Riders on the Road to Rio

This post originally appeared on my daughter Breanne’s blog website “All of the Pretty Things Here” in January 2016.

“Citius, Altius, Fortius” “Faster, Higher, Stronger”! This is the Olympic motto. All over the world, at this moment, there are athletes striving to realize their dream of representing their country in the Olympics. They are all striving for the ‘faster’, ‘higher’, ‘stronger’.  There are two equestrian athletes who, along with their equine partners, are on that quest. But a place on an Olympic team is not just about being faster or jumping higher or being stronger. For most athletes it is a long and often difficult road.  The two athletes I am going to follow are both dressage riders. For those of you unfamiliar with dressage it is a judged sport where judges watch a horse and rider go through a complex series of movements or tests. Each test lasts approximately seven minutes. For the Olympic hopefuls they must do the highest level of tests the Grand Prix, the Grand Prix Special and the Grand Prix Freestyle. In the freestyle the required movements are choreographed and set to music. My two athletes are in fact my coaches. During the four month winter season in Florida I ride and train with Luis Reteguiz Denizard who rides for Puerto Rico and for the rest of the year when I am at home in Canada I ride with Belinda Trussell who has represented Canada on many occasions.

Belinda Trussell competing at the 2015 Pan Am Games
Belinda Trussell competing at the 2015 Pan Am Games

Belinda Trussell is a seasoned international competitor. She was on the Canadian team for the Olympics in Athens in 2004. She has ridden for Canada at three World Equestrian Games, the World Cup and last summer’s Pan American Games. Her equine partner is Anton. Back in 2010 Belinda and Anton were on the Canadian team for the World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Kentucky. From there they were moving on toward the London Olympics in 2012 when a rare leg injury struck. It defied the best attempts of veterinarian specialists in Canada and the US and their Olympic dreams were dashed. Anton went out to pasture and it was uncertain if he would ever return to being ridden. But Belinda maintained one special treatment for him; he got a massage once a month!  After some months the massage therapist Paul Wood asked Belinda if she could just tack him up and take him for a walk. Paul felt Anton was depressed without a job. Knowing that this can happen to high performance horses that enjoy their work Belinda got on and started to walk him.  This was the beginning of his comeback. With careful rehab and veterinary attention using both Eastern and Western medicine with veterinarian Dr. Usha Knabe, Anton came back to the competition ring. Anton and Belinda made the Canadian team for WEG in Normandy, France in 2014. In 2015 they rode for Canada in the Pan Am and scored their highest scores ever!  Now they are aiming for Rio.

“He’s going the best he has in his life,” Belinda told me. “He just keeps getting better. I am so excited to show and I just want to enjoy it.” Their first competition in the Florida show season will be Jan 27. “When I think about it I get a flutter of excitement” she says with a smile.  She will also compete in the CDI 5*(Concours Dressage International) and the Nations Cup CDIO.

Belinda and Anton
Belinda and Anton

The Canadian Olympic qualification criteria have not been published and have been sent privately by email to the riders who had declared for the Olympics. What I do know from the high performance representative at Dressage Canada is that an average four scores will be involved from CDI 3* or higher competitions. These scores must be earned between Jan. 1, 2016 and July 3, 2016. Canada has qualified to send one individual only and may be able to send a second individual depending on scores earned through the winter season. But Canada cannot send a team for Dressage.

Like any athlete the Olympic dream is alive and well in Belinda but she puts this into perspective. “This is a 1200 pound animal and they allow us to sit on them and they try to do what we ask of them. The love of the horse is the most important thing.”

The other athlete I will be following is Luis Reteguiz Denizard. Lou (to his friends) is a Puerto Rican American who has represented Puerto Rico at two Central American Games and three Pan Am Games including last summer’s Pan Ams in Toronto where he was the highest scoring Spanish speaking rider.  His equine partner is Royal Affaire known as Robbie around the barn. He and Robbie have been together for four years and have formed a very solid partnership. Robbie can find the atmosphere of the big shows intimidating and during his time with Lou he has made tremendous progress in learning to trust Lou and keep his focus.  As a rider myself I can tell you this is no easy task. It is not about being domineering and insisting the horse do what you tell it to do. There is a conversation between horse and rider and the end result is by mutual agreement. The horse must trust the rider and the best results come when the horse chooses to work their hardest for their rider.  And believe me……this decision is made by the horse. It cannot be forced by the rider.

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Lou at the Pan Am Games Toronto 2015

 

Lou is competing to acquire points to qualify as an individual in the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) Region E. Already Mexico has qualified one individual in this region so there is only one remaining spot.  Riders competing for this spot must acquire points in CDI level competitions with more points awarded in higher level CDIs. For example there will be more points awarded for scores from a CDI5* than a CDI3*. It is the scores that count and not the individual placings in the class.  In addition to this each rider must have received a score of 64% or higher from two 5*or “O” level judges.

 

The time to acquire the scores is short. The deadline is March 6. Some competitors in the region have been competing at the Grand Prix level last year but for Lou this is the first season at that level. At the Pan Ams he was competing at the level just below Grand Prix (Prix St. George and Intermediare 1). It is a big step up for the horse to move up to the Grand Prix. The advanced movements of piaffe (a trot in place) and passage (a very elevated almost slow motion trot) are the additions at this level as well as an expectation of greater expression and a very compressed frame in the horse’s body.  In an ideal world Lou and Robbie would have another year to accomplish the task of getting comfortable at the Grand Prix level. But they do not have that luxury. It is now or never.  After March 6 the horse and rider combination with the highest number of points will be awarded the individual place to go to Rio.

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Lou and Royal Affaire (Robbie)

 

Lou it both realistic and optimistic about his chances. In the world of competition horses anything can happen. One of the leading scoring combinations in Region E was rung out (disqualified) in a recent CDI due to the horse showing some unsoundness.  Anything can happen.  In the meantime Lou will enjoy the journey. “I want to be an example to someone else to encourage them to work hard, be honest and fair and to persist.” he told me. “I’m in awe of these animals that try what they try for us and allow us to survive.”

The Olympic qualification season is underway! I will be following Belinda and Lou as the season progresses and will be posting updates. These are two riders who are motivated by their love of the horse and who value how hard the horses work for them. Equestrian is the only sport where the team consists of a human and another species; a horse. Belinda and Lou know, as I do, that it is out of the goodness of the horse’s hearts that they try so hard to do what we ask of them. Best of luck to both these riders and their horses!

This post originally appeared on my daughter Breanne’s blog website All of the Pretty Things Here in January 2016.

 

 

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