HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
Hockey has referees. Baseball has umpires. Figure skating has judges. When it comes to the disciplines of equestrian sports, it’s the steward who knows all the rules. And Ottawa’s Harriet Cherry was one of the best.
After enthusiastically taking riding lessons as a young girl, joining the Rockcliffe Riding Club and later becoming a horse-show mom for daughter Elizabeth, Cherry steered her life-long passion in equestrian in a brand new direction.
At the age of 50, Cherry challenged herself to know and understand all the rules of equestrian’s dressage and show jumping. During the next 39 years, she became a well-respected and highly-ranked steward in Canada as well as a judge in that time.
Cherry, who was admired for her fairness, understanding of the rules and a great sense of humour, passed away Feb. 2. She was 89. She was passionate about equestrianism and continued officiating until her retirement at 88.
“I love stewarding. It has been a wonderful second career and I really enjoy working at the shows,” Cherry was once quoted as saying.
She was a highly-sought-after clinician, steward and mentor, whether it was globally, nationally or locally.
“Harriet was a shining light in the Canadian equestrian world, her loss is deeply felt,” Equestrian Canada CEO Meg Krueger said in a press release. “Her tireless work helped lift our sport to where it is today. We will continue to honour her legacy for years to come.”
The Equestrian Canada release described Cherry as having a “fabulous sense of humour, unwavering moral compass and impeccable knowledge of the rules (which) led to her presence being heavily requested at both local and international competitions.”
“The level of participation that Harriet sustained for nearly four decades as an official was immeasurably essential to the facilitation and growth of equestrian competition.”
It’s not surprising Cherry was well honoured during the past decade.
At the 2011 Jump Canada Hall of Fame Gala in Toronto, she was named the Official of the Year. Cherry was presented the 2018 Equestrian Canada Lifetime Achievement Award for her long and illustrious career.
Cherry also was honoured at the 66th annual Ottawa Sports Awards dinner, where she was given a Special Recognition Award for her dedication and long hours to making sure competitions were run in a fair and proper manner.
In 1981, she started travelling down the steward’s road. She earned her first card as a dressage steward and later improved her status to senior steward for all disciplines. The steward categories are jumper, dressage and general.
By 1993, Cherry had become one of Canada’s first FEI (international) stewards and was one of several stewards who implemented the FEI steward program across Canada. In its first four years, she was the steward for all Quebec competitions.
When Cherry put her rule books aside last year and rode into retirement, she was ranked as an FEI jumping steward 3. She also served as a recorded judge for hunter, hack and hunt seat equitation, and jumping from 1986 until 2000.
Cherry, who worked more than 25 years at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto, also knew many of the competitive riders personally and would follow their careers with the same interest and dedication she put into developing her own role as an official.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.