Vanderhoof’s Aspen Craig returned from the BC Summer Games in Prince George with two new medals to add to her collection.
She said her strong relationship with her horse Sully gave her confidence about her dressage performances.
“When you think of equestrianism, you don’t think of it as a team sport,” said the 18-year-old rider. “But in reality, you are on a team. Your horse is your partner. I think way too many people treat their horses like they are machines, but they are not. My horse is 20 and she has done so much for me.”
Craig works at the Vanderhoof library as a summer programmer, putting on activities for kids.
The games hosted equestrians from July 21 through July 24. Teams from around the province competed in eventing, vaulting, jumping and dressage. Craig competed for the North West zone, and won one bronze and one silver medal for her dressage performance.
Craig and her mother retired Sully when COVID-19 derailed Craig’s plans to compete in the 2020 Summer Games. They brought Sully out of retirement to practice about two months ago when Craig learned she would compete this year.
Despite feeling nervous about having just a couple of months to prepare, Craig said her horse is dependable. She grew up riding Sully who was trained by Craig’s mother.
“This horse has been doing it her entire life,” she said. “She knows her job. This horse will know what to do if I mess up.”
Craig looks up to her mother, Nicole Jackman-Craig, who is also a skilled dressage rider. The pair attended the games together and plan to let Sully return to a relaxed retirement after this last competition.
Craig received a score based on how well she could imperceptibly guide her horse to glide through a riding routine.
“The main purpose of dressage is it’s supposed to look effortless. It is supposed to look like you and the horse are one, and you are communicating silently. It is supposed to look flowy and natural,” she said.
The final dressage test is freestyle, meaning Craig picked her own routine, after the first two were designed by judges. The skills of dressage are a bit like dance; while appearing effortless, judges want to see precision in each movement.
“You want to make as big of a difference as you can for each movement so they are very distinct and noticeable.”
Craig said she most looked forward to meeting other equestrians and athletes from different sports at the games.
Other equestrians on her team competed in different games, such as jumping. They also competed in eventing, which tests jumping, dressage and cross-country riding skills over a period of three days.
The equestrians who only compete in one event are like specialists, so more precision is expected while the eventing competitors are expected to have a broad skill set, Craig explained.
Craig performed in dressage because that is her strength, but she practices all equestrian sports. After the games, she will return to training her relatively small four-year-old quarter horse, Phoenix, to be a jumper.
“She is the first horse I have had to train by myself, so that was a really cool experience.”
Craig began training Phoenix in December 2020, and her goal is to train Phoenix to jump 2 ft. 9 in. hurdles as she ages into adult competitions.
Black Press Media is one of BC Summer Games’ provincial partners. For more information on the variety of sports Prince George hosted this year, visit the BC Summer Games website at www.bcgames.org.