The mane event

Douglas student has a ticket to ride

By Eric Wilkins, Sports Editor

“It was an instant infatuation… I had Barbies at home specifically to care for the Barbie horses that I had… I had no other interests except for horses… horse people are weird.”

I’ll say.

Clad in a pair of black pants and a grey hoody, Natasha Sukorokoff looks like your average college student; and for all intents and purposes, she is. The New Westminster Secondary School product is in her first year of Douglas College’s Future Teachers – Associate of Arts Degree program, and appears to be just as stressed out as the rest of us. Her choice of sport, however, is just a little unusual: having decided at a young age that there was really no need for them to be reserved to fairy tales, Sukorokoff rides horses.

“When I was six I asked for riding lessons for my birthday and I got them,” she explains, before chuckling and adding, “That was the most expensive decision my parents have ever made. Started with five [lessons]… and here we are 12 years later.”

The ambitious woman is clearly not one to settle for anything less than the best. Her most recent accolades include being champion in her division and reserve champion in another (overall winner throughout the week and overall second place) in the Milner Downs Summer Classic this year. To boot, she finished third in her division in the entire province this season, only being edged out by two professional riders. It’s safe to say she’s pretty alright at what she does.

It’s not all prancing about several feet in the air and picking up ribbons, though. As with any sport, it’s the work behind the scenes that makes you great—and Sukorokoff has put in plenty of that.

“Five hours a day, six days a week,” she answers plainly in reference to her in-season schedule. “A lot of it is just conditioning, so, time running around an arena. We work on flexibility and strength training—skills that horses need, just like any other athlete.”

Perhaps the major difference with this sport though is that it’s a collaborative effort between horse and rider. And Sukorokoff shares an interesting relationship with her current horse, Union.

“He got sick one day and I read an entire book to him—The Princess Bride. He’s basically my best friend. As lame as that makes me sound. It’s a strange, strange relationship,” finishes the future teacher with a laugh.

And one with a hefty price tag. “My first horse was $15-grand… and that’s cheap,” she comments, before going on to mention how stable and vet fees add up to another $17,000 or so annually.

Despite the costs associated with her passion, she’s adamant in defending it against those who suggest it’s only for individuals with deep pockets and an easy lifestyle.

“I’m not [loaded]. We’re a regular family in a regular house driving regular cars. Both my parents work and I work two jobs to buy what I need for my horse. Horseback riding takes a lot of money, it’s true. It also takes a lot of time and effort, just like any other sport. I consider my being able to ride a privilege. Not everyone gets that opportunity. But that doesn’t mean I take it for granted.”

Continuing in the vein of public perceptions, though it may come as a surprise to some, horseback riding can be a dangerous sport. While horses are certainly beautiful beasts and it’s not exactly football out there, it’s easy to forget they’re thousand-pound—or heavier—animals that can be easily spooked.

Sukorokoff has witnessed this firsthand, and describes the reaction of her horse after his shoe came off following a jump and lodged itself in his foot: “It’s like putting a nail under your foot and stepping on it repeatedly. He started panicking and ran all the way around the show grounds, onto a road, and then slipped and fell under a parked car. I separated my shoulder, sprained my ankle and had road rash everywhere… I ended up a foot away from a tire… and he fractured his skull and had to be put down.”

The injuries don’t end there for the young rider as she rattles off a list that includes a shattered kneecap and several concussions.

But even with all she’s been through, and the countless sacrifices she’s had to make, Sukorokoff has no plans of stopping anytime soon. “I really have [thought about whether it’s worth it], but then I’ll go and get myself injured or something and not be able to ride for a while, and realize how much I miss it and need it to keep myself kinda sane. Every time I try to imagine a future, there’s always a horse somewhere.”

An aspiring teacher who loves horses. As she heads down the hall to class, one can’t help but wonder if she’s weaving a fairy tale of her own.