It’s a common marketing tactic used to convince parents to let their eager child try riding lessons: “They’ll take the lessons they’ve learned here and use them in all aspects of their adult life.”
Amy MacDonald can attest that the lessons she learned from longtime trainer Mary Henry had as much to do with setting her up for success as a manager of public health in the Nova Scotia Health Authority as they did with riding.
“I learned to listen and take feedback, whether it’s good or bad,” says McDonald, of Newport, Nova Scotia. “I think this has helped me as I’ve moved through my career, knowing there is always room for growth and improvement.”
She recalls how Henry built her confidence, helping her trust the work and time she’d put in. “This can come into play at work when I’m working on a particularly tough initiative,” says MacDonald. “I’m able to trust the process and the background work.”
But perhaps the “Mrs. Henry lesson” that MacDonald holds closest to her heart is the one about developing a strong team.
“She’s always said a good horse partnership can take three years,” says MacDonald. “A few years ago, I stepped into a new role, and a lot of the focus was around building a team. I’ve kept that in mind over the past few years as we build our work team. Things don’t happen overnight. They take time and trust. Trying different things. And a lot of hard work.”
MacDonald, 38, has been around horses her whole life. Her father, Douglas MacDonald, enjoyed showing Percherons; she and her elder sister Carrie MacDonald were active in the Avon Pony Club (Canada) and rode anything their father could find, from unruly green ponies to more experienced show mounts. Carrie remains an avid horse show volunteer and mom.
Amy started riding with Henry when she first swung a leg over her leadline pony at 6, and the 81-year-old instructor continues to coach Amy today, more than 30 years later.
“She’s a like a family member,” says Amy. “When I got married, there were only 22 people there, and she was one of them.”
Henry moved to Nova Scotia from England in the late 1960s to work at an all-girls boarding school, and she started the local Pony Club. She continues to coach juniors and coordinate lectures for the Pony Club, and Amy is her only adult student.
“She works with you through all the struggles,” says Amy. “She’s taught me a lot, if not most, of what I know about general horsemanship down to how to clean tack to only ever hand picking out tails. She can really figure out ponies and kids. Her students have such a great foundation.”
Amy has used that foundation through plenty of ups and downs with her 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding O’Alfie.
“Alfie’s” early career was derailed due to a serious leg injury, and he spent two months recovering at the Atlantic Veterinary College on Prince Edward Island. Once home, he spent six months in an immobilization bandage and an additional six months on stall rest.
“The next year was spent building up his strength,” says Amy. “The following year we started competing on the Equine Canada circuit and subsequently moved up through the pre-green and green divisions to the 3’6″.”
It’s really only within the past two years that Alfie has found his stride in the show ring. “I think he’s finally matured,” says Amy.
Amy keeps Alfie at her father’s farm in Newport. She and her non-horsey husband Shawn Rovers live across the street and do the morning barn chores together.
Amy admits it can be challenging finding the time to ride five or six days per week, and she’s grateful her niece and her husband help make all of the pieces fit together.
“I’m very fortunate to have married a non-horsey man who is willing to do night check,” says Amy. “When we started dating, I was never available before 8:30 p.m. After four months, he met my horse. I think he was more worried about meeting Mrs. Henry than my father.”
Amy competes in the 3′ adult amateur and occasionally an open division at 3’6.” Often she’s the only amateur riding at the 3’6″ level, but she wants to keep her skills tuned up at that level.
This year, Amy is sharing Alfie with her 14-year-old niece Brianna Partridge, who’s transitioning out of the pony ring.
“I am more than happy to let my 14-year-old niece [ride his bucks] out in the snow,” says Amy with a laugh. “And it will be nice to know that I don’t always have to rush home or ride at 5 a.m. because of evening meetings.”