Few figures have earned the level of recognition and respect that Evelyn Mainwaring inspires in the Canadian horse world. The legendary equestrian celebrated her 93rd birthday at her Brockville, ON home on Jan. 31, 2018. Throughout a life full of twists and turns, Mainwaring has always been able to count on horses as her constant companions.
Mainwaring was brought up on a farm in Estonia, surrounded by horses. She explained:
“In those days, all your transportation was driving or riding. When you had to travel to the neighbours, or pick up mail, or get somebody from the railway station, you always had to hitch a horse. We had the odd off-the-track Thoroughbred that was used for getting around fast in a dog cart with two wheels.
On weekends, we were allowed to pick a horse from the barn and ride all day. I didn’t have a saddle until I was 12. And we didn’t have ponies, so I had some ropes on the neck of the horse to crawl up and get on. If nobody could find me, you could always find me in the barn.”
Mainwaring’s idyllic childhood suffered a jolt when her family repatriated to Germany from Estonia during the Soviet Union’s occupation of the Baltic States in 1940. At her new home in East Prussia, Mainwaring started an internship at a Trakehner breeding facility. But the respite was short, as the Russians advanced in 1945. At the last minute, Mainwaring was forced to escape with her father, pregnant stepmother, and siblings.
“Horses really saved my life because if I had stayed in the Russian zone I wouldn’t have been alive anymore,” said Mainwaring. “We had to hitch up and go. The first night we were in no man’s land, and the German troops and the Russian troops were here and we were in the middle. They were shooting over the top of us. It was in winter, in January. My father was sick, he had jaundice, and the horses all had strangles.”
After a harrowing three-month journey, Mainwaring and her family reached the relative safety of West Germany. She spent a few years there working for the British Control Commission before being able to move to North America. Eventually, Mainwaring found herself in Brockville and in need of a place to stay. She was directed to the former site of St. Alban’s School for Boys, a boarding school which had closed down during World War II and was now renting rooms. There, Mainwaring was introduced to the landlord’s son, Robert, whom she eventually married. Robert fixed up the property’s derelict barn for his new bride, and St. Alban’s Stables was born.
The first resident of the stable was Toby, a Standardbred on whom Mainwaring would make a name for herself on the local competition circuit.
“Toby didn’t know how to canter,” said Mainwaring. “It took a while to get his confidence, he was very apprehensive. My first horse show was at the Perth Fair and he trotted every jump and knocked every second one down! Eventually, he was a champion event horse in eastern Ontario and Quebec two years running. He became very reliable, and later on he became a fabulous school horse. I taught a Standardbred trotter to do a half-decent dressage test, so I got a bit of a reputation that way.”
During her time on the local circuit, Mainwaring got to know Ian Millar, who was working as a show manager at the now-defunct Dwyer Hill Farms in Ashton, ON. Their first collaboration was the purchase of a big chestnut named Magnum.
“That was our first mutual project, and it turned out quite well,” said Mainwaring. “I got Magnum going and fit, then Ian started to show him, and the following year in Florida we sold him. That was our first transaction. Then I inherited a little money a few years later and went with Ian to Europe to buy something.”
The primary mission of Mainwaring’s European trip was to purchase broodmares. She successfully purchased one, but the second mare in which she was interested had poor x-ray results, and the deal fell through. Instead, Mainwaring ended up purchasing a Belgian Warmblood gelding, whom she named Big Ben.
“One of our earliest partnerships was the purchase of Big Ben,” explained Millar. “We later syndicated Ben with a group of great show jumping fans. Eve is and always has been a sportswoman first. Being involved with top show jumpers has always meant a great deal to her.”
Millar continued, “I have known Eve Mainwaring for 55 years. Over that time she was first one of my coaches, then a co-trainer of horses and riders, and finally a partner in horse ownerships. Most importantly, though, she has been a very good friend and a generous supporter of my horses and my career.”
Mainwaring is also heavily involved in breeding efforts in Canada. She was one of the original members of the Canadian Warmblood Horse Breeders Association (CWHBA), and was the first President of its Ontario chapter. Mainwaring judged mares and stallions in countless shows and has been named a CWHBA Honourary Director for her tireless efforts promoting the idea that establishing a comprehensive breeding system will lead to greater success on the world stage for Canada.
“Good horses are not accidents,” commented Mainwaring. “Olympic success on the whole always goes to those whose horses have a very good system behind them, where horse breeding is looked after well. It takes time to develop a breeding system, but without starting somewhere, you’re never going to produce the best.”
Despite a jam-packed schedule, Mainwaring always found time to teach throughout her career. She still coaches a dedicated core of students on weekends when the weather cooperates.
“I don’t know how to begin to express how much knowledge and wisdom she has imparted upon me,” said Linda Amell, a student of Mainwaring’s who also worked for her for over 40 years. “More than an employer, she has been an excellent friend, teacher and great inspiration for me, and a major contributor behind my success and achievements.”
Through her various roles as a coach, horse trainer, owner, and industry professional, Mainwaring has touched the lives of countless equestrians. At 93 years old, she is the leading lady of the Canadian equestrian world.
“Eve Mainwaring is the consummate horse woman,” concluded Millar. “She is and always will be one of my most cherished heroes.”