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In the age of Instagram, Facebook & MAKEACHAMP, athletes need to be better story-tellers. Most however, feel that they first need to become a world champion or an Olympian before being able to draw in crowds and interest influencers. 

The story of Abby Banis, a young, hopeful equestrian rider, is an inspiring case for many athletes. Seemingly another young girl who loves horse riding, Abby was still the subject of Katie Benedict's latest documentary : How to Raise A Champ. Her hopes and dreams, and the support of her parents and community are featured in the film.

abby how to raise a champ poster
We spoke with Katie Benedict, and hope the following interview will provide other athletes with insight about how to tell their stories. After all, if you can turn a young rider's journey into a documentary, you can surely find a captivating angle for your own athletic story.

MAKEACHAMP : Why a documentary about equestrianism? What attracted you to this sport?

Katie Benedict (filmmaker) : When I first started the project alongside Laura Cousens (president of Sport on the Go, and Associate Professor at Brock University), we began discussing the flaws in our sport system - especially athletes participating at the grassroots level wanting to compete at an elite level. 

Due to financial instability, some athletes don't have the chance to compete at that level even though they are very talented, resulting in many good athletes being left behind. Therefore, the goal of this film was to hopefully attract sponsorship from local groups or organizations who may identify with the athlete profiled in the film and may want to come on board to help her achieve her sports dreams. Laura was a rider at Red Ribbon Stables at Niagara on the Lake, and she mentioned how she was amazed and intrigued by this young athlete named Abby Banis, and how her family sacrifices weekends/vacations to help out at the barn so that she can get more saddle time in the ring. When Laura mentioned this athlete, I wanted to go out to the barn to meet her right away. When I first met Abby I was intrigued by her talent but mostly by what the sport means to her, and how she shares her love and passion of the sport to others at such a young age. 

I think what attracted me to this sport was my level of uncertainty and my curiosity about the sport. Growing up in Scarborough, Ontario - a city girl you could call me - I participated in multiple types of sports. However, I had no idea that equestrian sports existed; sure, I had seen movies where ‘wealthy’ riders competed, but I had no idea that a middle class family could afford to have their child compete at the grassroots level. I didn’t know there were places young riders can practice and compete without having to purchase their own horse. Abby Banis’ story breaks the cliché that stigmatizes this sport. Going to the barn and seeing young riders from all ages just get up on a massive horse like it was nothing, their little bodies just flopping up and down - I was immediately embraced and inspired by the skillset and athletic ability that it takes for a rider to compete. When I saw and met Abby Banis for the first time, I was hooked by her passion, skillset, and her ability to ride at such a young age. What inspired me the most was the purity that this sport brings to her. She has horse shows on her front lawn, and ribbons hung around her bedroom wall; this sport is who she is at such a young age. 

So, I wanted to do a film on such an equestrian rider because it breaks the stigmatization of this sport. Moreover, I wanted to produce a film about this sport to gain more awareness and increase exposure in the public’s eye.  In addition, I wanted to showcase Abby Banis’ talent to an audience, with the hope that maybe she would be able to attain a sponsor to help her fulfill her dreams to become an elite athlete. 

MAKEACHAMP : The case of Abby is not exceptional. Actually, we see lots of riders who have the same dreams as her, and who are working on it everyday. What do you think makes her a champion?

abby banis
What makes Abby Banis a champ? Where do I begin? I feel what sets Abby apart from other athletes is her love and passion for this sport. It far exceeds anything that I have ever seen before as an athlete and a filmmaker. I never saw such a young athlete embrace so much drive, passion, and talent at the age of seven.  For instance, Abby began riding at 14 months old; she completed her first jump at the age of three and began competing at the age of four. Most riders begin riding at the age of 6 and start jumping at the age of 8. To be honest, it isn’t even her skillset I admire the most. It’s her love of the sport – her love for horses that inspires and captivates me the most about her. From being on the sidelines so to speak, I saw how many people are so supportive and motivate her to be the best she can be; a whole community cheers her on. She has her own sideline of fans. I think you can have a dream, the skills and the love, but it’s also the people around you who help you become a champion: the support from her coach and the girls at the barn, her role models she looks up to, her parents who sacrifice their vacations and weekends for her to ride and compete. I think this support system, her love for the sport, and her skillset – makes her so unique.


Tell us about the filmmaking aspects. As a film-maker, what did you work on to best capture the sport? Any special trick when Abby is on her horse?


