Rachel Jaeger successful in “Royal” debut
BY VOICE STAFF
Competing in her first ever Royal Agricultural Winter Fair earlier this month, Pelham’s Rachel Jaeger finished first in the Adult Amateur 18-35 State Class event.
Jaeger, who is 24 and has been riding for 20 years, has been attending the Royal—as the fair is known—as a spectator since she was very young, and had worked at the Royal in years past too, so getting to compete at the event was particularly special for her. The Royal has existed since 1922 and is held at Exhibition Place in Toronto, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.
“I qualified for the event from my provincial rankings throughout the season,” says Jaeger. “At the Royal, there are twelve spots for Ontario, four for Quebec, and four each for the West and the East.”
Jaeger’s provincial season ran from May to September, with each individual event providing points to a rider’s overall total standing. (“There are so many points systems,” says Jaeger. “It’s very complicated.”)
Jaeger rides at Sherwood Farm, in St. Catharines, and though her competition only spanned two days at the Royal, she was there for the entire week and a half to help take care of the Farm’s other horses.
“There were a lot of three a.m. starts,” she says. “Actually, that’s a late start time. There were some one a.m. starts, too.”
Jaeger says that arriving early to the Royal and spending time there before her competition was a real asset in her preparation. “It’s a completely different environment, and my horse needed to get used to it too.”
The horse that Jaeger rode during the season, Yaago, was one that she leased for nine months from a stable in Ottawa.
“I just took him on a whim,” she says. “It’s hard to find the right horse, and usually you go and get to know a horse first.”
With her victory, Jaeger’s gamble on Yaago evidently paid off. After the Royal, Yaago returned to Ottawa.
“That was definitely a sad day,” says Jaeger. “But I knew that he was going back to his owner and the farm where he had lived his whole life, so I knew that he’d be happy there.”
Competing with horses is very expensive, and Jaeger says that she won’t be competing at the Royal next year.
“I’m very lucky that my parents have helped me out, but I have to save up a lot of my own money, too and it’ll probably be a while before I enter again.”
During the season, Jaeger must travel a lot for provincial competitions—some as far away as Ottawa—and this travel involves packing up horses and ordering supplies for them for the time away.
“I think that it’s getting more expensive too,” she laments.
Jaeger is still a student, and juggling her various commitments puts a further restriction on the time and money she can devote to horses. After finishing an undergraduate degree in sociology and criminology at Brock University, she is now pursuing paralegal certification at Mohawk College in Hamilton.
“The drive isn’t great—it’s an hour each way,” she says. Jaeger is slated to graduate in the spring, and the recent Ontario colleges strike made her worried that this could be postponed.
“The only good thing to come from the strike was that it went on during the competition, so I could be there without worrying about my schoolwork,” says Jaeger.
Now that classes have resumed and Yaago has returned to Ottawa, Jaeger says that the winter will be much quieter than the rest of the season, though she says that she will still ride throughout.
“It’s a time for the horses to rest, too. Throughout the year, we try to give them weeks off, but the winter is also when they can recover.”
Sherwood Farm is home to many horses that are not ridden competitively, including 25-year-old retiree that Jaeger rides when she isn’t trying to train.
“We also have some rescue horses that we got at a livestock auction in Kitchener,” she says, explaining that many of the animals at the auction are headed for slaughter.
While there seem to be a lot of horse farms in Niagara, Jaeger says that most of the competitors come from the GTA, where there are big farms and “big money.”
“We’re always happy when someone from Niagara competes at the Royal and does well,” she says. Though there would seem to be a divide between those from big moneyed farms and those from smaller, rural, more traditional places, Jaeger says that this doesn’t last.
“You might think that,” she says. “But then you start talking to them, and you realize that the people are pretty much the same.”