I Am EC: Eventer, Academic and Show Mom Extraordinaire

Nobuko and Marshmallow
Photo Credit: Liv Drouillard

When did you first become involved with horses?

I have loved horses for as long as I can remember. When I was three, my grandfather, who rode horses in the military, took me to see a horse at a friend’s farm. My parents were not horse people and we lived in the city, so aside from the occasional pony ride, I didn’t start riding until I was eleven. My parents, tired of my constant begging for a horse, finally sent me to horse camp and I began taking lessons shortly afterwards at North Shore Equestrian Centre in North Vancouver, BC (hunter pro Tara Metzner and show jumper Tiffany Foster also rode there, though Tiffany is younger, so I didn’t ride when she was there). Through my teens, I did Pony Club and leased horses. Some people are focused on riding, but I also just love being with horses.

When did you start competing?

I began competing regularly after I returned to riding in my forties. I took a long break from riding to attend graduate school and raise children. In 2013, I began taking lessons, bought my first horse in October 2014, and began competing a year later in 2015 at local hunter and combined training shows, and later, SOCTA and OEA shows with Jessica Buterbaugh, a licensed EC English competition coach who now runs the riding school at Windsor Equestrian Centre (WEC).

I Am EC: Eventer, Academic and Show Mom Extraordinaire

Nobuko and Marshmallow in competition
Photo Credit: Ian Woodley

What drew you to Eventing?

I am a bit of an adrenaline junkie. I like jumping and going fast, so eventing was a natural fit. I also admired how many eventers retrain retired racehorses for their second careers. I figured that I can always focus on dressage when I’m older. I was at an eventing barn, and once I schooled cross-country, I was hooked!

Nobuko and Marshmallow in open entry
Photo Credit: Ian Woodley

How long have you been riding at WEC?

I’ve been riding at WEC for four years. I was one of the first boarders there. WEC is an amazing facility, like a five-star resort for horses. I train with Xavier Traisnel, an EC licensed high performance coach. My riding has improved so much since I started riding with Xavier. He gives me feedback to correct my position and bring along a relatively young pony, rather than ride a made horse. Lindsay (Traisnel) and Xavier both train Marshmallow now and then to make it easier for an amateur like me to ride her. I am so fortunate to have elite eventers taking care of us. This February, I was lucky enough to join them in Aiken, SC to get an early start on the season. I learn a lot by watching how Xavier and Lindsay ride, especially on XC. I hope that their expertise and determination in riding talented horses over big, difficult jumps will rub off on me a little bit.

Can you provide a brief bio of yourself and speak about your Asian heritage? Do you have any perspectives in your equestrian activities that are influenced by your heritage?

I am a first generation Japanese Canadian. I came to Canada with my parents and older brother when I was seven years old. We settled in the suburb of North Vancouver, BC. There were not many Asians in my neighbourhood, so I was an outsider. I also felt like I didn’t fit in because I was that weird horse girl obsessed with all things horses in elementary and secondary school. I did fit the Asian stereotype of model minority, achieving academic success and winning scholarships to complete a BSc (Biopsychology) and BA (English) at UBC, MA (English) at Queen’s University, and a PhD (Education) at University of Toronto. 

Marshmallow’s arrival to Canada (R), Marshmallow, Nobuko & Alex at Grandview HT (L)
Photo Credit: Chris Teplovs, Zita Zinn-Shamisa

My Asian heritage gives me a different perspective in equestrian sport because it was a very white, exclusive sport when I started riding as a child. I saw very few Asians, or people from other under-represented groups, riding or competing in Canada. Keeping a horse in a city like Vancouver or Toronto is prohibitively expensive. In Windsor, Ontario, where I now live, I see more Asian riders and competitors in Canada and across the US. It is exciting to see young Asian riders like Jessica Wang (wangequestrian), Lucy Zhang (lucyzhang.eq), Augusta Iwasaki, and Mimi Gochman.

We understand that Marshmallow is a rescue pony. Can you tell us more about her and your partnership?

Marshmallow is a 14.1hh bay varnish roan mare with lots of chrome. We know very little about her background other than that she was rescued from the Louisiana floodwaters in 2016. Vets suggest that she is about 10 years old, and her breed might be Pony of the Americas. Marshmallow was started under saddle by Sarah MacKusick Mills of Iron Star Equestrian in Havana, FL, and was ridden by a talented junior rider, placing 5th on her dressage score in the open Beginner Novice division at Chatthoochee Hills in 2018.

