While many used the lockdowns during the pandemic as an opportunity to explore new hobbies, Holly Naraine, a fifth year Peter Gzowski College student completing a joint major in Gender & Social Justice and Psychology, saw that time as her chance to get back in the saddle and pick up a hobby she had once set down – horseback riding.
“During the pandemic when everything was shut down, I decided I’m going to dive back into something I used to love and see if I still love it,” says Holly. “So, I would just tell everyone to just bite the bullet and get back into what makes you happy. Find your niche – live for yourself.”
Based in the United States, Optimum Equine set up the Optimum Youth Scholarship to provide opportunities for youth aged 17-27 from marginalized communities to become involved or stay involved in horse sports through financial awards and mentorship focusing on not only horsemanship and equestrian pursuits, but also career planning and education.
The first Canadian to ever win the scholarship, Holly hopes that sharing her story will help other diverse equestrians to explore the sport and continue pursuing their goals.
“It’s very important for me to show other young girls of colour, other queer equestrians, other diverse riders that they do belong and no matter what challenges they may face, they will get over them,” she says.
Riding with the Trent team
After a 10-year hiatus from riding, Holly began lessons at Kildare Stables North, the home barn of the Trent Equestrian Team. It was here that Holly gained confidence as a rider and, with the support of her peers and the team captain, secured a position on the team.
“It’s built my self-confidence; it’s been so great for my mental health. Whenever I feel stressed, I just want to go to the barn,” says Holly.
What’s next for Holly?
Beyond riding with the equestrian team at Trent, Holly is an active member of the broader Trent student community as the vice president of Student Health & Wellness with the Trent Central Student Association (TCSA), and a supporter with Peer Support.
“I started working with Peer Support in 2019 and at first it was a here-and-now type of thing, but as I got more into the role, I realized this is something I’m passionate about,” shares Holly.
Holly explains that her love of working with her peers, as well as the opportunity to take on intersectional perspectives through her work with the TCSA, has given her skills and knowledge that she hopes to take into a career as a therapist.
“I want to be a sex and relationship therapist specializing with queer, racialized, disabled, and neurodivergent clients as well as youth in care,” says Holly. “Those are all populations and communities that have really been a big part of my life and shaped who I’ve become. My big goal is that one day I’ll be able to have my own barn and offer equine assisted therapy specifically for trauma survivors and youth in care because a lot of youth in care don’t have the opportunities to be around horses. It’s a very expensive sport, and I’m very thankful that I’ve had family and now this scholarship to support me in my endeavors.”