Every athlete dreams of going to the Olympics. Competing for your country. Walking into the stadium at the opening ceremonies, wearing your nations Olympic kit, marching proudly behind your nations flag bearer. And then the competition. The years, the months, the hours of training, the inevitable injuries, the recovery, the goals set and achieved and now, there you are, an Olympian.
And then…..it’s over. Now what?
For the answer to that question I spoke to Canadian Olympian Belinda Trussell who, with her horse Anton, competed for Canada in Dressage at the Olympics in Rio 2016.
“When I came home I was in a low mood. You are so driven for so long and although you have new goals it is hard to come from such a high. I went to the barn every day and I was riding and teaching but I was in a ‘funk’.“
Belinda is my coach at home in Ontario and I have to say that I never saw any sign that she was low or in a funk after the Olympics. She was riding and teaching and appeared to be her usual self. She never let any of us know there was an Olympic Aftermath happening.
“As an athlete, I was very driven and focused and then all the goals I had been working toward for such a long time were all gone away. It takes time to build back up after that. I don’t think I’m the only one as the Olympic committee sends out a newsletter and they would have articles saying: ‘How are you doing as an athlete?’ so I think a lot of Olympians go through this.”
The other part of Belinda’s Olympic experience was her horse Anton. Anton was being prepared for the Olympics in London 2012 when a rare injury sidelined him and it appeared he might never compete again. Heartbreaking. But the story did not end there. He was turned out to pasture but in secret Belinda’s assistant Lynsey Rowan and veterinarian Dr. Usha Knabe began to test out the possibility of a recovery. And recover he did. Anton went on to compete at the World Equestrian Games and he and Belinda broke the Canadian records with their scores. Then on to Rio!
But horses have a shorter lifetime than their human partners. Anton would be too old to compete in the next Olympics in 2020. For the human athlete, the horse is the equalizer and equestrians can compete well beyond the age most athletes have retired. Canadian equestrian Ian Millar has competed at 10 Olympic Games! Rio was Belinda’s second Olympics. She competed in Athens 2004 with another horse Royan. She told me that in the athlete’s village she was a Senior Citizen (and she is only in her mid-forties!).
“In the elevator, the young athletes would ask me if I was ‘staff’. The ‘staff’ are former Olympians who come to help their country’s athletes in the Village to adjust or deal with problems and because they have been through it themselves they can be very helpful. I would say:” No, I’m competing” and they would look surprised and ask me what sport.”
Belinda told me she did meet one other athlete who was in his fifties and competing in the sailing for his 6th Olympics.
But for the horse competing in multiple Olympics is not a possibility. Belinda knew that Anton had done his best and that it was time to retire him from international competition. So, when she came home she had to start to think about that reality and turn her focus to Tattoo, her horse who was waiting to take up a role as an international competitor.
“At first I was undecided about whether or not I would go to Florida to compete with Tattoo. I was still in the funk. But then, one day, the funk lifted. It was gone! So, I started to plan.”
Belinda decided to compete in Florida with Tattoo and with Carlucci, the small tour (Prix St. George and Intermediare 1) horse owned by Barb St. Clair and ridden by Belinda. Tattoo made his Grand Prix debut in a national level show at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival and scored a 71%. That is a pretty good start.
“Depending on how it goes I may do a CDI (Concours Dressage Internationale) at Tryon in North Carolina on the way home with Tattoo. Then there are two CDI’s in Canada, one in Ottawa and the other at Cedar Valley. In the fall, there are CDI’s at Saugerties NY and Devon PA.”
And what about looking ahead to the World Equestrian Games in 2018?
“I would like to try for that with Tattoo.”
So, that’s what you do after competing in the Olympics. You come home, get through the inevitable let down, then you regroup and start over. For some athletes that will mean starting over in a new direction in life and for equestrians like Belinda it will mean starting over with a new horse and new plans and new goals.