It wasn’t a certainty that Erynn Ballard would spend her whole life around horses – yet it was a pretty good bet.
“Gosh, it’s so long ago I hardly remember,” sighed the 38-year-old Canadian rider, recalling the early path that led to her career as an elite show jumper. “It was a family business, my parents’ business. I had a pet pony before I started competing. My first year at the Royal I think was ’87. It turned into my business and now it basically consumes my entire life.”
However, she was quick to add, “There was never any pressure to do it. I have a sister that has nothing to do with horses. I didn’t have to do this, but there was never a day in my life that I didn’t want to.”
Of late, Erynn has experienced an ascension in the FEI rider rankings and currently sits 81st in the world. Her road has been a winding one, and a difficult one in some respects. Back in 2006 she was named Equine Canada’s Equestrian of the Year, indicative of the promise she showed. She experienced a hiccup in that progression at the Angelstone horse show in Rockwood, ON, in 2013, when she fell and broke her collarbone, damaged her shoulder, and sustained nerve damage.
But if you thought that was a derailment, you’d be mistaken. “If anything, it was the complete opposite,” Erynn indicated. “It took me from a rut and jump-started me into what I am now, however many years later. There hasn’t been any turning back from that injury. Every year since 2013 I’ve gotten bigger and better and have had more success and ridden better horses. Maybe it was just something that made me rethink why exactly I was doing this and what I wanted from it.”
That doesn’t mean she hasn’t had brief moments of uncertainty along the way. “One day I made a comment that I don’t need to ride horses myself to make a living, whether it was because I hadn’t sat on a horse for a while or some sort of fear of ever being hurt again. There are plenty of professionals in this sport that don’t have to ride to have a business, but the success of my business stems from my riding career. I’m not that happy if I’m not riding. I don’t think it was ever really up for discussion.”
A typical day in the life of Erynn Ballard is centred around her horses and a stable of which she is most proud. Being an owner and manager at Looking Back Farm in Tottenham, ON, combined with competing, leaves her little time for anything else.
“I have the right people in the right places and I have good assistants, which provides me with opportunities,” she said. “Today, my focus is on riding and making sure that the rest of the business stays healthy. I have an opportunity now that not everybody gets in their lifetime, so I’m making a run with it.”
Thanks in large part to a successful partnership with 11-year-old Darkos Promise owned by Ilan Ferder, an Israeli rider based in New York, Erynn has been able to once again muscle her way into the national team discussion; case in point, her inclusion on Team Canada’s 2018 World Equestrian Games squad.
“I think that there is a shift and maybe that’s creating some new opportunity,” she began. “You had the top group of riders for about ten years and for various reasons, they don’t have the right horse, they’re not in the right situation, there are health concerns … whatever it may be. At this moment in time that set group isn’t what it used to be and that’s opening up doors for somebody else to slide in there.
“Ian [Millar] doesn’t have a horse right now, Tiffany [Foster] probably doesn’t have her best horse, Yann [Candele] doesn’t have a horse. It’s a phase everyone goes through. Look at Beth [Underhill], she didn’t have a horse for a while and now she has a great one [Count Me In]. There’s always a sort of rotation of horses and at the end of the day, you have to have the right one.”
After a busy and successful winter sojourn in Wellington – in 12 weeks, she qualified for every grand prix but one – Erynn will continue her breakneck schedule this summer and into the fall, heading to venues including Palgrave, Devon, Upperville, Spruce Meadows, Las Vegas … and hopefully a berth on the Pan Am Games team for Lima.
Where it takes her in the end is anyone’s guess. “I work for a dealer and he sells many horses and that’s his priority, buying and selling, so I’m always at risk of losing my best one,” she pointed out. “But at the same time I have five more behind that one. The next one in line becomes the best, so you focus on that one. At the moment, my list of horses is bigger and stronger than anyone else in Canada.
“You have to be at the right place at the right time to make one of those teams. I made the top one hundred in the world last month and I want to stay there this month. I want to keep moving forward.”