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Ariel Girodo and Emily Burt pursue their dreams on horseback

The local equestrians train dressage at Dreamcatcher Meadows in Pemberton
Left to right: Emily Burt, John Dingle and Ariel Girodo.

If you were to visit Ariel Girodo’s home in Whistler or the Pemberton abode of Emily Burt, you’d find a few unusual objects.

The girls are active, just like many who grow up in the Sea to Sky. They’ve got your customary array of skis, mountain bikes, helmets and winter attire, but what tends to catch people off guard are the saddles and bridles lying around. 

As part of the standout Dreamcatcher Meadows barn in Pemberton, Girodo and Burt compete in dressage: an equestrian sport that challenges person and animal to execute a series of precise movements in an arena. This concept dates back to the writings of Athenian historian and soldier Xenophon in 350 BC, and events today are held at all levels including the Olympic Games. 

Most local athletes are used to riding inanimate objects: a snowboard, bicycle or pair of skis. Far fewer know how to negotiate with a 1,500-pound horse that possesses a mind of its own. 

“It’s so hard,” admitted Girodo. “I have a mare and a gelding, but it's taken me a really, really long time to figure them out. They are unpredictable creatures and prey animals. They're always on alert for something, and you can't reason with them like you would a human. You have to be super patient.” 

Horses are comparable to humans in the sense that they’ve got a wide range of dispositions. One may quickly grow to trust its trainer, while another doggedly resists guidance. It’s never been an exact science, but it can be rewarding given time and the right mindset.

“Oftentimes you'd expect horses to be similar in the way that each does the same thing … but no horse looks for the same thing,” Burt explained. “It's pretty difficult to form a bond with most horses, but once you get it, it's just amazing—the closest bond you’ll ever see.” 

Breakout results 

At just 14 and 15 years old, respectively, Girodo and Burt have distinguished themselves in their first full competitive season. 

Four ribbons lined up for Girodo in March at the Shake the Rust Off Dressage Schooling Show. The Whistlerite rode two of Dreamcatcher Meadows’ prize Hanoverians, Whittaker DMV and Wishingstar DMV, to three wins and a runner-up effort in Langley’s Thunderbird Show Park. 

Archer Girodo, Ariel’s 11-year-old sister, also collected a pair of victories in her division.

“We work together, we live together, we train together,” said Girodo about her sibling. “I just think the world of Archer and I love hanging out with her.” 

Burt acquitted herself well in late May at the Southlands Spring Dressage Gold Show with first place astride the renowned Lancelot DMV. Whittaker stepped up again too, carrying Girodo to another red ribbon (dressage’s equivalent of a gold medal). 

From June 13 to 15, the girls were back at Thunderbird for an event known as Touch of Class. Under the watchful eye of international-grade judges, Burt received a score of 70.66 per cent and a First Level Championship, edging out Girodo (70.56 per cent) who finished second as Reserve Champion. They were among a select few riders across all age divisions to break the 70 per cent barrier. 

Dreamcatcher Meadows co-founders Jill Giese and John Dingle earned Reserve Championships in their categories as well, to go with Archer’s second place and Kirsten Mitchell’s third.

Girodo has additionally earned a spot at the upcoming B.C. Summer Games for her excellent overall campaign, though scheduling conflicts will prevent her from going.

“I couldn't have asked for anything more," she said about the year. "It went so well. With every mistake you make and every success, you learn something new.” 

Added Burt: “I was very happy with how I did at [Touch of Class], and I was very happy with my horse. Shows are so cool because you meet so many people from the horse world that you never expect to meet, and it just really opens your eyes on how different people function with their horses. 

“Every day at a show, your horse will give you a different answer. Sometimes they just don't want to listen to you, but some days they're on point and you never really know what you're going to get. [Shows] really make you think about your riding and what you have to do to get a willing partner.” 

Rhythm of labour

Dressage appears glamorous at first, but what many don’t see is the vital behind-the-scenes dirty work. Contestants like Girodo and Burt spend much of their weeks lifting hay bales, cleaning stalls, fixing fences, pushing manure-laden wheelbarrows and staying up late with ill or birthing animals. 

“The ribbons don't matter,” Girodo said. “There is so much work that goes on behind the scenes, and that's why it's a sport to be admired. It's just a constant workload, it never ends, and that's why I do it.” 

Burt feels very similarly. “If you don’t do the work, you wouldn’t have a strong connection to the horses. [The work] gets you into a rhythm, it keeps you in shape, it keeps you happy, and you never get bored when you’re at the barn.”

One more large competition awaits: the BC Regional Championship in October. Burt hopes to attend, but dressage is expensive and her family is currently trying to fundraise. Those interested in supporting the young Pembertonian can visit her GoFundMe page at