Reviving a lost trade

February 09, 2016

Joël Bernier is working hard to resurrect equestrian marshalling, one of the many trades that have fallen into disuse in today’s world. Previously practised in military camps, it focuses on horses and their well-being.  The trade has been given new life in Brandon, spearheaded by this passionate marshal who is driven by the desire to share his love for and knowledge about horses with others.

Joël Bernier grew up in Quebec and has nurtured his undying passion for horses since he was a small boy. “Ever since the day I won a horse, I decided to devote my life to this animal. My grandfather was an equestrian marshall, so it was very much a part of my life.” Bernier came through Manitoba eight years ago as a truck driver, and three and a-half years ago decided to settle permanently in the province, where he sees greater opportunities for his profession. “I started out in southern Ontario, but the competition was fierce. When I got the opportunity to come to Manitoba, I took it.”

The considerable demand in Brandon, coupled with the possibility of building a racetrack there, made it a natural destination for Joël Bernier.

Equestrian marshalling is a complex profession, requiring a broad skillset and a great understanding of the animal’s body and how it works. “It’s a well-rounded profession, given that we focus on the horse’s body, well-being and physical health, which includes horseshoes and equipment. We also work with reflexology, taking skeletal alignment and muscle tension into consideration … It’s a marvellous trade that involves all disciplines and requires significant knowledge of horses and biomechanics.”

   

Joël Bernier does not want this art to fade into oblivion, which is why he offers courses and training on all things horse-related. His plan to create an equestrian marshalling school is now taking shape. “The idea is to establish a trade school, starting in Grade 8. Promoting it is easy, and we know that many students are interested. We are now in the process of building the physical structure and securing the necessary funding and permissions. Everything is ready on paper to provide future services to young horse enthusiasts.”

Bernier believes there is a need for such training at the local level. “There are blacksmithing, nutritionist and trainer services, but nothing related to equestrian marshalling.”

His profession also provides him with many opportunities and allows him to work with a wide range of people with different backgrounds. “I currently work alone, sometimes with a therapist who uses horses to help people with physical and mental disabilities. It’s a wonderful initiative, and there are still things that need to be done along those lines.”

With his wealth of experience, Joël Bernier is often hired by ranches to provide advice on horse safety and how to care for these animals. Given the scarcity of equestrian marshalls, he is beginning to build a reputation. Working, delivering training and offering activities in both official languages is another great asset for Bernier. “I also focus a great deal on tourism. There are many Francophone tourists who love the West and everything Western, but they hesitate to come due to the language barrier. Providing French-language services can develop that aspect.”

Joël Bernier is always ready to provide advice or guidance to local horse owners and continues to work on fulfilling his dream of opening a school in an effort to extend the longevity of equestrian marshalling.