Caymans’ equestrian team is certainly going to get stronger in the future. They should be riding off with medals galore if their gradual progress continues.
That’s because the woman who effectively introduced the sport to the island nearly 15 years ago is expecting to see her first generation of riders reach maturity in the next few years.
At the Equestrian Centre off Linford Pierson Highway, near the Bobby Thompson Way roundabout, Mary McTaggart is the owner who has put her heart and soul into building the stables up from nothing when she left her legal secretary job. Hyper-active, she flits around tending to things during the interview.
Cayman had the lowest score out of six islands in the Caribbean Equestrian Association Mini Dressage Challenge last week but under the circumstances they could not have done much better as they only had two adults and three were needed for an adult team to score. Also, the children were relatively inexperienced. Dressage is when horses have to perform a number of drills for about seven minutes in an arena.
McTaggart was one of the big people in the competition, her daughter Jamie-Lauren, 15, competed too and came second best child with 143 points on Iggy Pop. Top Cayman child was Alex Kennett on Rambo with 154.
McTaggart came here 31 years ago as a 15-year-old from Jamaica where she was born. Working in a law firm had little interest and she always had a dream of starting a riding school to pass on her knowledge. She owned the piece of land with her husband Roy (now her ex) and began the school with a friend with only five horses and ponies. It was just stables then but is a proper equestrian centre now because they compete and train.
She admits that there is still a long way to go. ‘Cayman is way behind because we’ve only really been at it for a short time compared to the rest of the world. I still enjoy competing. If I get the chance and, say, a dressage competition comes here, I will compete and when I do go to the States I will take a few lessons.’
She has taken her International Equestrian Federation – aka FEI – coaching certificates to Level 1 and hopes to take Level 2 soon and also has a raft of other qualifications in the sport. ‘I’ve just progressed as the business has progressed.’
The next step is for the riders to own their own horses and then they’re more likely to increase their ability as bonding will accelerate. ‘As the children we’ve trained over the years come back from university it will get exciting. They’ve come through the whole system as riders.’
Cayman’s weak showing in the dressage competition was down to a number of factors. ‘Four riders dropped out because the rain made it impossible to travel for practice. Also, three of our best riders were at uni. It was good experience for the six children that competed and next year we intend to schedule it so that the best riders are home on vacation. It was a good start and at least we’re starting to compete against the rest of the Caribbean in dressage.’
Had her two eldest daughters been there – Jessica, 22 and Jodie, 20 – there’s no doubt Cayman would have fared better as they compete at the FEI level. They’re studying in the US.
Jessica has reached the qualifying standard for the Pan Am Games. ‘We’re hoping that at the next international competition she’ll be able to compete with her horse. It’s a difficult sport because horses have to be flown around the world. It’s expensive, difficult and there are quarantine issues. This year we didn’t think we were ready to transport the horse and deal with all of that to Colombia for the Pan Am Games.’
Born with mum’s horses constantly around, they were not likely to do anything else. ‘They came down here with me every day. It’s in their blood, I guess. They do enjoy it, some more than others. Jessica’s the most into it. She will probably teach and spend a lot of her life in it. The others might just slack off a little bit and continue as a hobby. It’s hard to say about Jamie-Lauren. Jodie’s very career driven at the moment so we’ll see what opportunities come their way.’
Jamie-Lauren took a while to find the passion. ‘When I was little I wasn’t really into it. I used to sit on the ring and watch my sisters. The horses weren’t too big and frightening, to tell the truth, I hated wearing pants. I wanted to just wear dresses. Now I love riding, it’s my passion.
‘My new horse, Iggy Pop, when he got here he was really difficult and I’ve had to do a lot of work with him, re-training him. He’s come a far way and he’s also taught me a lot. We’ve really bonded and I want to go to all those big competitions. I’ve got the dedication. Practice makes perfect. I come every afternoon to exercise him. He’s about 10 or 11 which is not old. We’ve got some here who are 25.’
The World Equestrian Games in 2010 are in Kentucky and Cayman is aiming for at least one rider to be competing in dressage. Chances are it will be a McTaggart.