Accident claims tireless Canadian equestrian enthusiast

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Marie-Helen Lessard
Marie-Helen Lessard

Canadian official, coach and organiser Marie-Helen Lessard has died with her husband, Steven Ratz, in a traffic accident on Sunday after their jeep was hit by a car just after 11pm north of Toronto.

The accident also claimed the life of the driver of the other car, Travis Logan, 26.

City News Toronto reported that neighbours saw a car on fire and the vehicles were damaged beyond recognition. An officer on the scene said a southbound Volkswagen Jetta went through a stop sign and t-boned the Jeep, knocking it off the road. When police arrived they found one car about 15 metres off the road, flipped upside down and landed in a ditch. City News Toronto said the Jeep was found later “several hundred feet” from the Volkswagen, and was also upside down.

Another newspaper said that seven local residents had lost their lives in crashes occurring in the Dufferin county area in September.

Lessard, 49, ran the Equus 3D Equestrian Centre in Amaranth Township. Ratz, 57, was the vice-principal at Westside Secondary School in Orangeville. He had just transferred there from John F. Ross Collegiate Vocational Institute in Guelph.

Lessard, commonly referred to by her nickname MH, was a strong advocate in the development of the Canadian coaching program, a keen participant in eventing and dressage competitions and revered instructor to her many students. She was a leader in the equestrian community and enjoyed much success running eventing and dressage shows at Equus 3D Equestrian Centre.

Her many accomplishments included coaching, organizing competitions, volunteering, competing and officiating. She had recently achieved her FEI Eventing Level 1 steward accreditation, in addition to her English Competition Coach certification, Equine Canada Basic dressage, para-dressage judging status and steward accreditations.

Lessard was also a member of the Equine Canada Competitions Committee, the Chair of Dressage Canada’s Competitions Committee, sat on the Sport Council’s Competitions Committee, was a member of the Dressage Canada Board and was an Equine Canada Learning Facilitator.

“Marie-Helen was a vital part of the coaching program,” said friend and fellow coach Victoria Andrew. “She was one of those busy people who always got the job done. No matter how many events she was running, shows she was judging, committees she was working on or projects she was involved with, she always had time.”

She is remembered by many in the equestrian community. Her undeniable commitment to all facets of the equine industry never went unnoticed. She continuously demonstrated her strong support of equestrian sport through her actions.

Friends and co-competition organizers, Barbara Mitchell and John Taylor said Marie-Helen and Steven will be missed.

“MH Lessard was a valued and well-loved member of our team at the Cornerstone Dressage shows at Palgrave,” Mitchell said. “MH embraced life and tackled everything with gusto. Whether she was working as a steward, judge, bilingual announcer or competing at our shows, she did it with great enthusiasm. She was a well-respected horse show organizer and coach. She was always cheerful and was well admired by the eventing and dressage communities. MH’s husband, Steven Ratz was incredibly supportive of her endeavours in the equestrian world. We will miss her not only as a member of our team but as a very close friend.”

Lessard also taught French at Centennial Hylands Elementary School in Shelburne, Ontario.

Shen finished her show season as the overall Open Training Level Champion on Lorraine Stubbs’ eight-year-old gelding Mozambiek and achieved personal best scores throughout the season.

“MH was very passionate about her sons; her husband, Steven; and of course her horses and dogs,” Stubbs said. “She was an active person in many aspects of our sport.  From running horse shows, coaching, judging and riding, MH was always busy. After her last show, she was saying how pleased she was with her results and accomplishments this year. She will be greatly missed.”

Marie-Helen Lessard and Steven Katz are survived by their two sons, Sebastien and Derek.

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