Nowadays, only a few countries still field riders in uniform. However, eventing, like several other equestrian disciplines, is military in origin: the dressage phase showcased the precision of parade movements, while cross-country and show jumping were designed to test a cavalry’s speed, agility, and endurance. This makes the discipline a perfect fit for the Wookeys.

All’s Fair in Love, War and Eventing for the Wookeys

Captain Andrea and Captain Ian Wookey, who currently reside in Southern Pines, NC, balance busy jobs in the Canadian Armed Forces with burgeoning eventing careers.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Ian Wookey

Andrea and Ian met at a friend’s party while posted at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa, ON, in 2011. She was a Logistics Officer with the Canadian Army; he was a pilot with the Royal Canadian Airforce. She was a horse-crazy Pony Club kid; he was clueless when it came to animals. It was the latter difference that almost stopped their relationship before it started.

“I wanted him to meet my horse, and when he said, ‘No, I’m good, I met your dogs,’ I politely told him that while I enjoyed our time spent together, if he didn’t want to meet [my first horse, Katie], he didn’t really want to get to know me so there wasn’t any point in continuing,” said Andrea. “Obviously, he came to meet her.”

While Andrea immediately made it clear that horses were a priority, all equestrian pursuits were put on hold later that year when both she and Ian were deployed to Afghanistan. There, Ian popped the question, and the couple married exactly a year and a half after their first meeting.

While a return from deployment had promised a return to the saddle, a major back injury prevented Andrea from riding for several years – most days, she needed a cane to walk. During her recovery, Ian stepped in to take the ride on her horse.

“I had occasionally sat on a horse through the early part of our marriage, but had never really taken riding seriously,” explained Ian. “[When Andrea injured her back,] I offered to sit on our Holsteiner gelding once or twice a week to walk or trot him around to keep him in shape. I learned quickly that even that wasn’t easy, so I began taking lessons with her trainer to find a better seat and try not to hurt the horse. Eventually, the lessons became more constant, and I found myself really enjoying riding every week. It quickly grew from there to full-time training.”

Ian’s eventing ambitions grew in 2015 when he and Andrea drove to Toronto, ON, to watch the cross-country phase of the Pan American Games. Ian recalled, “I was astonished by the speed and athleticism of both the horses and the riders as they flew over some hefty jumps, and I remember being completely enthralled by the experience. From that moment, I always wanted to be involved with eventing in some way – watching, volunteering, etc. – but I’m really happy that I can now be doing it as a rider.”

Ian is now checking off steps on the long road towards his ultimate goal of FEI-level competition. “I am really enjoying discovering all the firsts that come in this sport,” he said. “I enjoyed clearing my first jump, finishing my first dressage test, and going on my hack solo. Last summer, I did my first competition at one of the Ottawa Trillium Bronze jumper shows, and even started (but didn’t quite finish…) my first horse trial.”

As Ian’s experience with horses grew, he was pleased to discover that the skills he learned as a pilot translated effortlessly to riding.

“The similarities that I can draw between flying helicopters and riding horses always astonish me,” said Ian. “The coordination of all four limbs moving in different directions while being synchronized in effort makes the physical aspect of flying and riding very similar. Tacking up and un-tacking a horse is almost like a pre- or post-flight inspection, and the ‘sixth-sense’ feel required to be able to anticipate movement and make corrections with a very slight touch is comparable both in the cockpit and the saddle. Even judging distances to a fence translates well to judging distances and closure rates when making a landing. Both also require significant amounts of training and dedication!”

Andrea also found crossover between her roles as Army Officer and rider, particularly in regards to work ethic. She said, “I am used to long days in the military, and the focus that goes into doing something well. When I am in a lesson, I am in it to learn, work hard, and focus on what my coach is telling me. No lesson is ever too hard or too long, and, just like we care for our soldiers and kit, I care for my horses and tack. It’s very disciplined, and I love that. I truly believe that life is what you make of it, and I try to take the most learning I can out of every situation in both horses and work.”

While Andrea and Ian developed skills in the military that proved valuable to their eventing pursuits, meeting the time requirements necessary for equestrian sport is sometimes made difficult by their jobs’ demands. In addition to their own athletic training, the Wookeys currently have two off-the-track Thoroughbreds to develop and care for: a five-year-old mare named High Grade (Romantica x Jeblar), and a six-year-old gelding named Casual Coton (Gasparilla Parade x Notebook). (Casual Coton’s barn name is “Huey”, but Ian maintains the fact that he shares his nickname with a military helicopter is completely coincidence.) Andrea’s job complicates things further, as it requires several extended trips each year.

“Having a husband who rides helps,” said Andrea of juggling her military and equestrian careers. “It’s easy enough for one of us to take over the ride on the other’s horse while we go do military things. The goal is to eventually have our own breeding operation, so we will have to re-evaluate our careers and balance then.”

Ian added, “Life balance for most adult amateurs is difficult to find with equestrian sport. Luckily, Andrea and I both share the passion and are able to dedicate much of our free time to our horses without it being a burden. We rely on each other to be independent enough to look after each other’s horses, and on our trainers to help us pick up the slack if we can’t always be around. The real struggle is with maintaining consistent training, as we are often travelling around the world with our military careers, and it feels like we are rarely home at the same time.”

Life was made a little bit easier for the Wookeys, who enjoyed a serendipitous boon to their eventing lifestyle when Ian was posted to Fort Bragg, NC, as an exchange officer to fly Chinook helicopters. The American army base of Fort Bragg holds the distinction of being the largest military installation in the world – lesser known, however, is the incredible concentration of eventers in the area. 

All’s Fair in Love, War and Eventing for the Wookeys

The Wookey’s current posting to Fort Bragg – an American army base in North Carolina – has placed them smack in an American eventing hotspot.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Ian Wookey

From their new hometown, Andrea and Ian have easy access to top American athletes, coaches, and officials, such as six-time Olympic medalist, Michael Plumb, or prominent course designer, Marc Donovan. The Wookeys are also able to build their eventing knowledge through numerous volunteer opportunities, as they live less than half an hour away from The Carolina Horse Park in Raeford, NC. Most recently, they acted as jump judges and watched Canadian Olympians Selena O’Hanlon and Jessica Phoenix speed to victory at The Carolina International in March 2019.

“We are spoiled rotten where we are,” commented Andrea. “The depth of knowledge is incredible, and, because we are always around, it’s like we are getting to audit clinics every single weekend. When we got posted to Fort Bragg and moved to Southern Pines, I was immersed in the eventing world again. I think I’ve always loved eventing since I galloped my first fence, I had just forgotten along the way.”

Under the North Carolina sun, Andrea is now perfectly poised to reclaim her love of eventing and cover ground in both her equestrian and military careers – with Ian by her side every stride of the way. 

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