For many young athletes, representing their country on an international stage is a dream. For Anya Bereznicki, it’s becoming a regular occurrence.
The 15-year-old showjumper has already started to make a name for herself as one of Canada’s premier up-and-coming equestrian athletes.
Bereznicki started riding at the age of four and since then, horses have been her greatest love.
“I was exposed to a lot of different sports, but growing up I think I was a bit of a crazy pony kid. I really loved to be at the barn 24/7. That was my favorite thing,” says Bereznicki.
Bereznicki’s mother, Kari Kerr, remembers thinking to herself, “If we’re going to ride, I hope she has a passion.”
She adds, “Once you get down the road and your child has to ride six days a week, it’s got to come from their guts.”
After riding at her local Canadian Pony Club for a few years, her parents bought Bereznicki her first pony at the age of six.
As time went on, it became apparent that riding was becoming more and more important in Bereznicki’s life.
This increased dedication resulted in Bereznicki quitting other sports because she, “Wanted to make more time for riding.”
At the age of 10, Bereznicki moved away from Pony Club and started riding with a trainer. This allowed her to start competing in more shows.
This experience helped get her to the 2015 Pony Finals in Lexington, Ky.
“It was really cool for me. Not a lot of kids from Alberta or even Canada get to go to Pony Finals. It’s a pretty U.S. based thing,” says Bereznicki.
Bereznicki’s jumping career really kicked into gear when she moved from riding ponies to her first horse, which she started riding at the age of 12. It was this first mare, called Millenium Z, that really taught her, “The ropes in the jumper ring.”
Around the same time, Bereznicki started riding at Rocky Mountain Show Jumping, a show jumping venue in Calgary, where she still rides today. This transition really kicked off Bereznicki’s riding career.
“I got really competitive when I went there. And that’s sort of when everything really changed into a kind of lifestyle thing for me rather than just a hobby or something that I did for fun.”
In 2017, after retiring her first horse, Bereznicki travelled to Wellington, Fla. where she purchased her current horse, Diazella.
“I really have a lot of faith in her. I think she’s going to go all the way to the top,” says Bereznicki.
The partnership between girl and horse has taken Bereznicki through the higher levels of competition, moving up from the 1.20m to the 1.45m. The pair have also represented Canada four times at large youth team competitions.
In 2017, Bereznicki was a member of the Children’s Nations Cup team at Thunderbird Show Park in B.C., as well as at the North American Youth Championships (NAYC) in HITS Saugerties, N.Y.
The following year, Bereznicki was again a member of the Children’s Nations Cup team at Thunderbird Show Park and the Junior Nations Cup team at NAYC in Old Salem, N.Y.
Because equestrian sports are largely individual, Bereznicki says the experience of competing in these classes is, “Such a unique feeling.”
“To be riding for something more than just yourself. You’re riding for your team; you’re riding for your country,” Bereznicki says.
For Bereznicki, the, “Biggest thrill in her career is doing this with the Canadian flag on her chest,” says Kerr.
This individualistic nature of the sport also means that kids won’t necessarily get a team experience in the sport.
“I wish there were more teams and team events that we could go to,” says Bereznicki.
“There are a lot of kids who deserve the opportunity to go and not everyone gets the chance.”
As expected of any young athlete, it was sometimes a struggle for Bereznicki to balance school and riding.
“It was worrisome for them at the beginning when a grade four student was leaving for three weeks at a time,” says Bereznicki.
Now Bereznicki attends the National Sports School in Calgary, a school dedicated to athletes. Here, Bereznicki says, “The atmosphere is amazing” and the teachers know, “How to handle kids that are away for a month at a time.”
Bereznicki doesn’t let the struggle of balancing school with riding deter her from keeping up with a regular show schedule. This includes trips to California each winter to compete at HITS Coachella, a weeks-long hunter-jumper circuit.
Not only does this provide a break from the cold weather for Bereznicki and her horses, but it also gives her a, “Kick start to the outdoor season.”
She adds that it’s an important opportunity for the horses to, “Get ready for the season and keep fit.”
Though she’s since returned to Calgary, Bereznicki says she had a very successful circuit in the U.S., with the opportunity to, “Try lots of different horses,” with her own mare, “Jumping absolutely fantastic.”
One of the pair’s most notable wins from their time at HITS Coachella was in a young rider qualifier, a class largely meant for American riders to qualify for the North American Youth Championships.
“That was my plan, but also for the U.S. kids it was kind of a ‘Watch out ‘cause Canadian kids are coming,’ so that was really cool,” says Bereznicki.
The season only gets busier from there, with Bereznicki and her team building a tentative schedule that includes shows she would attend regularly as well as cushion weeks.
“The cushion weeks are weeks that are around the time the Nation’s Cups are and North American Championships and German Friendship Games. All these different events that I have been getting invites to and getting on teams for, we want to make sure that we make time for those, just in case they happen,” says Bereznicki.
With a busy season comes many goals the young rider has set for herself. “Short term goals for me are looking like some of the U-25 divisions and starting to kind of get up there because I’ve really been kind of skyrocketing with my mare,” says Bereznicki.
“A long term goal for me, [is] to represent Team Canada at the Olympics or the Pan American Games or any of those.”
Kerr says she’s incredibly proud of what her daughter has already achieved and what her plans are for the future.
With such high expectations for herself, it’s easy to see that Bereznicki plans to make horses her career, saying, “Really, it’s kind of my life right now and I hope it stays that way.”
But she also recognizes the challenges that will come along with this.
“It’s going to be hard because it’s not easy to have a career out of horses especially when, you know my family is not a multi-millionaire family, we don’t have all the money in the world so we’re really doing our best … and my parents are so supportive,” says Bereznicki.
Kerr, like any parent, will do all she can to help Bereznicki reach her goals and succeed.
“We’ll help her, we’ll love her, we’ll support her anyway we can,” says Kerr.
“Based on her desire and passion, I see her going all the way because that is her plan.”
In regards to what Canadian equestrian sport is lacking, Bereznicki believes the economics of the sport is a big issue.
“The problem is we don’t have as much funding as the U.S.,” says Bereznicki.
“I think there has to be more recognition towards the future of the sport because we have so many really amazing young riders coming up,” adds Bereznicki.
Exposure to other aspects of the sport is another major piece missing from Canadian equestrian sport, especially for Albertan riders.
“It’s mostly just jumper-centric because of Spruce Meadows.”
Bereznicki offers her advice to other young riders: “Keep going, because if … it’s something that you truly love, then you’ve got to keep going,”
“If you’re not enjoying it then why are you doing it?”
Editor: Matt Hull | email@example.com