Rohan Farms owner Patti Maloney admires five-month-old Presto, a Canadian born at the Pemberton equestrian centre. 

Rohan Farms corridor’s first equestrian centre

Pemberton farm breeding Canadian horses once near extinction

Accessibility is not the first word that leaps to mind in relation to equestrian sports. And yet that’s the philosophy behind Rohan Farms, the Sea to Sky corridor’s first complete eventing training centre. While the facility’s emphasis is on English riding, Western riders are also welcome.

"We’re open to every discipline. We’re not putting our noses up in the air," says trainer Paul Sowerby. "Because riding is riding, the horses all move the same way."

The 30-acre facility, located a kilometre up Highway 99 from the Pemberton village turnoff, strives to provide services that address the needs of all riders. While lessons must be arranged in advance, riders can drop-in anytime to use the wide-range of facilities for a very reasonable per-day rate.

The centre is planning on running clinics, which are basically training workshops for horse and rider featuring outside trainers, starting this winter. One of Sowerby’s and owner Patti Maloney’s hopes is to run a trial – a horse show with riding events – at the centre next year. A trial could potentially attract riders from across Canada and dramatically raise the new centre’s profile in the riding community.

"We get riders from as far as way as Langley coming up to practice because they’re getting ready for an event," says Maloney. "I’ve had people up from North Vancouver as well. So they’re getting to know about us."

Opening its gates this past May, Rohan Farms offers everything from lessons for novices to a half-size cross-country eventing circuit suitable for training national-level competition athletes.

In addition to the rugged terrain, featuring both natural and manmade elements, what differentiates a cross-country circuit from a collection of pasture jumps are the obstacles. Most of us are familiar with jumps that resemble the ones used for the human high jump: wooden supports that hold in place a bar that can fall away upon impact. Implementing a stationary bar raises the stakes of cross-country eventing. What happens to a horse when it hits the barrier?

"The horse won’t forget," says Maloney, a onetime rodeo rider who’s now taken to English riding.

A horse enthusiast since childhood, the Whistler-resident opened the area’s first equestrian centre with an eye to breeding horses as well. Maloney’s choice of horse was the relatively unknown Canadian horse.

"They basically built Canada," says Maloney. "At one time the herds numbered close to 150,000."

Thirty-five years ago, the pure bred Canadians were on the verge of extinction. The horse had become a victim of its own success, with vast numbers being exported to other countries and crossed with other breeds.

Rohan Farms is now home to four of the approximately 4,000 Canadian horses worldwide. Gentle and intelligent, these good-natured equines are also extraordinary jumpers making them a natural fit for Rohan Farms.

Descended from Spanish and Arabian horses, the ancestors of Canadian horses were first introduced to what would become Canada in the middle of the 17 th century as a gift from Louis XIV. Initially, those horses were bred with other lines to increase their numbers. By Confederation the breed had firmly established bloodlines. The horses that had adapted so well to the Canadian climate were employed as workhorses throughout the new country.

Their stamina, combined with their relatively short stature (Canadians are typically between 14 and 16 hands high), earned them the nickname Little Iron Horse. They soon became a favourite throughout North America, playing a vital role in the Civil War and being used for crossbreeding. Their strength as war horses also saw them sent to Africa to participate in the Boer War.

By 1979, the breed was threatened with extinction, with less than 400 registered horses. Thanks to people like Maloney, the breed is slowly rebuilding its numbers.

Sowerby is also a fan of the dark-hued, muscular, solid little horses. But his passion lies in thoroughbreds, most commonly used as racehorses, which are also being bred on the premises. But like the Canadians, thoroughbreds are also exceptional jumpers.

The centre features a 12-stall heated barn which offers a special brood mare stall, a wash/farrier stall, a secure tack room and laundry to do blankets which would put a home washing machine through its paces. The stalls, 12-feet by 12-feet, are not only roomy, but distinguish themselves from many others by the fact that they do not have bars.

Rohan Farms also offers horse boarding for up to 27 horses. The facilities are open daily from 7 a.m. to dusk. For more information on boarding, lessons and hours of operation call: 604-938-3773 or 604-894-1167.

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