Desk of: Manager, Sport Development Sophie Balogh

According to research, the field of Sport Development can be described in a series of layers starting with mass-participation which then builds to competitive followed by high-performance sport. Sport development systems have two main objectives: to increase the number of participants actively engaged in sport and to enhance the quality of performances in sport1.

The Sport Development department at EC is focused on providing education at all levels of the pyramid as the organization’s strategic plan has established training as a fundamental building block to developing equestrian sport in Canada. One of the main challenges to this approach is that education takes a significant investment of both time and money as well as a long-term vision and plan.       

Desk of: Manager, Sport Development Sophie Balogh

1 Green C. Building Sport Programs to Optimize Athlete Recruitment, Retention, and Transition: Toward a Normative Theory of Sport Development, p.19

The department currently consists of just two staff members – me and Coaching Coordinator, Janelle Bruce. We are excited to soon be adding a third person to our mighty team with a new hire in the role of Coordinator, Equestrian Foundations that will promote grassroots. With this small team, we must remain nimble and focused to achieve EC’s goals.

Beginning with serving the grassroots equestrian community, EC is working together with its valued Provincial and Territorial Sport Organization (PTSO) partners to meet the needs of those entering the sport and participating at a recreational level.

At this level, efforts are being focused on creating a sport environment that is inclusive and welcoming. To encourage participation, EC and the PTSOs have created a program called Rookie Riders, which emphasizes the ‘FUN’damentals and makes learning the sport fun and interactive.

Rookie Riders, which emphasizes the ‘FUN’damentals and makes learning the sport fun and interactive.

Rookie Riders has been piloted at numerous events and in elementary schools. The program introduces and promotes invaluable physical literacy skills that are learned first on a barrel and later, can be transferred to a horse. With this first involvement, children and parents are exposed to how to interact with the sport safely and then what to look for when seeking further instruction.

Once they are introduced to the concepts of the sport, children interested can obtain a ‘Ticket to Ride’, an invitation to follow up with a facility where coaches have verified experience, certification and have been screened. The next step is the Learn to Ride and Drive program.

In the competitive sport level, over the past two years EC has maintained a significant focus on coach education. Some of the highlights are strengthening the relationships with PTSO partners and spending time on educating and networking with Coach Developers throughout the country.

Desk of: Manager, Sport Development Sophie Balogh

52 Coach Developers from across Canada met together in Toronto in March 2023

With the purpose of establishing a national coaching standard and ensuring quality assurance is met, EC hosted the first ever Coach Developer Symposium in Toronto in March 2023. The event was well attended, and the feedback was positive, with Coach Developers asking for more opportunities to network, learn and connect. EC has continued the momentum by hosting NCCP Coach Developer webinars on a quarterly basis, until the next in-person event in March 2025.

The Athlete Development Matrix, which is now in progress, will support the program curriculum and support coaches in developing meaningful activities and lessons that are aligned with the right stage of development. From there, athletes have a choice to either stay active, competitive for life, or transition to another role within our sport, either coaching, officiating, or performing at a higher level. 

Desk of: Manager, Sport Development Sophie Balogh

When choosing to coach, individuals can go through the NCCP pathways, which are mainly delivered by our amazing PTSOs. The highest level of NCCP Coaching certification in equestrian sport is delivered by EC. This year, the NCCP Competition Development: HP1 certification is in its final pilot year, with 15 coaches taking part in a cohort of learners engaged and learning to support their athletes in competition and the training environment.

This blended learning environment gives the opportunity for coaches to meet in person at a high-performance training camp once during the program. This experience enables the cohort to analyze and observe the Ontario Equestrian G.R.I.T. camp that focuses on supporting amateur high-performance athletes with very experienced high performance coaches.

Desk of: Manager, Sport Development Sophie Balogh

EC HP 1 Cohort members from across Canada spend three days experiencing the Ontario Equestrian GRIT Program with coaching consultants and Canadian Olympians Ian Millar and Christilot Hanson-Boylen
Photo Credit: 42 North

The next area of focus for EC is officials’ education. We have started mapping out the Officials’ Program by standardizing the testing and ensuring that it is both accessible and realistic. We have engaged with the officials’ community through focus groups and townhalls. Next, will be to review the alignment with the Athlete Development Matrix.

No matter the level of our sport, EC is dedicated to offering meaningful and safe competitive environments for all involved. We are refining, promoting, and building programs that will be delivered in a variety of formats – online and in person – that ensures access to educational opportunities to a diverse set of individuals. From grassroots to high performance across urban and remote geographical areas, it is an exciting time for equestrian sport development in Canada!

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