By Gordon Lambie
Local Journalism Initiative
Colleen Loach and Qorry Blue D’Argouges, the horse she will be riding, are currently in Germany, partway through a ten-day quarantine together with other equestrian competitors before heading to Tokyo for the Olympics next week.
“It’s going to be unlike other games in the past,” Loach said, speculating that outside of competition and practice times, she will likely just hunker down in her hotel room for the duration of her time in Japan. This will be her second time competing in the Olympics, after having gone to Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
Despite the added complications and restrictions that go hand-in-hand with going to the Olympics under COVID-19, the equestrian said that she doesn’t mind the games’ having been delayed by a year.
“It was another year to prepare, so that’s good,” she said, sharing that she feels like she went into the Rio games underprepared for what she would be facing. Coming back in 2021 riding the same horse, but now with more experience, she said that she feels more ready for the events to come.
Originally from North Hatley, Loach said that she has been riding for almost as long as she can remember
“I was basically born on a horse,” she said.
At the moment, Loach splits her riding time between a training facility in Florida, and the farm of Peter and Susan Barry in Dunham, Quebec; Qorry’s owners.
“(Colleen) started working for us when she was still in her teens,” Susan shared, explaining that at the time the young rider helped her husband, who was an Olympian himself at the time. “Peter had a stroke three years ago and after that she took over the rides on his horses and has been very, very successful.”
Although the basis of their relationship was employment, Barry said that Loach has become a close friend of the family over the years.
“She’s just a really incredible person,” Barry said. “She’s really someone I admire a lot.”
When competition gets started, Loach and Qorry will be participating in the “eventing” category, which she described as being like a triathlon for horse.
Over the course of three days, riders and their horses will compete in Dressage, which involves being judged on a program of controlled movements; a cross-country event, which involved riding over country terrain; and show jumping over the course of three separate days.
“It’s really an overall test of the riders’ ability to do all these different things,” Barry said, noting that it often proves to be an event that is difficult for spectators to follow because of the varied forms of judging and activity.
Because of the smaller audience that eventing generally draws, Barry speculated that the competitive experience for the equestrian athletes might not be as different in these games as for other disciplines.
“I imagine for someone in a sport where you’re usually in a big arena full of cheering people it would be different, but the equestrian sports really are not like that,” she said adding that even under normal circumstances the Olympic events are, “not that different from going to a horse show.”
Although some of the logistics of getting to the Olympics, such as the cost and arrangements for horse transportation, are handled by Equestrian Canada and the Canadian Olympic Committee, Loach still had to draw on support from her community.
“We didn’t want to take the risk of staying in the athletes’ village,” she said, explaining that as a result she had to pay out of pocket for a hotel room for the duration of her stay, as well as a number of other costs.
Asked about the impact of the travel and quarantine periods on her in the lead up to competition, Loach said that she is used to working with a lot of lost sleep when she drives the horses south to Florida each year, and that the time spend all together in Germany actually offers an interesting opportunity to watch her competition in action.
“I’m used to going with the flow,” she said.
“We’re all wishing Colleen the best,” Barry said, sharing that these Olympics will also likely be the last for Qorry Blue D’Argouges, who is reaching the end of his competitive career. “He’ll be retiring to easier days after this.”