Calgarian show jumper gets experience of a lifetime in Rio

Experience is a funny thing.

Because if you need it, there’s only one way to get it.

And in Kara Chad’s world — the fascinating, elite community of professional show jumping — it’s about throwing herself and her horses into the mix as much as possible.

“When you’re riding against these top riders in the world, you kind of have these expectations that are maybe beyond what you can do,” said the 20-year-old Calgary native who lives in Florida and Europe during the fall and winter and spends her spring and summers riding at Spruce Meadows. “But that’s a good thing … it’s like, ‘Well, I’m here.’

“I sometimes forget that (veteran riders) have done this a million times.”

Her philosophy, like many 20-somethings on the brink of their careers, is simple.

“Honestly,” Chad was saying, “the more I get out there, the better.

“Any round is a good round for me.”

That go-get-’em approach, along with her wildly successful Spruce Meadows Summer Series aboard her horses Gin Tonic and Bellinda, caught Mark Laskin’s eye.

The Chef d’Equipe for the Canadian Olympic Equestrian team selected the young up-and-coming rider as an alternate for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

There is certainly no better experience than an up-close-and-personal view of show jumping at the Five-Ring Circus along with the country’s biggest names in the sport.

“Rio was always a goal for me but one of those far-fetched goals,” Chad said. “I was like, ‘I will try to make it there, but if I fall short, I won’t be upset.’

“But it was amazing.”

Chad represented Canada along with bronze medallist and 2008 gold medallist Eric Lamaze, Tiffany Foster, Yann Candele, and Amy Millar — daughter of the 10-time Olympian Ian Millar.

“It was eye-opening, just to see how high the bar is set,” Chad said of the experience. “To have all those amazing, incredible top riders in the same place at the same time and going into the ring one after the other … it was pretty amazing.”

And valuable for a rider like Chad, who has sky-high aspirations and goals.

“You get an idea of what it takes to get there,” she said. “You keep gaining experience and the more experience you have, the better you are. There aren’t many my age that are competing at that level because (of that reason).

“The more experience and exposure you get, the better prepared you are.”

Her portfolio and resume are growing.

Chad’s highest placing at Spruce Meadows this season was a second-place finish in the Pepsi U25 Challenge at the North American and a sixth-place finish in the RBC Grand Prix at the National. She has won a total of $31,250 at the venue this summer alone.

In July, she represented Canada’s Nations Cup team at the World Equestrian Festival in Aachen, Germany.

But the Olympics? A completely different animal entirely.

At the Games, her teammate Foster was an excellent source of advice.

After all, the 32-year-old went through the same thing during the 2012 Olympics in London (a different experience entirely, as her horse Victor was disqualified due to hypersensitivity in its front leg).

The pressure, Foster said, is inevitable. But there’s only one way to handle it.

“(She said) even if you fully aren’t quite mentally prepared for it, you have to just throw yourself in there,” Chad said. “She has been a big help in building my confidence to perform at that level.

“She’s gone through it all and she keeps helping me understand where I need to go next.”

Chad was also selected as part of the Nations’ Cup team that placed fifth at the FEI Furusiyaa event held on Aug. 27 in Spain.

The next stop for Chad is this week’s Masters Tournament — the Spruce Meadows’ season finale. She’ll represent Canada in Saturday’s BMO Nations’ Cup along with the Olympic crew of Foster, Amy Millar, and Lamaze.

Being from Calgary and growing up just a few minutes away from the Spruce Meadows facility, Chad is thrilled to return for one final competition.

“Coming to Spruce Meadows, it’s my home,” she said. “I’m familiar with it. I come here for the summer series. I have the advantage where I’m super comfortable with the field and how things work. I get to go home every day. I have big expectations here, so we’ll see what happens this weekend.”


Calgary Herald / Calgary Sun - Sept 8, 2016

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