Erynn Ballard, from Hornby, Ontario is one of the busiest riders around. Born in 1980 to Sandi and David Ballard, there was no question of Erynn being introduced to horses at a young age. The Ballards, owners of Looking Back Farm, were coaches of some of the best riders in Canada. Paternal grandfather, Lt. Bob Ballard, was a member of the Canadian military show jumping team from 1947 to the mid-50s.
At age 5, Erynn started her competitive career in the short-stirrup division. By 1986, under her parents’ tutelage, she was competing at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto.
“I don’t really have any memories that don’t include horses. My first pony was Rusty, who we bought in the parking lot at the Zeller’s in Milton. He was giving pony rides. I think I fell off him every day!”
Rusty was used as a short stirrup pony only because he didn’t canter well or perform lead changes. As a competent young rider, Erynn was in demand as a “catch rider”, someone who picks up rides on other people’s horses at the last minute.
“I have catch ridden for as long as I can remember. I was able to gain the skill through sheer practice riding so many horses with so many different people.”
In 1995 Erynn was on the bronze medal winning team at the North American Young Riders Championships (NAYRC). In 1997 she won the Junior American Invitational at Tampa, Florida and dominated the junior/amateur division at the Royal. In 1998 she won the prestigious A.S.P.C.A. Maclay National Championship at Madison Square Gardens and, 1999, with her own Irish thoroughbred, Leacock, won individual gold at the N.A.Y.R.C. Sadly, Leacock had to be put down after a session with colic in March 2004.
“It was the hardest thing I ever had to do,” says Ballard, still obviously missing her favourite.
As she matured, Erynn moved through the various divisions in both the hunter and jumper rings. Her parents were still her coaches, a rather unique situation.
“I have always been involved with my parents and I hope I always will be. We have our ups and downs but I think any working relationship will. We’re a good team. They have always provided me with opportunity and hopefully I will continue to be able to provide something back to them and their business.”
Erynn can still be seen at shows, with or without her parents, zipping in a golf cart from ring to ring, swapping horses and roles as rider, trainer and coach, with enviable ease. The Looking Back clients run from small ponies to young riders to grand prix level, which is quite an achievement.
“I didn’t really have a major problem moving from division to division or size (ponies to horses). The hardest transition for me was from junior to professional.”
A high school graduate, Erynn had no desire to attend college or university. She carried on, following in her parents’ footsteps, riding professionally, training and teaching. Erynn really enjoys teaching, especially children, although it’s tricky making time for everything. She points out that the parents of her students are very supportive and that “hockey parents” are not an issue.
“If anything, the kids seem to put more pressure on themselves to perform (well) in front of their parents.”
In 2002, Erynn began a very successful partnership with W. Charlot Farms of Stratford, Ontario. W. Charlot stands a number of superior stallions including Rio Grande, Viva Voltaire, Joe Cocker, Futurist, Esprit d’Amour and others. Obviously, they also have a large number of young stock which are competing in, amongst others, the Jumper Development Series. Erynn shows the W. Charlot 4, 5, and 6 year olds as well as enjoying success in grand prix classes with Futurist and Esprit d’Amour.
Although her love really seems to be the jumpers, Erynn still competes regularly (and wins) in the hunter ring.
“One day it would be nice to only have my jumpers and young horses to worry about, but the hunters are a big part of my life and will always be a part of my riding. I do find the hunter judging a bit frustrating, but that’s just part of the sport. Some weeks are great, others are not. You are showing in front of a judge and they are giving their opinion. Any type of judged event can be controversial.”
When Looking Back Farm goes on the road (which it does a lot) it is a big production. The farm is on the road with 20 to 30 horses throughout the season. Erynn herself might show between 15 to 25 horses weekly. David Ballard still offers advice to his daughter when the shows he is course designing for cross over with Erynn’s schedule. With David as one of only fourteen “O” level course designers in the world, he is very much in demand and has his own, hectic travel schedule.
Erynn prefers buying or riding young horses and bringing them on herself to buying “made” horses. An example of this Trocadero Nassau, by Quidam d’Reville, as yet unshown but whom Erynn has great hopes for. An exception is Robin Van Roosendael, a 10 year old Belgian warmblood gelding by Skippy II. Looking Back Farm purchased the 17 plus hand bay in October 2003 and he and Erynn began winning the following spring. Another favourite is the lovely grey, Rio’s Rhapsody, a nine year old mare by Rio Grand owned by Sterling Honda and the Lecluse family. Rio’s Rhapsody was a consistent winner at the modified level and has recently shown great talent in the grand prix ring.
“Every horse is different. At home I ride between 6 and 10 horses a day, depending on the season. They all have their own ways and own routines. I try really hard to keep that individuality and to appreciate each one for who they are and what they can do.”
Although the days are long, the schedule demanding and some of the work downright hard labour and thankless, Erynn loves her life.
“I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”