Owner/Trainer/Head Riding Instructor
Sonya immigrated with her parents and siblings from Switzerland and started school not knowing the English language. Through a number of circumstances her family was swindled out of money and grew up in poverty. Sonya quickly learned how cruel and self-serving people could be and was determined to not get easily discouraged. She learned at a young age that horses and animals were healthy and therapeutic companions. From this she knew that she wanted to build a safe and healthy business for children and adults to enjoy, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, and believed everyone could learn at least one thing from her experience and become a better person...
Sheer determination and a passion for horses and animals, along with her belief in God is what has turned Horse Sense Training and Petting Zoo into a small piece of heaven.
There were no riding lessons for Sonya. But she along with 2 sisters and a brother scraped together enough money to buy a Shetland pony named Nipper. This pony taught Sonya to stay on and learn to use her body position and proper cues. Nipper had some excellent methods of getting rid of riders; a gallop through the trees, dirty stops at jumps, or just fitting under a semi-trailer at full gallop-while the rider slammed into the side. In a way, Sonya learned to ride to survive, while mentally and emotionally the thrill of having control over a stubborn and naughty pony helped build her self-esteem.
The horse that really started Sonya's career as a trainer was a part-bred Arabian mare named Candy's Shady Lady, owned by the Goodwins -Alpine Stables. Candy lived to be 34 years old and started many beginners on their very first riding lesson. She was started under saddle as a 3 year old by Sonya, who knew very little about training at that time as a 14 year old girl. This was an extremely sensitive mare who was overly nervous and over reactive who had been starved previously. Sonya noticed that if she was calm and assertive how the horse stayed calm as well. Through much hard work, and getting ditched many times by such a severely spooky horse, they finally started becoming a team. Showing first at open shows, then class A, they were winning at Western Pleasure, Western Equation, Hunter, English pleasure, English Equitation, and Show Hack, while Trail class was the specialty. At that time there would be 20-30 horses in a class, all who had more training and show ring experience. Horse owners noticed the consistent winnings at the shows and ...well the rest is history.
Sonya has showed in every type of class; reining, dressage, cattle penning, sorting, driving, english and western pleasure, equitation, saddle seat, 3 way combination, costume, shown class A on the Arabian, Quarter horse, Appaloosa, and Morgan circuit. Through all of this she has won enough ribbons to cover 20' long wall top to bottom. Sonya has even written 3 articles on horses which were published in Farm and Ranch. She has won the Agripreneur Scholarship from Alberta Agriculture, and received a "Recommended Experience" from Edmonton Tourism Group. Sonya was also a speaker at the regional 4-H Conference.
She has worked for famous trainers like Michael Wheilhan and also at Pinnacle Farm with multimillion dollar stallion Zodiac Matador. She has handled horses for celebrities like the Beach Boys, and has even judged 1 to 3 day all-breed horse shows as far away as Whitehorse
Sonya has started hundreds of young horses to become safe and reliable mounts for their owners. Breeds include Trakehners, Anglo Arabs, Friesians, Westphalians, Walkers, Saddlebreds, Morgan’s, Welsh ponies, Fjord, Appaloosas, Quarter horses, Thoroughbreds, Oldenburg, Holsteiners, Percherons, Hanverians, NSH, Morab, Standardbred’s, Gypsy Vanners and of course Arabians.
However she is familiar with all breeds, and has owned Arabians, Peruvian Paso’s, Saddlebreds, National Show Horses, Thoroughbreds, Quarter horses, Appendix, Welsh, Shetland and mixed pony breeds. Currently, Sonya owns 34 horses, donkeys and pony's- along with a Doberman and Jack Russell, parrots, mini zebus, goats, sheep, guinea pigs, rabbits, emus, potbellied pigs, chinchillas, ducks, geese, turkey, exotic chickens, peafowl, cats, and more.
