Psychology student Victoria Daniel and her horse, Steve

Taking a year off between high school and university is common in Europe, less so in Canada. The European students usually travel during their “gap year.” Victoria Daniel, now a first-year student in psychology, spent her year off training and competing with her horse, Sincere (known as “Steve” around the barn).

It paid off. At the beginning of November, Daniel qualified to compete at the Royal Winter Fair Horse Show in Toronto against the top riders and horses from across Canada, and ultimately won Reserve Champion in the Amateur-Owner Hunter division. Daniel’s coach, Erynn Ballard, rode Steve in the Combined Working Hunter division, where he was named champion.

Daniel, whose family lives in Oakville, has been riding for about 10 years. “I’ve owned two horses before Steve, and I’ve also leased horses, but Steve has been the most competitive horse I’ve had. He’s a Swedish Warmblood, and he was pretty inexperienced when we first got him.”

After graduating from high school, Daniel rode throughout the summer and fall with her coach. She then took Steve south to compete at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Fla., a series of horse shows held through the winter. “After twelve weeks of showing, Steve was the circuit champion in his division,” she says.

With that accomplishment under her belt, Daniel returned to Ontario in the spring and began competing in some of the larger shows. Steve soon racked up an impressive list of wins and was champion in both the Amateur-Owner and Combined Hunter divisions at the end of the season. When she traveled to Lake Placid, N.Y., for another competition, her coach rode Steve to the overall grand-champion hunter award. “Steve had won the most points of all the hunter divisions,” she says proudly.

Despite these awards, Daniel says she was worried about the Royal. “Steve had never shown indoors before, so I didn’t know how he’d react. But the girl who rides him for me said he walked into the ring the first time and seemed to know that it was important.”

Daniel herself had a less-than-stellar record at the event. “I rode in the Royal two previous years, on horses I had leased. One just did not go well; the second time I was excused from the ring. But this time certainly made up for those.” She adds that she was much more relaxed in the ring this time.

Steve is now for sale, and Daniel expects him to find a new home in the United States. “I probably won’t ride at all this winter,” she says. “Maybe next summer I’ll look for a younger, inexperienced horse that I can train with my coach.”

While she enjoys riding and working with horses, Daniel intends to keep it as a hobby. Her plan is to focus on her academic work and go on to graduate studies. She expects to keep riding, but maintains her perspective when it comes to riding in competitions. “Winning at horse shows is fun, but you can’t always win,” she says.