The EC Board of Directors released the Strategic Initiatives Plan 2018-2022 last September, which presents key initiatives intended to serve the equestrian community now and into the future. Click here to read/download the Strategic Initiatives Plan 2018-2022, follow the link in this article.

This is a very ambitious initiative, as was the old 2012-2018 One Vision plan. How is it different from that strategic initiative?

It is definitely very ambitious. We cover quite a large scope as EC, so we built this plan based off of previous plans that had been developed, and we worked really hard at it. We took the core components, such as coaching and development, athlete development, and we reorganized and edited them. There were some that were no longer really applicable for the organization’s goals.

This document really came out of a desire for the board to say, ‘We’ve stabilized, we’ve got a CEO in place. Now where are we going?’ We created the document to indicate where we want the organization to be in 2022. And now, in order for it to not sit on the shelf and collect dust, we’re speaking to all of these different groups, the task forces, etc., plus working on how to create a report card – I know you guys published one, which is fantastic – all in the effort to take the steps needed towards achieving the goals.

A new economic impact study should be one of the first projects on the calendar, as it’s long overdue.

Yes, it is overdue. That is in the works and we have submitted a funding application to the government to help support the cost of doing that initiative. A lot of these initiatives, if they’re not within our current budget, we’ve got to look for other sources to fund them.

Implementation of a national traceability program is also one of the goals. How is that going to be achieved?

It’s quite a large and complex conversation that ties to that economic impact study; we need that study as we go down the traceability path. When I came onto the board in 2017, one of the first issues that was brought forward was this traceability piece and several industry groups asking us, including Category C [National Equine Affiliate Organizations], what is our position on this traceability initiative? We made one hire other than our CEO during the six months that the board was managing the entire organization without a CEO, and that was a traceability manager [Kristy House, manager Welfare & Identification]. She’s been a big driver in terms of putting grant applications in, interacting with industry groups and strategic groups like Standardbred Canada within our Category C, etc. She’s also going through the process of sourcing vendors on a preliminary basis on this traceability concept.

When we originally started out, we wanted to roll out with a national database that was going to be all-encompassing of human and horse, etc. As we prepared our RFP [Request For Proposal], we realized that it was too much for one vendor to be able to do well, so we broke it into two phases. The first phase went out for our RFP last year and a bid was selected, and that was on the human side. So they’re working on a sport license registration portal that will also help us be able to get to the point of tracking and publishing national rankings.

Once we get the economic impact study, we will be preparing for the next RFP that will cover the horse side, and that will be part of the traceability initiative. Without going into the intricacy of the details, because it’s still a little bit premature, the federal government also has requirements for national traceability initiatives, and equine is still voluntary, not mandatory, such as it is for cattle or other groups. But we are also embarking on the traceability initiative for other reasons; it obviously has biosecurity and greater goals within it in addition to the needs of the federal government through this exercise.

What is the strategy for attracting more officials?

The topic of officials is very interesting, and really also ties into engagement with our PTSOs. Last year when we had our winter summit, the PTSOs told us at the time that the most important burning issues to address were coaching and athlete development, so out of that meeting we created the Canadian Equestrian Development Plan that addresses very complex and ambitious goals to achieve by 2020 between EC and the provinces. Within our Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), Officials development is also outlined; however, the first urgent areas to focus on were coaching and athlete development and as that is moving forward, we’re going to then be shifting towards the Officials Plan. I don’t have a specific date in mind; it’s on the agenda to discuss: how are we going develop that in a way that supports both the PTSO goals for officials, and also EC goals?

Engaging youth is key to the future of equestrian sport. What is the new Rookie Rider program?

Rookie Rider was the evolution of the First Gait initiative, but it was outdated and not necessarily marketable. The name Rookie Rider and the revamping of that program was in big part brought forward by Ontario [Equestrian] and they did some launches this year. It’s a fantastic program; there is no horse involved, but there are instructors using a barrel on a special stand that is decked out with our logo, a surcingle and saddle pad. Everything is designed to break down and store inside the barrel, and the barrel ships. It can be brought to schools, malls, horse shows. Basically, it’s the first introduction for many children to a horse. Apparently, the kids give the barrels names and start interacting like it’s a real horse and pat it on the neck!

It’s really our goal to go past that barrier of needing to go to a barn to have your first horse experience. When the children go through this program and learn how to get on and off the barrel, balance, etc, then the organizer or instructor can give them the Ticket To Ride, which is the next step, a voucher that would be redeemable through the PTSO for an initial grooming lesson or consultation at a certified facility.

How else will you be educating youth about how much fun riding is?

I really think that media sources, such as your own, or broad-scope larger national media like the CBC, are great ways to engage those who aren’t yet into equestrian activities. That’s part of our marketing plan: what do we need to do for each area? We are already working on different steps and projects that are working towards these goals.

What is the incentive for a riding establishment to become a Center of Excellence?

Basically at the grass roots – Rookie Rider, Ticket To Ride, P’tit Trot – we’re re-analyzing the rider levels and how they fit together. Getting the certification of coaches organized ties to that next step of getting the venues themselves certified. Certified coaches and venues will also tie into the Respect In Sport Training so that parents and students are able to have the confidence and comfort to know that their coaches and facilities pass certain criteria and can provide a certain level of service. Centers of Excellence are high performance training centers. We are starting with a certified coach and facility program, once we have this in place we will be able to identify high performance facilities that would be suitable Centers of Excellence. Probably within the next year we’ll have a lot more of that framework in place. Once we create the framework, we have to engage the community, and engage the current facilities that are operating, to explain what would be involved and what the benefits are for them and their customers.

The document mentions the creation of a National Fan Club to increase awareness of the equestrian sports and lifestyle. When will it be launched?

I’m not sure of the date at the moment, but it is an initiative that the Business Development Committee has been actively working on, so very hopeful that it will be in 2019.

Is this strategic plan written in stone, or a work in progress?

This is a living document. As we present it to different groups and engage in a conversation about very simple specific initiatives, committees might come back to us and say, ‘This is really great, thank you. We now know where to focus.’ And other times they might say, ‘You’re really missing ABC point.’ So we can continue to evolve this document, tweak it based on not just what we see for the future of the organization, but also the feedback that we’re getting from the operational groups and stakeholders.

A big area of focus for us in the next year will be what other external groups or schools or clubs or affiliates outside of our operational committees we can bring this message to. How you present this document and how you request feedback and participation is probably the most important piece, because the board is not an operational body, it’s a governance body, so it’s looking at the future. All of the operational committees and staff, they’re the feet on the ground; they’re going from A to B. So they need to embrace that A-to-B journey or be able to say, ‘Hey, we need to switch the direction a little bit or maybe we need to switch the timing.’ That feedback is critical.

The other piece that’s critical is that you can have multiple groups working on similar projects. For example, Young Horse Development could be an initiative that a discipline committee, the province, and an operational committee like Equine Industry Development might be working on. So the importance of presenting to them and engaging them to communicate with each other is also critical.

The reality is that we still have a lot of work ahead. We know there will be ups and downs over the coming years, but the Board is committed to working towards the improvement of the organization and to continuing to stabilize our operation. As long as we can keep a firm vision on the future, we know we can achieve our goals.

Can EC members get involved in the process right now?

Absolutely. At the moment, I have been sharing my email – – to any stakeholder and I’ve been receiving feedback, good, bad, and all welcome. I always encourage people to reach out. Our consultants who are embarking on the organizational review may create another email address where specific information can go. But certainly at this point, anyone who’s interested can reach out to me, and I can direct them to the [appropriate] office. They can also reach out to [CEO] Richard Mongeau as well (