Well as the cliché saying in sport goes, “there is no I in team.”  Or as my usual saying goes, “Tom Brady isn’t the only player on the gridiron. It takes an entire team to win a Super Bowl.” The same concept applies to filmmaking. It does not take just one person to make a film; it takes an entire crew – a team. Each team member has a different skillset they can bring to the table. Some of your team members may wear more hats and take on more leadership roles but, at the end of the day, your boom operator is just as important a role as a director.

the crew - how to make a champ

There are three stages in filmmaking: the Pre-Production stage, Production, and Post-Production. During pre-production is what’s known as the conception-development stage – this is where you begin to find elements to creating your story, how to go about financing the film, marketing/promotional ideas. Preparations are made for the shoot, such as tasks/steps that need to be taken prior to shooting (i.e. pre-production schedule), hiring/gathering your crew, visualizing your story and putting it into a schedule (i.e. templates such as shot lists, and shooting schedules), arranging production meetings, etc. During the production phase – this is when you have all of your prep work completed and filming is in progress. Post-production is when you begin to edit your work (or your editor begins to log and organize the footage), after the film has been edited for video and sound. Then the film is usually screened and a distribution plan would be put into place. As part of my internship project I had to create a “how-to book/guide” on the process of TV/Film producing for future Sport on the Go interns; “Producing a Champ: a fundamental guide to filmmaking in the sports industry” is an aid that describes the steps of producing for broadcast (for documentary/journalism style programming). Here is the link – for more information: http://adobe.ly/1CpOWB5


As a filmmaker, the best way to capture the sport was to show it through Abby’s eyes: showing an audience the pureness and love she has for the sport. So, for example, I would incorporate her smiling, hugging her horse and patting him after they completed a circuit. I would showcase her parents – especially her dad Mark Banis – focusing on him after Abby finishes her trip (getting that money shot close up of him smiling and crying seeing his little princess so happy). Were there any special tricks used while Abby was up on the horse? No, not really. He was pretty high up – a GoPro would have been handy. Documentary filmmaking is a lot different than shooting a live action film – we don’t have any stunt doubles. This was all Abby – the only stunt double needed would be if I were to get up on that horse! 

The title of the documentary "How to Raise a Champ" is thought-provoking. How much do you actually estimate it costs per year to become an equestrian champion? 

abby banis
In my opinion, equestrian sport, like many other competitive sports, is quite expensive. Young riders like Abby can only get as much practice time in the saddle and compete in as many competitions as their families can afford. I know that the Banis Family spent in excess of $10,000 on lessons and horse shows this past year. This figure does not include owning or leasing a pony, or some shows they would have liked Abby to compete in.

However, I don’t think you can put a dollar amount on how much it costs per year to become an equestrian champion. Regardless of the money invested, what matters is the love for the sport and the determination they have inside them. For instance, Abby just wants to continue jumping higher and pushing herself to compete – she sets goals, she has dreams, she pushes through adversity, when she falls off her horse, she wipes the mud off her pants and gets back on. I believe this is pretty impressive for an 7-year-old girl. Having the continued support from her family, coach, and peers is just as important as her perseverance.

I won’t lie: the financial aspect, especially in the equestrian world, is the key to even participate (and my goal is to try and get Abby a sponsor so she can continue to pursue her riding dreams of going to the Olympics). But, financials alone and investing an endless supply of money, don’t make someone a champion. You can have a million dollar horse but, if you don’t have the will, the determination, the vision, the compassion, the bond with your horse, to get over that next jump then your million-dollar horse alone isn’t going to make you become an equestrian champion.

What is next for you and for the documentary?

Well my initial goals for this film were to have the film screened with a large audience, get a TV broadcasting deal, get into a film festival (which the past Friday February 27, 2015 it was screened at the Belleville Downtown DocFest International Film Festival​​), get a distribution deal, and find Abby a sponsor. So far I am 3 for 5….. I hope to promote the film within the film festival circuit for a year, then hopefully I could get a distribution deal.

abby reporter

Last year while I was in the midst of editing the documentary together, I lost my mom. My mom was my best friend, who always believed in me and told me to always go for my dreams. Even when I doubt myself she told me everything would work out in the end. Although she had to leave this place, I feel her presence and strength helped me finish the film when I felt like giving up. She was always there in my court and to cheer me on, whether it was her watching one of my games, or watching my films. Her favorite thing was not the film I created, but seeing my name at the end of the credits. She would smile from ear to ear – and say my daughter did that. This film is for her. But, I think this film resonates with me on an emotional level because the cause is something I am very passionate about. Also, because my family is so very supportive of my own dreams and I see how Abby’s family is with her, it ties in with me on a personal level. Abby’s story and her journey of becoming a champ kept pushing me through and still does to this day. So, what’s next for the film? Well my initial goals for this film were to have the film screened with a large audience, get a TV broadcasting deal, get into a film festival, get a distribution deal, and find Abby a sponsor. So far I am 3 for 5….. I hope to promote the film within the film festival circuit for a year, then hopefully I could get a distribution deal. Most importantly my goal is to help Abby find and attain a sponsor so that maybe when Mark and Joanna are on holidays they don’t have to muck out stalls and can enjoy their vacation with Abby.a


MAKEACHAMP : Thanks Katie. We hope Abby will be able to find a sponsor soon to support her dreams and ambitions, or be able to get community support through crowdfunding. Tune in to the How to Raise A Champ website to see the latest news about the movie.