On the same day that Ian Millar announced his retirement from international competition, he spent the morning with a gym full of elementary school kids introducing Equestrian Canada’s Rookie Riders initiative. The Rookie Riders program gives kids a friendly introduction to horseback riding that teaches movement skills that are fundamental to the sport. Activities include simple gymnastics on mats, on a “barrel horse”, and concludes with an invitation to take a riding lesson at a certified riding facility.

The launch event, held at Clearmeadow Public School in Newmarket, Ontario, announced the inclusion of Rookie Riders in the York Region District School Board’s PE-2-GO program in the fall of 2019. PE-2-GO gives teachers access to additional resources outside of the normal curriculum for their physical education classes. Teachers who choose to teach their students the 12-week Rookie Riders unit will be provided with applied training and access to online training resources including video tutorials. In class resources include all the parts for the “barrel horse” plus detailed activities for kids that teach balance, core strength, focus and educational supplements to learn about horses.

Ian Millar shows students some moves on the Rookie Riders “horse”. Andree-Anne Brunet Photography

“I’m beyond excited about this,” enthused Millar. “This is an excellent program that will help make the sport accessible to a new generation.”

Rookie Riders is the first of a series of new programs being launched by Equestrian Canada to revamp Canada’s athlete progression model. Rookie Riders addresses the first “FUNdamentals” stage of athlete development and will feed into an updated rider level program to be phased in starting in 2020.

Simultaneously, Equestrian Canada is also reworking its coaching certification program which Millar has also been involved in developing. The new program will be slowly phased in starting next year when coaches at EC sanctioned horse shows will be required to have a coach licenses which requires a background screening, concussion training, insurance and safe sport education.

“We recognized that we had to implement these coaching changes over time to get everyone on board,” said Millar.

To support further the coaches, EC will also be introducing improved training. Licensed coaches working toward certification will be eligible to access free online and discounted training to replace expensive and time-consuming courses traditionally held in a classroom that are difficult to host regularly and conveniently. More advanced training will continue to take place in the barn and will review different training techniques like how to manage riders and horses at different levels and stages. Previous coaching programs were highly focused on coaches riding ability, with insufficient instruction on how to properly coach riders or train horses.

“Ian has been critical to us in helping identify what those fundamentals are,” explained Douglas Duncan the consultant that has been hired by EC to develop and implement these new programs. Millar along with dressage master Christilot Boylen both worked with Duncan to explain what appropriate athlete progression would look like and helped to identify gaps seen in rider training today.

As work continues to ramp up the development of these programs, Duncan’s services have also been retained to support a review on the format of equestrian competitions.