding longer than I have been able to walk,” laughs Keith. “My mom is a professional coach, so my love for horses is in my blood.” In fact, Kassidy’s mother, Cheryl Keith, is the Head Coach of the Equestrian Program at QMS. This led to an exciting opportunity for the young rider during her Grade 7 school year.
“My mom asked me if I wanted to apply for QMS for my high school years so that I could really focus on improving my riding, building my confidence, and really chase my equestrian dreams,” remembers Keith. “She made it clear from the start that QMS would help me strike a balance between school and equestrian training, but that I would still need to work really hard, both in the classroom and in the arena.”
“Queen Margaret’s School’s equestrian program provides opportunities for riders of all levels,” outlines the school’s Equestrian Program Director, Jodine Buydens. “Kassidy is certainly unique in that her drive to attain the highest level of riding she can achieve has really pushed her development. She trains almost every day, attends clinics and competitions year round and cares for her equine partners. Kassidy is also responsible for ensuring she meets the high academic expectations of our school. Her passion for excellence can be seen in her results.”
Since enrolling at QMS, Kassidy’s riding prowess has been gaining attention across the country. Winning championships, medals and scoring high in her equitation events earned her the prestigious Diane Tidball Legacy Scholarship in 2014, worth $25,000. “I was honoured to receive that award,” says Keith. “That money went right back into my horses, entry fees and transportation costs. My success this year has a lot to do with that receiving that award.”
Kassidy Keith’s work in the saddle throughout 2015 culminated in her earning positions at the Royal West in Calgary, the ASPCA Maclay Nationals in Lexington, Kentucky, and the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto. The demanding schedule meant that Kassidy would be away from QMS for over a month. The school has developed a system to support its high level athletes and their competition schedules. “My teachers and I developed a learning plan for my time away and scheduled online learning each week for my math studies. I couldn’t have undertaken this journey without their support.”
For her competition tour, Dr. Jolene Benham, a QMS Alumna, loaned Kassidy her favourite horse, Wallabee. At the Royal West Show, the pair came first in the Junior Hunter, won the Junior Amateur Hunter Classic and Reserve Champion in the RMSJ Medal before departing for the Maclay Nationals. In Kentucky, Kassidy and Wallabee performed strongly and placed just outside the top 30 (there were 153 riders in her division). “The competition at Lexington was like nothing I’ve experienced before,” says Keith. “I learned so much and took that with me to Toronto.”
Keith’s performance at the Royal Winter Fair was everything she and her head coach had hoped for. They won the Junior Hunter Stake and achieved Reserve Champion in the Junior Hunter Division in their first days of competition. The Jump Canada Medal was an incredibly challenging event, yet Kassidy and Wallabee pulled through to win.
What is ahead for Kassidy after graduating from Queen Margaret’s School? “The sky’s the limit,” she says. “I believe I achieve anything I put my mind to, and thanks to my time at QMS, I have developed the skills to do just that.”
Top: Cheryl Keith, Kassidy Keith and Wallabee win at Royal Winter Fair
Middle: Kassidy on Wallabee at Thunderbird Park
Bottom: Kassidy and Wallabee at Royal West