Kerry Hammill, secretary of the Silver Spur Saddle Club, competing in a speed event at the Tara Fairgrounds in Tara, Ont. in 2018. Supplied to The Owen Sound Sun Times/Postmedia Network
The Silver Spur Saddle Club started at a trot, but it wasn’t long before that turned into a gallop.“The first year, in 1969, they just had an empty field north of Stone Tree golf course,” Kerry Hammill, secretary of the club, said in an interview.A handful of riders would go to the humble patch south of Owen Sound to show horses and connect with the equine community of Grey-Bruce.But over the next eight years, the local horseback riding club would have to change venues three times as it grew: First to the former Rocksprings campgrounds (now the KOA camp), then to a riding hall west of Owen Sound and eventually to a private farm near Woodford, where it would stay for 39 years.Now the club is preparing to celebrate its 50th anniversary with a special show on June 16 at the Tara Fairgrounds, their home since 2015.“We’re still here, and we would really like people to come out and see,” said Hammill, who has been involved with the club since 1973.The club typically rents the fairgrounds for four shows a year, in June, July, August and September. These “schooling” shows are all-ages and family-friendly, and are aimed at teaching novice riders the skills to succeed in competition. It’s still a place where intermediate and advanced riders are welcome, said Hammill.“It’s comfortable, it’s friendly, it’s warm, everybody is cheering everyone on. There are still rules, but it’s not as regimented as other events.”An average show features competitions — known as classes — that put varying demands on each tandem of horse and rider.Halter classes have riders controlling their horse as they walk alongside; performance classes, such as Western Pleasure, require control of a horse’s gait and cadence while in the saddle; and speed classes, such as Barrels and Poles, have horse and rider deftly manoeuvring around obstacles.
Cali Radbourne competing in a Showmanship class at the Tara Fairgrounds in Tara, Ont. in 2018. Supplied to The Owen Sound Sun Times/Postmedia Network
Hammill, an experienced rider herself, tried her hand at speed events two years ago and hasn’t stopped.Riders compete in three different divisions: Junior (under 13), Youth (13-18) and Senior (over 18), and there is a Platinum Spur subdivision for riders over 50. About five people compete in the category, but Hammill says they are trying to bolster that number.The anniversary show will have some unique additions, such as specially-made ribbons and trophies for winners and on-site vendors. It’s also designed as a way for people to connect with the equine community, as the first event was a half-century ago.“We would really enjoy old competitors to come out,” Hammill said. “They may see some familiar faces when they get there.”A story board will be on display where anyone who has been associated with the club over the years can share pictures and mementos from past events. The goal is to document local connections to the Silver Spur Saddle Club.Hammill said part of their philosophy is this focus on partnerships, not just between individual and community, but between human and animal.“The horse and the rider become a team,” she said.A 10-year-old student of Hammill’s will compete in the anniversary show. She will be riding without a lead line — an experienced rider guiding the horse — for the first time.“We’ve watched these kids come in with fear and lack of confidence, but as each show comes around their confidence builds.”She said its rewarding to see that growth, and that caring for a horse also teaches new members about animal welfare.Another reason the club has been going on for so long, Hammill says, is the tireless work of volunteers. The club is non-profit, working only from donations and fundraisers and the money they raise all goes toward rental fees and other costs associated with the club.“The important thing is everyone has fun,” Hammill said. “We’re here to build camaraderie and support.”The Silver Spur Saddle Club’s 50th anniversary show is scheduled for 9 a.m. on June 16.