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The Greenhorn Chronicles 2: Sandy Bell, B.Sc., M.A. on Mature Equine Life and the Alberta Equestrian Federation (1)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2022/01/22


Sandy Bell’s personal biography states: “Windhorse Retreat was born in early 2014 when I transitioned from the urban to the rural lifestyle to pursue my dream of living with horses and offering equine facilitated personal development.  My goal was to establish Windhorse as a place where ‘horses help us reach our full potential,’ and that included my own life-long learning.  At my day retreat in central Alberta, horses and humans come together in deeply meaningful ways for unique learning experiences.  As well as providing equine assisted learning opportunities with horses as your guides, I host related workshops and clinics, so you can learn to help your equine friends or deepen your relationships with them. Community development and volunteerism is core to my lifestyle, so you’ll find me volunteering on committees or boards as the opportunities arise.  Currently, I serve the Alberta equestrian community as the President of the Board of Directors of the Alberta Equestrian Federation. I hold a B.Sc. (Psychology), a M.A. (Communications & Technology) and am an alumnus of EAL-Canada.  I’m a member of the Alberta Association of Complementary Equine Therapy as a Craniosacral Practitioner and Energy Based Practitioner.” She discusses: becoming involved with horses; being a later horse bloomer; equestrianism in Alberta; the Alberta Equestrian Federation; organizations that are provincial or territorial for equestrians; the national organization; the bylaws and structures; differences amongst the bylaws and structures; common personalities or backgrounds of people coming into equestrianism; one common theme in responses; demographics; facilities; Canada’s reputation internationally.

Keywords: Alberta Association of Complementary Equine Therapy, Alberta Equestrian Federation, Calgary Stampede, EAL-Canada, equestrianism, equine, facilitated personal development, mature, Sandy Bell, Spruce Meadows, Windhorse Retreat.

The Greenhorn Chronicles 2: Sandy Bell, B.Sc., M.A. on Mature Equine Life and the Alberta Equestrian Federation (1)

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Today, we are interviewing Sandy Bell, who is the President of the Alberta Equestrian Federation. She also runs Windhorse Retreat. I want to take a narrative approach, as with most interviews in this series. What age did you start with horses?

Sandy Bell[1],[2]: I was 47, Scott. I came to it as a mature rider.

Jacobsen: How did you come to it, late? Or I should rephrase that, “How did you come to it later than most of the people whom I am aware of?”

Bell: As a girl, I had fantasies of having a horse in my life. It wasn’t possible. Then I got caught up in getting a job, then having a family, then things happen. Time passed. During that time, I, perhaps, went on two or three trail rides. The nose to tail thing, they offer. That’s great. Then a girlfriend said to me, “I do a trail ride. It is an overnight 4-day pack ride. Would you like to come?” I, knowing nothing, really, thought, “How hard could it be?” [Laughing]

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Bell: At the end of the four days, I had never been so sore, so dirty, but so happy. There was something about spending time all day with horses outside that really resonated with my soul. Within the week, coming back home, I booked my first riding lessons. It just grew from there. I learn to ride, bought my first horse within the year, and off we go.

Jacobsen: You have a quote, “The horse has the strength of 20 men, the speed to outrun the wind, and the grace to heal us, yet remains humble enough to let us ride upon his back. – source.” (Unknown Source) What does that quote mean to you?

Bell: That quote summarizes my philosophy of being with horses. I evolved my understanding of them and how I want to be with them. At first, it was more directly related to horses being co-facilitator in horse-powered personal development. Now, for me, it has become more than that. Because I truly believe horses are sentient beings with complex social structures and individual lives as well.

So, it is an extraordinary relationship. If I tease it apart, it amazes me every time I think about it in depth because this being, the horse, can offer us so much if we’re ready to see it and accept it. All the way from riding on their back and gaining that freedom that that grants us to interacting with them in ways that they are, actually, healers.

Jacobsen: What form of equestrianism is most prevalent in Alberta?

Bell: If we base it on the membership of the Alberta Equestrian Federation[3], it is recreational riders. Those are people who do Western pleasure, English pleasure, and trail riding. There is, of course, a significant industry component in Alberta with rodeo sport, e.g., Spruce Meadows, reining horses. That whole other competitions area, overall, I think, it is the pleasure horse or the trail horse.

Jacobsen: How many members are part of the Alberta Equestrian Federation?

Bell: Currently, we have 18,000 members. If I broke that down, I think recreational riders are about 80%.

Jacobsen: That’s a lot.

Bell: It could be an artifact of people who get memberships in something. Because we haven’t really examined that. But there are members who come to us, initially, through sport, because to go to a competition in Alberta, for example, you need an Alberta Equestrian Federation membership. That’s because of the insurance component. Things like that.

Jacobsen: For organizations that are provincial or territorial for equestrians, are they, more or less, run in a democratic manner?

Bell: Yes, they are all not-for-profit. The major equestrian organizations are; I can’t speak to the other horse organizations, e.g., Horse Racing Alberta, but, definitely, the major ones recognized by government as the major sport organizations, e.g., Alberta Equestrian Federation, Horse Council BC. We’re all not-for-profit.

