In an open dialogue, Fernandes shares her journey to becoming a coach, her role at the Provincial level in supporting coach development in Alberta and shares her perspectives and insights into how Equestrian sport and coaches can be leaders in supporting the 2SLGBTQI+ community in sports. 

Coach Spotlight: Helping Equestrians Get from Where They Are to Where They Want to Be

Karina and her dad with little Tieta in Brazil.

Q: When did you first become involved with horses?

A: I don’t even remember how old I was when I first rode because I was just a baby as you can see in the picture: my dad, little Tieta (the mare), and I. Horses have been my passion since before I could speak; I have always been fascinated by them. When I was about nine years old, I asked my mom if there was a school to learn how to ride, and less than a month later I was enrolled in an equestrian school program back in Brazil.

Q: What inspired you to start coaching?

A: I was always hungry for knowledge; life-long learning has always described my outlook. However, it doesn’t matter how much you know, it is whether or not you can share and pass your knowledge on to others. Sharing experiences and enabling other people to follow their own path is the best feeling someone can have. There are no words for seeing other people explore and discover the world because you shared that piece of information that opened their eyes. I don’t know how to put that feeling into words, but I’m positive every coach reading this article now knows exactly what I’m talking about.

If you take the time to think about it, the word coach also means “large kind of four-wheeled, covered carriage,”, and it was first used in connection with an instructor or trainer around 1830 as slang for a tutor who “carried” a student through an exam. The word “coaching” thus identified a process used to transport people from where they are to where they want to be. If you think that the first automobile was invented in 1885, the word coach has always been somewhat related to horses and, consequently, equestrians.

Q: What has been your coaching journey so far?

A: I was always involved with teaching and coaching. Since I was a kid, it has been a pleasure to pass information on to others. My first coaching experience was with Ninjutsu, a Japanese martial art when I was 18. I also have a Bachelor’s and License Degree in History. However, during the Equine Science program at Olds College, I started coaching in equestrian sports and achieved my NCCP English Instructor certification. I just felt I could finally put both of my passions together.

I also believe that the instructor stream is underrated, instructors are the base of the sport, they start people that want to learn how to ride and share with them the most fundamental knowledge. When athletes have a strong foundation, it’s much easier to go to the next step and start competing if they wish to. Not to mention the instructor evaluation is perceived by many Coach Developers as the hardest coaching evaluation of all streams. We definitely need to start valuing them if we want our sport to keep growing and reaching more people.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit ametQ: What is a memorable moment for you as a coach?

A: I believe I don’t have one specific memorable moment because to me every time I see in my students’ eyes that light bulb moment is speechless. It shows me that I’m on the right track!

Q: How long have you been with Alberta Equestrian Federation?

A: It will be two years in August, by far the best two years in my career! AEF is a community-driven PTSO that shares our industry passion with our members, and I’m really proud to say I’m part of this team!

Coach Spotlight: Helping Equestrians Get from Where They Are to Where They Want to Be

As part of her role as Sport & Recreation Manager at Alberta Equestrian, Fernandes is responsible for coaching programs. Here she is hosting one of the NCCP Programs entitled “Manage an Equestrian Sport Program” which is a learning module in the NCCP Certification for Equestrian Coaches.

Q: What has your experience been like working in the coaching area at a PTSO?

A: I feel the possibilities are endless, not only to help our instructors and coaches, but to help give a voice to all our members. The connections we make listening to the people on the ground with their concerns and suggestions and making developments to improve the equestrian sport system in Canada. More than that, I also feel I can give a voice to those in underprivileged groups and find ways to help them have a better life through sports.

Q: What do you feel is beneficial about PTSOs delivering NCCP programming?

A: Each Provincial and Territorial Sport Organization knows their community, their members. We know our environment, and we take the time to answer each one of our members’ calls. Consequently, I feel we are advocating for our instructors, coaches, athletes, and parents to ensure we establish a safe environment for everyone. Discussions about active life and mental health are not new in sports, but now we have access to more tools, mainly after the pandemic, and we want to ensure we can support everyone involved in the industry. I believe that having this close contact with coaches and athletes is the recipe for ensuring not only performance results, but also continuing the legacy of equestrian sports.

Q: What do you think are the challenges and opportunities for equestrian coaching in Canada now and for the future?

A: I think horses have always enlightened us much more than we realize. I believe the equestrian community has a long and beautiful tradition; the foundational path has been built, but we still need to add the lights and lines to make our path clearer. By that I mean we need to bring more visibility to diversity and inclusion, not only to 2SLGBTQIA+, but indigenous, people with disabilities, newcomers, etc.

Coach Spotlight: Helping Equestrians Get from Where They Are to Where They Want to Be

Karina with her wife Thaisy at one of their favourite spots – the barn.

Q: Do you feel the equestrian community is welcoming and inclusive for members of the 2SLGBTQI+ community? How could people improve their allyship?

A: I believe we still have a ways to go. We are the only sport where the athletes’ gender literally doesn’t matter. Our athletes are never asked what their gender is when registering for a competition because everyone competes together. All other sports are struggling right now to figure out how to not categorize their competitions between women and men teams. However, our advantage wasn’t a thinking process to ensure inclusion. I believe we have such a potential to take a leadership position within sports all around the world as Canada is an international example in 2SLGBTQI+ rights, but I think we aren’t exploring that potential yet. I hope I will be here to help build that path.

There still is a lot of pushback to the use of pronouns and jokes around the 2SLGBTQI+ abbreviation. If people don’t know what 2SLGBTQI+ stands for and how to use them, it means they don’t fully support our community. In addition, pronouns are not to confront or harm anyone, we use them for two simple reasons: to identify ourselves so no assumptions are made and to be an open sign for the 2SLGBTQI+ community that this is a safe place for them.

Q: Anything else you’d like to share with us?

A: I was lucky enough that my parents’ love was never dependent on how I perceived myself and my decisions. Their support made me a stronger person in all contexts of my life, my career, my success, and my family, even though it’s not a nuclear family. In reality, that’s not the case for most people in the community.

Parents: deep inside you know if your kid is part of the 2SLGBTQI+ community; don’t turn them away! They need your support more than anything else.

Instructors and coaches: you can make a difference in 2SLGBTQI+ people’s lives by supporting them. Many say they aren’t sure how to support the community, here are two simple tips:

  • Don’t assume their gender; use inclusive words such as ‘everyone’ instead of ‘guys’ and ‘ladies.’
  • Ensure to create a safe environment for everyone, where there is no space for bullying and jokes.

Those who are still struggling with how they perceive themselves: believe that deep inside you know who you are. There are always 2SLGBTQI+ people in every community, we are everywhere, we are a family, find us; you are not alone!

I want to thank my wife, Thaisy, who has been my biggest supporter over the last seven years. Thank you for battling against the world by my side!

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