From our perspective, one of the most rewarding parts of being at Lancers is watching young junior riders become not only strong riders but confident, independent, and active young adults. Sophia Andriopoulos is a shining example of this. While only sixteen, she has the sense of responsibility well beyond her years. Sophia started in summer camp and the junior beginner course when she was eight and is now in Ride 1. She also competes and is a proud rider in the Musical Ride. We are featuring her as our staff member of the month for her work as a stable hand and barn monitor and for the positive approach, she takes to her work. She is just one of the numerous casual stable hands and for years, she has often trudged through some of the worst snow storms to get to the barn and look after the horses on snow days when our regular stable hand has been unable to make it into the city.
Most of Sophia’s Saturdays (and some Sundays) are spent working as a stable hand. While we have two stable hands who work during the week, on the weekends, riders are employed for the task. Sophia explained that as a weekend stable hand, she is in charge of taking care of the twenty-seven horses for the day which includes feeding, cleaning stalls, turning the horses out, as well as ensuring they receive proper care. On Monday and every second Wednesday nights, Sophia works as a barn monitor. She explained her role by saying, “I am here to make sure that the riders are doing their chores, getting ready for their lessons, and that everything in the barn is running smoothly and safely. I ensure that all the horses are taken care of and all riders have the correct tack and safety equipment. In a way, I am second in command after the instructor. From the moment riders walk through the door until they leave after their lesson, I help and keep watch”. As a teenager helping youth and adult riders, this can be a slightly unusual circumstance but Sophia assists and provides advice without, as one person described, “making anyone feel stupid”. She is a good communicator and gets the job done (and uses her humour too). In the summer at Lancer’s sleep away rural Salmon River camp, Sophia works at a Leader-in-Training. In this role, she helps lead activities, ensures all chores are done, and takes responsibility in leading groups on trail rides.
Anyone who steps into the stables knows that Sophia’s favourite horse is Rupert, also known as “King Rupert” (yes, he even has his own Instagram account). It is inspiring to see how much her love of Rupert and riding motivate Sophia. She has been riding him for two years but this September she started leasing him. This means she rides in the 3x program, rides him in her lessons, has a Sunday non-lesson ride on him, and takes more responsibility for him. Leasing also means she has first right of refusal for taking him to off-property shows. Leasing is a huge step for riders as it requires much more time commitment but also allows them to focus on and work with one particular horse. It also comes with an added financial requirement. Before being allowed to lease, Sophia had to pull up her grades at school and then, her parents agreed to pay for her lessons but decided that she would have to pay for her lease fee and for all her show fees. Sophia is sixteen years old and she has taken on this financial requirement and every day that she walks into the stables for a shift, she knows she is working on her goals.
We caught up with Andrea, Sophia’s mother (and Oct 2017 featured Lancer volunteer), to get her perspective of how working at Lancers has influenced Sophia. Andrea noted that “Lancers has completely changed her life. She used to be shy!” While Sophia ever being shy is hard to imagine, it is easy to see that Andrea and Dimitri are supportive of their daughter’s dedication and hard work, even if it means bringing carrots and moving hay bales just so they can be in the same building as her. Furthermore, Andrea noted how much this experience, and particularly leasing has made Sophia learn to pay bills on time and to manage her time and money. We can attest to this when the other day Sophia’s crop accidentally broke and she exclaimed, “that has to come out of the budget now!” Andrea further noted that “the lesson that Lancers is teaching her now will help her throughout the rest of her life. She appreciated every minute at Lancers and she understands the value of the dollar. Rupert is also part of our lives because she has made it that way!”
We always ask our featured staff members how working at Lancers compares to other jobs they have had. For Sophia, this was easy as Lancers is the first and only place she has worked. In fact, for so many of our junior riders, Lancers provides their first work experience. According to Sophia, it is a first great job and it is made better by the fact that she was already comfortable with the environment. She added, “having horse knowledge out of the saddle has made me a better rider and horse person”. When Sophia was too young to stable hand, she would often still find her way to the barn on Sundays to help and this also helped her pick up horse knowledge. In the future, Sophia is working towards becoming an NCCP qualified instructor and starting to teach at Lancers. If she stays in Halifax for university, she would love to keep working at Lancers.
It is clear that for Sophia, Lancers isn’t just a job. She explained, “I like how it is a second family for me. I have been friends with everyone for so long. The relationships I have with everyone…well, I can’t even describe it. It is such a good bond. We are all family. It also makes me very happy that my school is across the street. If I’m having a bad day at school, I can leave during a break and just come to the barn. Where I eat my lunch, I can look across at the horses and it just brightens my day”. As you might have guessed, that means Sophia is at the barn every day of the week. She joked, “I can’t think of the last day I wasn’t here besides going on vacation – which was really hard to be away from the horses”. With a laugh, she added, “I spend the majority of my life here and my parents say they never see me or they say they have to come to the barn to see me”. Above all, Sophia summed it up when she said, “it is a never-ending love. I still love it…even after all these years”.
We also asked Sophia about a favourite memory of Lancers and she was quick to recall last year’s Salmon River camp. She was there for two weeks and said that she had never had an experience like it. “Living with the horses, sleeping in tents, spending time with all these people and being outside”, she added, “I have memories that I will never forget”. When we asked about a fun fact about Lancers that most people would not know, Sophia also brought up a theme of friendship. She explained, “for me, when I was in junior high, I was really close with all the older junior riders at high school and it was a unique relationship. I was thirteen and they were seventeen and that isn’t usually a friendship dynamic but Lancers is the space where that can happen”. Sophia further explained, “it is unique about Lancers and it has been a big part of me. The age doesn’t seem to matter and it always gives us people to look up to. Now, I know that there are some younger riders who I have clicked with, especially at Salmon River we really bonded”. And so, the circle continues.
Sophia, on behalf of the horses and all the junior and adult riders you assist in your two roles at Lancers, thank you! We thank you for feeling that being a Lancer comes with a badge of honour and for being a contributing member of our community. We know that you will continue to do so wherever your bright future takes you.