Jacobsen: How do they link to the national organization(s)?

Bell: Through membership, so, each of the provinces and territories can become a member of Equestrian Canada. That’s the linkage there. Canada, that’s how we connect. It’s a fairly similar model, I believe, to other sports. Now, we are not a branch of the national organization. Each of the provinces and territories are independent entities unto themselves with their own separate structures and bylaws.

Jacobsen: Are most of the bylaws and structures similar and seemingly standardized to one another, though independent or autonomous?

Bell: I think, you could say they are similar. It is how boards are to be run, the structure of the board of directors. Things like that. I think there might be some significant differences. Perhaps, not in terms of bylaws, but in terms of operating policies, I think the bylaws at the provincial and territorial level are fairly similar or complementary.

Jacobsen: Which parts stand out as differences amongst them, between them?

Bell: I think it may be in terms of their membership. For example, in Alberta, the bulk of our membership identify as recreational riders. It may be different in other provinces. For example, Ontario may have a higher percentage or proportion of us. People interested in sport. I can’t really say for sure, though, Scott.

It has been interesting, as an aside. I have been President for almost a year now. The whole time has been through Zoom. So, building relationships with my counterparts in other organizations has been hampered a bit, so, my knowledge, about who they really are, is probably limited.

Jacobsen: Are there common personalities or backgrounds of people coming into equestrianism? Or is it basically every personality type and background?

Bell: I think it’s every background and personality type. That’s the beautiful thing about it. [Laughing] Some people might say, “That’s the frustrating thing about it.” [Laughing]

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Bell: If you ask a group of horse people a question, perhaps, about horses, for the 12 people there, you’ll get 20 different answers. That’s a joke that is tossed around, very varied. I think what unites everyone is a passion for the equine.

Jacobsen: One common theme in responses, if not the word, then the concept behind what they’re saying, is the idea of equestrianism as a “lifestyle.” People who start in it. A foot in the door phenomenon, sooner or later, it becomes their whole life; or, they’ve been in it their whole life. Is that a common thing?

Bell: Yes, Scott, I think it’s a common thing. Perhaps, the people who it doesn’t become more a part of their day-to-day life. There might be some barriers to being involved with horses. Personally, I am lucky. My costs per horse are lower than someone who is boarding because I am fortunate to have my own pasture, my own barn. Things like that.

It is, definitely, not cheap to have a horse. Here in Alberta, we have been looking at numbers. We aren’t quite ready to release a study of the economic impact of the equestrian industry on Alberta. But when we look at what people spend on a horse, its quite a lot. $1,200 per horse is a reasonable amount of money. That’s not counting people with horses in competitive programs who need lessons and travel with their horse or who have special needs for boarding.

Jacobsen: Another aspect of some of the conversations has been somewhere between 11 and 18 years old. You find a lot more young women. Then as you move into the older ages and the international level of any area of equestrianism – dressage, eventing, hunting, jumping, etc., you find for men. But it’s more balanced than the younger ages, particularly North America. Is this your observation as well?

Bell: Yes, I think, this is reflected in membership, Scott. I don’t have the number off the top of mind. But it is women of a certain age. Women who can have a horse. They are a primary or large percentage of our numbers. Now, we have identified that, as a board, as something that we would like to change.

Both to change at the entry level and at the age that kids can start to get involved, or would like to see kids involved in the sport – all the way up to retirement age, when people are leaving their full-time jobs. The other aspect of that, Scott, and, maybe, you have observed it. We lack diversity. Why is that? We’re not sure.

We are exploring that as well, trying to tease that apart, because it would be great to have other cultural communities involved with horses. Then we have the Indigenous people who have a very strong history and affiliation with the horse. We’re not sure what we can offer them, what kind of partnerships. They should be more visible. So, it is not just women. It is, also, white women.

Jacobsen: What facilities have garnered the most prominent reputation for all of Alberta for equestrianism?

Bell: Spruce Meadows for sure. The Calgary Stampede, [Laughing] both are very different from each other. At one time, we would have included the racetracks. But they’re kind of folding. The Canadian Finals Rodeo, it was, in Alberta, a source of pride. Then we had some pretty significant horse fairs, which have been discontinued because of Covid: Horse Expo kind of thing. Right now, worldwide, people know about Spruce Meadows and the Calgary Stampede.

Jacobsen: How is Canada’s reputation internationally within the equine world?

Bell: That’s an interesting one to think about. If we didn’t have Team Canada, like Ian Millar, Eric Lamaze, people of that standing. I’m not sure we would even be known on the world stage, really [Laughing]. There have been a few key or extraordinary riders in Canada, who are household names, internationally.

Now, if you’re within that community, so if you’re riding at the FEI levels in Dressage, for example, you would know of the people in Canada, but, for me, that’s not the circle I’m in. I represent more of the grassroots person.


Alberta Equestrian Federation. (2022). Board of Directors. Retrieved from

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] President, Board of Directors, Alberta Equestrian Federation; Principal, Windhorse Retreat.

[2] Individual Publication Date: January 22, 2022:; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2022:

[3] Alberta Equestrian Federation. (2022). Board of Directors. Retrieved from


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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