Scherri Edwards of Royalston Competes in Equine Agility
With unlimited patience and devotion, Scherri Edwards, RN, of Royalston is actively engaged in international equine agility competition — and she may soon become a world champion.
Scherri’s 11-year-old miniature mule, named Maggie Mulie, does such a good job of completing an obstacle course that she is headed for top ranking in the next round of competition later this fall.
This competitive program, providing Scherri with a hobby, or possibly an obsession, is conducted by the International Horse Agility Club, an organization that Scherri joined about two and one-half years ago. The web site, www.thehorseagilityclub. com, explains the program in detail. Scherri noted that members come from many nations, and those from the United Kingdom are the most numerous.
Scherri works as an independent nurse provider, usually paid by the state or other agencies, to provide care for patients with complex health issues living at home. Previously, she was employed by Quabbin Valley Health Care in Athol. Most of her non-working hours are devoted to training her animals for competition.
In addition to Maggie the Mulie, there are three other competitors — Floyd, a Leopard Appaloosa directly descended from a horse owned by Nez Pierce Chief Joseph; Twinkle, a female rescue horse; and Manny, a miniature rescue horse.
The club provides specifications for obstacle courses for three forms of competition, with both trainer and animal participating. The trainer sets up a course, using readily available materials such as plastic pipes, hula hoops, curtains and barrels, and a video must be taken as the animal follows the course from beginning to end. The video is submitted via the internet to the club for viewing by the judges. Each animal strives for a perfect score of 100, with scores and rankings published on the web site.
There are three divisions. First is the “on lead” division, with the trainer walking beside the horse on a lead (rope) which must be maintained in a relaxed position. If there is no slack, a “tightrope” is called and that causes a loss of points. Second is the “liberty division,” with the animal moving on its own, and third is the “equagility division,” with the trainer riding.
Scherri explained that it takes a long time to train each animal to master each course, as the specs include such details as where the animal does or does not step, kicking a ball, taking steps backwards, and more. I enjoyed watching several videos of actual competition featuring her with her animals.
Scherri’s husband, Jody Edwards, who works as a hardwood lumber inspector for Allard Lumber in Brattleboro,Vt., offers invaluable support as the videographer and more. “Jody has supported me totally and is a saint,” she commented.
The word “saint” came up again in our interview when Scherri stated she has developed “the patience of a saint” by working with the horses. She explained that horses are herd animals and do not behave like pet dogs or cats. Horses are looking for a leader to follow, and that’s the role the trainer takes, using voice and body language, and not controlling by force or out of fear.
“It’s about connecting and communicating and having fun with the horse,” she explained, adding: “You need to make the horse understand what you want, giving them a reward at the appropriate time.” The most effective reward is usually not a treat (food) because that can be a distraction, but simply scratching the right spot or saying “Good boy!” or “Good girl!” in the right tone of voice.
Scherri spent her childhood in rural Mariaville, N.Y., and comes from “an extensive horse family.” Her father, Jim Love, was a professional trick rider and rodeo announcer. Her aunt, Marlene Beran, was a famed Morgan horse breeder. Scherri was only 4-years-old when she entered her first horse show — on the back of a pony. She went on to give lessons to 4-H Club leaders
She met Jody in New York and the couple moved to Massachusetts because of his career as a logger working with draft horses. He is also a retired farrier.
The couple’s property on Butterworth Road is called Royal Stone Farm. For about eight years, they had a herd of milking goats, but that enterprise came to an end when a heavy snowfall destroyed their goat barn. You can see my write-up about the goat farm, with a joyful photo, in my book, “North of Quabbin Revisited,” pp. 132-34..
The Horse Agility Club gives out ribbons to winners of their competitions, and Scherri already has many of them displayed in her home. There’s a good chance that Maggie Mulie will help her get her first world champion ribbon to add soon to that collection. I enjoyed learning about horse agility and witnessing Scherri’s excitement.