Equestrian Hanna Bundy is as keen as Mustard to ride at the Pan Am Games. Bundy, 20, lives in the Beach and competes internationally in three-day eventing, the ‘triathlon’ of equestrian sports. It combines dressage, cross-country, and show jumping.
Mustard, 12, is Bundy’s horse and athletic partner. Raised in B.C., he was actually born wild, one of the roughly 1,000 mustangs that roam free on B.C.’s Chilcotin plateau.
“To think that he’d ever qualify to represent Canada at the Pan Am Games – it’s pretty mind-blowing for a buckskin mustang,” said Bundy. “He’s totally not the norm.”
Most horses in equestrian sports are bred for it. For eventing, Bundy said the trend is to cross a speedy thoroughbred with a warmblood, a group of horses prized for their even temper.
The goal, she said, is to produce an all-rounder — a horse collected enough to master the dressage routine on day one, but brave enough to jump 40 to 50 logs, hedges, ditches, and other obstacles in the cross-country race on day two.
Finally, she said, the horse needs incredible stamina to clear the bars in the show-jumping event on day three.
“It really tests whether the horse is in it to win it,” she said. “They feel like Jello, and you’re taking them over the fences.”
Mustard came out of the Chilcotin with plenty of strength and agility but, even after 10 years with other riders, Bundy said his temper still ran hot when she started with him two years ago.
“He really didn’t have a great start in dressage,” she said.
Dressage is a very precise test of horse training which, like cross-country racing and show jumping, has its roots in the military.
In dressage contests, judges watch a horse and rider perform a choreographed routine — at Bundy’s level it involves moves like lengthened trots, counter-canters, and the travers, where a horse moves in a straight line but with its haunches angled inwards.
Besides scoring, the judges make comments to a waiting scribe, such as “rounder through his neck” or “more obedience.”
That last one is something Mustard needed to hear for a while.
“He would absolutely explode,” Bundy said. “He couldn’t mentally handle it.”
But now, she said, dressage is his strongest event.
One big reason is Jacquie Brooks, a two-time Olympian and Bundy’s dressage coach.
Bundy also trains and has worked as a groomer for Jessica Phoenix, the reigning gold medalist for eventing at the 2011 Pan Am Games. Last summer, Bundy groomed for her when she competed at the Equestrian Games in Normandy, France.
“It gives you a huge insight into what it takes to get to the top,” Bundy said. Behind every horse and rider are several supporters, from farriers to groomers and veterinarians.
“That’s the thing. With this sport, you can’t just run your laps and know you’re getting better,” she said. “It’s definitely not a one-man show.”
Eventing is also very costly. At an international level, horses may be $80,000 to $100,000 to buy, plus another $25,000 or so for each year of training, show fees, board and insurance.
Bundy can name several supporters, from her aunt Claire-Anne to King Ward, Suzzannei Archer, and Walter Shanly, owner of Toronto’s Sunnybrook Stables.
Bundy teaches riding lessons at Sunnybrook, where she got her own very early start in riding. There are two arenas, and riders can go on the Sunnybrook Park plateau to “hack around” she said.
In the last year and a half, Bundy has started her own business buying and selling horses.
“We needed to find a way to make it happen, because I definitely don’t come from a family that can buy these expensive horses and get me there alone,” she said.
In her latest competition, Bundy won an individual silver and a team bronze on the lush grass of Lexington, Kentucky during the North American Young Riders Championships.
“To run on the same footing as all the top riders in the world was pretty incredible,” she said.
While Bundy is qualified, Canada won’t announce its Pan Am equestrian team until June. Whatever happens, Bundy feels she’s on the right track with her riding.
“It’s always taken the front seat,” she said. “There’s never been any doubt that this is what I was going to do with my life.”