Niagara-on-the-Lake native Emma Bergeron was hoping for the call. She and her horse Dallas, an 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding imported from the Netherlands, had been training together six days a week for over a year, eager to be selected for the Canadian Junior team at the CSIO Nation’s Cup Feb. 14-17 at Deeridge Farms in Wellington, Florida. When the call finally came, just two weeks before the competition, Emma and Dallas cracked down on their training, focusing on getting ready for that leg of the CP Palm Beach Masters Series.
Seventeen-year-old Emma Bergeron has been riding for as long as she can remember. The former Ridley College student learned much of what she knows at Sherwood Farm in St. Catharines until she was about 13 years old. She credits owner Robin Hannah for the early development of her horsemanship. “Robin taught me so much about the importance of putting the horses first and caring for them.”
At 13, she made the switch from Sherwood Farm to a more professional barn in the Burlington-Oakville area. She competed for the Linden Ridge team in events in both Canada and the US. Then, Emma’s father, Marc Bergeron, decided to move his business south of the border, setting up shop in Houston, Texas. A little over a year ago, the family (mom Susan Van Lammers) bought a house in Wellington, known as the Horse Capital of the World. Emma was on her way to pursuing her dream.
Once settled, it was clear to Bergeron that she needed a new coach to move up to the next level. Emma and her mother contacted Margie Engle. To those in the equestrian show jumping world, Engle is a legend. She has earned over $4 Million (a record) over her career, has won 6 World Cups and 20 Nations Cups, and competed for the U.S. 2000 Olympic team. In addition, Engle is a 10-time American Grandprix Association Rider of the Year.
Engle doesn’t take on many young equestrians. “I only work with serious riders”, she said from her home in Florida, “those who really want to work hard and who have a great attitude”. Through her telephone conversations and early meetings with Bergeron, she was quickly impressed with Emma’s maturity, determination, work ethic and horsemanship.
“Emma has a great love for the horses. She has the ability to sense what they’re thinking and feeling. She has so much compassion and empathy for the animals. When something goes wrong, she never blames the horse. And, unlike many riders on the circuit, she always remains humble and never exhibits a bit of arrogance. “
The work with Engle began in late 2017. Bergeron was progressing well, but it was clear she needed to have a better horse to move up the ranks. That’s where Dallas comes in. About 13 months ago, Susan tracked down Dallas and brought him overseas. Bergeron says “Dallas has a heart of gold”. Engle calls Dallas “a fantastic horse, with great attitude and technique. He’s proven to be better than I thought he would be.”
Engle is adamant that to become a better show jumper, it is important for young riders to work on dressage, as well. “It leads to better control and rideability, which leads to better jumps.” Emma loves the dressage lessons with trainer Hannah Michaels, approaching them with the same level of enthusiasm as she does her jumps. “I feel my training with Hannah makes a huge difference for Dallas and me both fitness-wise and in terms of communication.”
With all the pieces in place, Bergeron’s progress ramped up to the point where she was being noticed by the Canadian team.
The Nation’s Cup is the third in the series of three events held over the months of January to March. Unlike the other two events, this one is a team event, where riders and their horses run the same course twice, taking on 12 obstacles, including verticals, water jumps, combinations and walls. But they’re also competing against the clock.
The Canadian team’s Chef d’Equip Beth Underhill teamed Bergeron up with 16-year-old Sara Tindale, of Campellville, ON, and an import, 15-year-old Marco Antoni Peixoto Ferreira Filho of Brazil, to form the ‘Eh Team’ for the competition. The other teams in the Nations Cup would have four riders, with the chance to drop their lowest score, leaving the ‘Eh Team’ at a bit of a handicap.
The trio didn’t let that stop them. Both Tindale and Peixoto Ferreira Filho completed their first rides with perfect scores. Emma’s first ride, however, was not as smooth, as she took four faults on a skinny vertical, leaving the team in second, behind the US, and forced to play catch-up.
She met with Engle and Underhill, between rounds. They discussed her issues with her first run. “I tried not to overthink things. When you have to ride the same course twice, it becomes a real mental game. I was so focused on my time for my first ride that I didn’t prepare well for the skinny vertical, which can be difficult at the best of times.”
The coaching session paid off, with Bergeron completing a foot-perfect round her second time through. Her teammates, however, each took faults in their second round. The ‘Eh Team’ finished in second place in the four-team competition, behind the United States, and ahead of both the Dutch and the United Nations teams. Emma came out of the competition thankful for the experience and both thrilled and honoured to represent her country.
Bergeron is grateful to be working with a legend like Engle. “I learn something new from Margie every day”, she says. “Margie didn’t come from a family with a lot of resources. She put her trust in her talent to get to where she is today.”
For Emma, competing at shows with girls named Springsteen, Bloomberg, Jobs and Gates (yes, the children of Bruce, Michael, Steve and Bill), that’s a lesson that she has taken to heart. With only Dallas to ride right now, Bergeron can be at a disadvantage against riders with more resources, who often travel the equestrian circuit with up to 10 horses. Bergeron says Engle once told her “a horse only has a certain amount of jumps in his life. It’s our job to make sure we use them as wisely as we can.”
Bergeron is willing to work as hard as she needs to improve her form. Training and competing has become a full-time endeavour for her. She will be completing her Ontario Grade 12 credits online through Virtual High School this year, and delaying post-secondary studies for at least a year while pursuing her equestrian dream. From May to November, the family will travel in a convoy, Dad Marc steering the mobile home and Mom Susan (and, often, Emma) steering the horse trailer along the east coast of the U.S., visiting horse shows in Kentucky, Ohio, New York and Michigan.
The family sold its NOTL home along the Lake Ontario shoreline before the move to Florida, but they still have ties to the town. Emma’s grandparents still live here. So does her aunt, Lisa Van Lammers, and her family. Lisa is a well-respected local veterinarian who specializes in, you guessed it, horses. But Emma’s schedule provides little time for trips back to her hometown.
Ever gracious, Emma gives so much credit to Susan and Marc, her coach Margie Engle, and her crew, who work so hard to take care of the horses. “I owe it all to my Mom and Dad and Margie. And my crew – I have so much respect for them – they really make it happen.”
Having already been chosen to represent her country last month, Bergeron will continue to work on her craft, and to build her relationship with Dallas, hoping for another call soon from the Canadian team. Engle says “Emma has the work ethic. With a bit of luck and the right horses, she has a lot of the tools to achieve quite a bit in this sport”. Bergeron herself says it’s all a “dream come true, and I really think everything is coming together.