Since the late '90s during her time as a Young Rider, Colleen Loach has been quietly working her way into the spotlight, and has since earned a rightful spot as one of Canada's top eventers. The Quebec native made her first team appearance in 2015 as part of the bronze-medal winning Pan American team. In 2016, she was named to the Canadian Olympic team in Rio de Janeiro and last fall she was a solid member of the WEG team down in Tryon. For each of these international appearances, she's partnered with Qorry Blue d'Argouges, a handsome 15-year-old Selle Francais gelding owned by Olympian Peter Barry. Loach worked for Barry for nearly 16 years, first as a groom (including accompanying him and his top horse Kilrodan Abbott to the 2012 Olympics) and then later as a rider in their program. Last year was Loach and Qorry's first trip to Kentucky, and they finished 17th. Loach isn't exactly a one-horse wonder--she keeps busy with her exciting string of rising stars.
Get to know more about Loach and her training program, find out her plans for this year's CCI5* in Lexington next month.
1. How did you get your start in eventing? What drew you to the sport?
When I was around 7 I begged my mother for jumping lessons. She sent me to a local riding school called Turtle Hill. They were just getting into eventing themselves and ran a horse trial on their farm. I was hooked from the beginning. I think what drew me to the sport was the challenge of excelling at three different disciplines with one horse and of course the adrenaline rush of the cross country.
2. Tell me about Qorry Blue d'Argouges. You’ve had the ride on him for the past few years, representing Canada as part of the 2015 Pan American team, the 2016 Olympic team and last year’s WEG team. What’s he like? Does he have any funny habits or quirks?
Qorry is owned by Peter and Susan Barry. I have been lucky enough to be partnered with Qorry since 2014. He has taken me to three team championships where I’ve gained invaluable experience.
Qorry started out as a super jumper but with definite opinions about how things should be done on the flat. He has developed into a steady Eddie, pretty consistent in all three phases. He is an amazing cross-country horse now, looking for the flags and wanting to get through them to the other side.
Qorry has a lot of personality around the barn. He loves his treats (cashews are a favorite) and he definitely lets you know when he is unhappy about something.
3. You’ve been a part of the sport at many levels – working your way up from a groom to a top international rider. What are some key horsemanship and training philosophies you’ve picked up along the way? You worked for Peter for years—how did he influence you as a rider? What other mentors helped shape your career?
I have been extremely lucky in my career to have the support of Peter and Susan. I started out as a groom/rider for Peter approximately 15 years ago and he very generously gave me the ride on Qorry to try to make the 2015 Pan Am team. The idea was to sell him after the Games. That didn’t happen, so they generously continued to support our partnership for the following Olympics and WEG. Qorry is still going strong, improving and loving his job so hopefully another team experience in Tokyo will be in our cards.
In our barn, the horses' happiness comes first. We are lucky to have a small operation so each horse gets a lot of personal TLC. Our horses are treated more like pets and nobody is surprised to see one of them free grazing at the shows. The common response is “oh, its just one of Peter and Colleen’s horses”.
Peter and I believe that a long warm-up and cool down are essential to building a sound horse. Good footing and turnout are key as well. Over the years we have learned a lot about fitness and horsemanship from long-time coach Phillip Dutton.
Peter has influenced my riding not only as a friend and owner but also as a fellow rider and competitor, always pushing me from the ground for that little bit extra. We always plan the horses' competition and fitness schedules together and Peter keeps a keen eye on me from the ground giving advice as needed.
Recently I have had the opportunity to work more with David O’Connor, our Canadian team coach. David really understands how the horse’s mind and body works and I have been learning a lot from him as well.
4. Last year at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event, you were the highest placed Canadian, finishing in 17th place, with just a few cross-country time penalties and a single rail. What are your goals this year? What have you been working on with Qorry to achieve those goals?
Last year at Kentucky Qorry and I had a great result! I hope to improve on it this year. I believe our dressage has improved enough to knock a few points off in 2019. My goal would be to show jump clean and get reasonably close to the time on cross country. Qorry is not a fast horse across the country, but he is extremely rideable so if I ride tactfully we can get close to the time.
5. Is there anything that you do physically or mentally to prepare for such a big event? How do you stay focused? And speaking of mental focus, you were the first rider to tackle the tough cross-country course at last year’s WEG… what was that experience like?
I tend to be fairly good mentally under pressure. I just try to stay in my bubble and think about how lucky I am to be there and ride horses for a living. If I do well it is icing on the cake.
I was quite happy to be sent out first on the cross country at WEG last summer. I had a good plan and was very confident in Qorry to do the job. It was a great feeling riding around that course on such a great horse! It actually felt so easy on him that I was shocked when I got back to the barn and discovered how many problems were going on.
Bonus: What’s something about you that most people might not know?
Most people probably wouldn’t know that I started out riding western and gymkhana at the local fairs and shows.