Sonya specializes in problem horses; many of the lesson horses in service today were on their way to a meat shop, before being bought and retrained by Sonya. Now these horses bring a lot of joy to humans and teach them about life skills, building confidence and overcoming fears. The horses enjoy their jobs, and Sonya makes sure lessons are kept interesting and challenging for riders and their mounts. (See Lesson Horses Link on "Horses" Page above for stories and information about these incredible animals!)
Sonya is a skilled mentor, instructing Paul Kane High School Equine studies program (5 credits). She also wrote the curriculum for the Edmonton School Board Horsemanship Program and has taught students from Horse Hill, McCally, Dickensfield, and Eastwood schools. Developing lesson programs where riders grow and develop while learning to overcome their fears, improve their equitation and horsemanship skills, as well as having clinics on Understanding Horse Behaviors, New Horse Ownership, Fearless Riding, and Conformation, Sonya loves to share her knowledge. Sonya specializes in assisting and teaching first time horse owners in many areas from leasing or purchasing, to competing with and enjoying a horse.
Endurance Racing is one of the many sports Sonya has competed in, competing over 1000 miles on different horses (including stallions) usually placing in the top 5, along with many Best Condition awards. She has even trained one of the fastest 50 mile horses in Alberta, Maverick. Sonya took in this gelding before he could be sent to the meat shop, as no one could control him. Maverick lives at Horse Sense today as a very happy, well trained, and popular lesson horse!
She earned a dressage score of 73% for a first time showing with a green horse of 30 days. This is a very impressive score at this level and amount of training, accomplished with Maxamillion.
Sonya also competed in Battle of the Breeds, Team Arabian in Spruce Meadows 2005. She entered precision driving with her stallion Ambassador, and an unfamiliar horse that she had 20 minutes to drive before doing the test. She set an individual record for precision driving. During barrel racing, Sonya and Ambassador placed 6th.
Sonya has a breeding program with Arabian horses producing beautiful correct type athletes with fantastic dispositions from her stallions Talal Asad (General), Ambassador, and Knights n' Black Satin. She has produced foals that are easy for first time owners to handle and enjoy, and win in the show ring and endurance racing, as well as from Halter championships to the inter provincial Driving Champions.
Farm Life Today
The petting zoo was started in 2000, and has travelled to Yellowknife and entertained in the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel’s grand ball room. It is also regular at Edmonton's City Hall on Canada Day, at Northlands Park and at many large venues. Many visitors to the farm love to tour the petting zoo in families, through birthday parties, or in school/other groups. The mobile petting zoo is a fun way for volunteers to interact with the animals and get to experience many social and equine events.
Horse Sense is very child and adult friendly, and volunteers are always welcome. It’s a safe learning environment, and with so much to do there is always something to learn. In such a versatile place something new is always happening, and life is never dull. Sonya has made Horse Sense a loving, warm, and safe home away from home for many people.
At Horse Sense, Sonya has imported a Black Egyptian homozygous stallion “Knights N Blacksatin”, who is siring elegant athletic type black offspring.
The first Cinderella carriage imported to Canada is also located at Horse Sense zoo. The Cinderella carriage has taken brides and grooms downtown Jasper Ave, Hotel McDonald and legislature grounds. Sonya trained 2 grey Arabians who previously had little driving experience, to drive as a pair to pull the carriage and add elegance.
Sonya believes anyone can enjoy and learn from animals regardless of their abilities or disabilities. A therapeutic riding program has been implemented at Horse Sense, and an Equine Therapy program incorporating a psychologist, as horses can help heal the human spirit as well.
All these accomplishments were done with help from friends and volunteers. Sonya's family has no interest in the horse industry, and is not supportive. Her ex-husband did not participate in the growing of the business and was unfaithful, as well as an emotional and financial drain. Sonya had faith and did not let this stop her from her passion. It took a lot of blood sweat and tears, and a firm belief in turning cants into cans that made Horse Sense what it is today. It’s her desire to share the joy of all the animals that keeps her going. To help people. And to not just meet their expectations, but to exceed them... making them the best that they can be.