In February 2019, I bought Marshmallow. She was in full training with the Traisnels for two months until they returned from Ocala. Our partnership got off to a bit of a rocky start. Marshmallow was perfect when Lindsay rode her, but I had to learn to ride a sensitive young horse, not a made horse. Fortunately, we soon developed a very special bond. Marshmallow is so gentle that even little kids can bathe her and feed her treats. Under saddle, however, Marshmallow is a brave athlete. She can jump and turns into a beast XC. Maybe because she was a rescue, Marshmallow has some quirks. For example, she distrusts barn floors. Before stepping out of her stall or entering the barn, she stops, lowers her head, and thoroughly inspects the floor, every single time. 

I Am EC: Eventer, Academic and Show Mom Extraordinaire

Marshmallow and Nobuko in competition
Photo Credit: Ian Woodley

What challenges have you faced, and achievements have you reached together so far?

Marshmallow is a pony, so she keeps me on my toes! She is very careful, which is a good thing, but her self-preservation instinct kicks in and she will refuse “scary” fences if I let down my guard, even for a second. Despite her pony attitude, or perhaps because of it, Marshmallow has achieved success at lower-level eventing. Lindsay rode her to championships in Open Entry at Will O’Wind and Glenarden during COVID in 2020. Marshmallow and I earned reserve champion in the OEA Senior Pre-Entry Division in 2021. I focused on obtaining my tenure in 2022. This year, Marshmallow and I are planning our come back. We are both recovering from injuries: a stifle strain for her and a broken arm from a non-riding related fall for me. Thanks to veterinarian, Dr. Lotje Kouwenberg, and vet tech Marcie Burling, Marshmallow gets weekly PEMF and cold laser treatments to help her heal.

How do you approach the balancing act of your work as an academic and learning specialist, family, barn time/training and likely many other commitments?

It’s a juggling act to balance work at the University, family, barn time/training, and other commitments. During the pandemic, my workload increased dramatically because I work in a service unit supporting faculty developing online courses and open educational resources at the University of Windsor. I worked long hours, often working late and getting up early in the morning to write articles or prep for teaching. I also went through the tenure process, and finally obtained it last year. Most evenings, my family can be found at the barn. My husband, a professor at UMich, does the lion’s share of cooking and chauffeuring kids to various activities. During show season, I commit to riding 5 days a week, lesson twice a week, and travel to horse shows on weekends. I make sacrifices, like not entertaining or keeping in touch with friends and family as much as I should, but I am living the dream.

I Am EC: Eventer, Academic and Show Mom Extraordinaire

Family Photo
Photo Credit: Liv Drouillard

What about your kids? Are you a barn/show mom as well as a rider?

I have three kids who all ride. My stepson, Andrew, is in college and has chosen jumpers. He has shown on the Trillium circuit. My two daughters, Tatiana and Alexandra, have their EC rider level 4 and are D1 members of the Windsor-Essex Pony Club.

Tatiana, aged 13, has just started eventing. She leases Hope (Cinnamon Twist), a red roan Appaloosa/Arabian mare owned by WEC Barn Manager, Jade MacInnes. Hope has evented up to Training/EV100 with Jade. Tatiana and Hope have a wonderful partnership. The pair placed first in the Junior EV78 division at their first eventing show together at Will O’Wind on May 14, 2023.

Alex, aged 11, is not yet sure what discipline she will choose. Last year, she rode Marshmallow at the Western Ontario Region Show Jumping and was Champion in the 2’3” division. She will ride Marshmallow in SOCTA shows with this summer. After she goes cross country schooling, she might want to try eventing too, but I am fine with whatever she chooses. 

Alex Fujita Teplovs on Toasted Marshmallow at WOR Pony Club Show Jumping (R), Tatiana Fujita Teplovs on Hope at Will O’Wind Spring HT (L)
Photo Credit: Mandie Armstrong, HM Photography, Ian Woodley

My experience as a barn/show mom as well as a rider is extremely rewarding. I love seeing the kids develop new knowledge, skills, and attitudes in riding and in stable management. I do help them out, especially at shows, but my kids are responsible for daily care of the horses they ride, grooming, tacking, and helping WEC staff to feed, turn out, blanket, etc. Andrew worked as a volunteer at WEC one summer and helped Xavier build some fences. Tatiana will do her volunteer hours there for high school starting this year.

What are your goals for this season (and beyond)?

This year, I plan to start Marshmallow at EV85 and hopefully move up a level to EV90. Our long-term goal is to event at EV100. Some days, when everything hurts, I wonder why I am still training for three disciplines. However, my kids tell me that I am their hero, so I endeavour to keep eventing just as long as I can.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Horses are an expensive hobby, and I’ve had many people tell me that it’s snobby or that it is elitist. I guess they haven’t seen us riders and barn/show moms shovel manure, lug water buckets and hay bales. I clip, groom and braid for my kids at shows, and take on extra work to pay for it all. 

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