First-year student rides high as nation’s best

Coming from the small hamlet of La Salette, located just an hour or so from London, Maisyn Picard admits to a culture shock upon stepping on campus.

“I think there’s more people in my residence than there is in my town,” laughed the 19-year-old. “First-year was definitely a life-changer, but I just love it here at Western.”

Being so close to home, the Medical Sciences student embraces the opportunity to head home often to hang out with one of her best friends, Stella, her 6-year-old quarter horse.

The 3-year relationship has quickly grown to more than just a few simple rides around the family farm. The pair has competed across Ontario and the United States, to the point where the name Picard has become synonymous with one of the top youth riders on the circuit, In fact, the top rider.

American Quarter Horse Journal and Paint Horse Journal publications, both based out of the United States, have ranked Picard as the top Canadian rider, based on her 2013 results. Add to that, the two publications have positioned her fourth in the world for the youth division.

“At first, when I heard this, I was so surprised,” said Picard, quick to deflect some of the praise to Stella. “Having a horse is a huge commitment and I enjoy having someone to look after and care for. We’re a team out there.”

As an equestrian rider, Picard competes in what is called Western Pleasure, a Western-style competition that evaluates horses on manners and suitability for a relaxed, calm and responsive disposition.

“It’s sort of game of Simon Says, in a way, with the judges telling you to do this and then do that,” said Picard, whose love of horses began soon after learning to walk. Her older sister, Haleigh, a third-year Social Sciences student at Western, was also a competitive rider.

“I have always been around horses. We boarded them for a long time as a kid,” she said. “I’ve been taking lessons since before I was in school, and my mother rode and had horses even before I was born. I think it was my mom’s love for horses, and I shared that with her.”

While she began competing at saddle shows, or the typical fair circuit, by age eight Picard quickly sought a higher level of competition. With a new trainer, and a new horse, expectations also grew. Those expectations are still there today.

“Oh sure, there are still nerves,” she admitted. “I get nervous when I show because you never know what’s going to happen. I think it gives you that competitive edge to try a bit harder. We’re always pushing each other to do better.”

Even finding the right horse can be nerve racking. Picard had a number of horses before she found her match with Stella.

“It’s about finding that connection with the horse,” he said. “The horse I have now, it’s taken three years to figure her out and we’re both still learning about each other. There’s a lot of time and patience involved with the horse. And, sometimes, I’m sure, the horse runs out of patience with me. She’ll test me all the time to make sure I’m paying attention. It’s a connection, a friendship you have with your horse.”

With school being her main focus these days, and the potential of dentistry school in the future, Picard said this summer’s competitions would likely be her last. And she is not wasting any time getting started. Finishing her last exam next Wednesday night, she’ll pack up the next day and head out to her first show.

This summer, she’ll also compete, for the first time, in Quebec.

So, does Stella understand French?
“I may have to work on that,” joked Picard. “When they (judges) tell us the commands, Stella and I are going to have to learn some French. It could make it eventful.”

Following what will undoubtedly be a busy summer, with shows pretty much every weekend, Picard knows she’ll miss the competitions, but knows horses will always be part of her life.

“I just love it though, it’s awesome,” she said. “If I had to pick something I could do forever, it would be riding. It’s my go-to for everything. I live on a farm with horses, so I will still be able to ride. And I’m hoping Stella will still be there.”