On Monday, August 1, shortly after 9:30pm the Air Canada flight to Rio de Janiero will start down the runway for takeoff. Onboard will be Belinda Trussell. She’s riding for Canada as an individual in dressage. On Wednesday, August 3, her horse Anton will fly out of JFK in New York on a cargo plane with four other horses all going to Rio. Belinda will be there to meet him when he arrives.
The fact that Belinda will ride down the centerline of the Deodoro arena for the XXX1 Olympiad will mark a high point in one of the most amazing comeback stories in equine history. Four years ago it was a very different story. Many of you may already know this story but it bears telling again. Four years ago Belinda’s hopes of competing in London 2012 were dashed when Anton had a rare and very difficult injury. Specialists in both the US and Canada were unable to get him back to soundness. He was ‘retired’ into a paddock. His career as a show horse appeared to be over.
But……the story did not end there.
Belinda continued to have Anton receive massage therapy and the therapist, Paul Wood told Belinda that Anton was depressed and suggested she just tack him up and walk him so he would feel he still had a job. Then behind the scenes and unbeknownst to Belinda, veterinarian Usha Knabe and Belinda’s assistant Lynsey Rowan started to take a look at Anton in the evenings. Dr. Knabe gave him some chiropractic treatments and acupuncture. He was not 100% but he seemed to be improving. Finally Belinda was let in on the secret. At that time she felt that emotionally she could not ride him. So Lynsey started to ride him. He was a fat and furry Thelwell pony and no one could see the show horse he had been. But Lynsey Rowan could feel the show horse was still inside that furry body.
And so the comeback began.
At first when Belinda brought him back to the show ring she felt nervous about pushing him to his fullest so she rode conservatively. At the end of the test Anton would have a look that said: “What’s up with that? Are we in it to win it or not?” By 2014 Belinda and Anton were representing Canada at the World Equestrian Games and producing the best rides of the Canadian team.
In 2015 they were on the Pan Am team for Canada and their scores were breaking Canadian records. During the 2016 winter season in Florida and they rose to new heights and broke their own Canadian record scores. Belinda and Anton were the clear front runners on the Canadian leaderboard for selection to represent Canada at the Olympics. Now they are on their way.
What was involved in the preparation for Belinda leading up to her departure? Needles! Vaccinations spread out over the last six weeks and Belinda told me she has reacted badly to all of them. Physio therapy is something Belinda incorporates into her regime on a regular basis and leading up to the Olympics Equestrian Canada has a fitness consultant who came to Belinda’s barn to add some new exercises for her routine. The fitness consultant will also be available in Rio for the Canadian equestrians.
Another important member of the support team is Sport Psychologist Dirk Stroda. Leading up to Rio Belinda has had weekly telephone sessions with Dirk. She told me she finds this very helpful as he assists her in putting things into perspective and also helps her to find the right path for herself to tune out the outside distractions and influences that would possibly get her onto the wrong track.
What will the routine be once Anton arrives at the equestrian venue? He will be ridden twice a day on competition days. If the riders are allowed into the stadium for “acclimatization” at 6:30 am she will ride then. Before their competition time Belinda will warm up Anton for 40 minutes even if has already been ridden. That is the amount of time that works for them. Belinda is not worried about Anton settling in at the venue as he is not a horse that is fussy about where he is and once he is in the 12×12 stall he will be happy.
Belinda will stay in an apartment at the athlete’s village. The apartment has several bedrooms and the other occupants will be the members of the Canadian Eventing Team. Belinda gets a room of her own. She said that perhaps she was awarded this as she is the most “senior” of the athletes. She’s referring to her age not the fact that she has already competed at the Olympics in Athens, three World Equestrian Games, a World Cup and a Pan Am Games. To me her ‘age’ is hardly senior but perhaps the eventers are all twenty somethings! Belinda’s parents Robyn and Tony Eames will be in Rio to cheer her on as will her husband Mark and her sister Suzanne.
How will she feel as she rides down the Olympic centerline? This is how she describes it. “It’s just you and the horse. It’s emotion versus intellect and heart versus head. I will be riding from the heart.”
Best of all wishes to Belinda and Anton. May the Hippoi Athanatoi …the immortal horses of the Greek gods go with you as you ride from the heart.