Olympic team makeup uncertain for Canadians at Spruce Meadows

A year ago, there didn’t seem to be many questions about who would be representing Canada at the Olympics this summer in Rio de Janeiro.

There was still debate about who would fill the team’s alternate position, but it seemed like a safe bet that the four riders who would go on to win gold for Canada at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto would be bringing their horses to Brazil for this summer’s Olympics.

Today, though, the once-clear situation has grown considerably more murky.

Tiffany Foster is sure to be bringing Tripple-X III to Rio, but beyond that nothing is certain.

Eric Lamaze has the horses in his stable to compete, but will he be riding Fine Lady or Coco Bongo? Is Yann Candele still a lock?

Most shockingly to equestrian fans who aren’t paying attention, it appears all-but-certain that 10-time Olympian Ian Millar will be missing his first Games since 1980.

“It’s not really a rumour, it’s a fact,” Millar said. “My main horse Dixon, for the past couple of years has developed these hematomas in his sinuses and it’s a fairly rare condition in horses, but it’s been managed by injecting the hematomas with formaldehyde and then they would sluff off. This winter in Florida that method became ineffective and they had to be removed surgically.

“Essentially, the horse has been out of work since February and to have him back by Rio would be unrealistic and it wouldn’t be in the welfare of the horse.”

With the Spruce Meadows Summer Series set to kick off Wednesday with the first day of the National Tournament, pretty much every contender for the open spots on the Olympic team are in Calgary.

It’s a list that includes Calgarians Ben Asselin and Kara Chad as well as familiar names at Spruce Meadows like Elizabeth Gingras and Christian Sorensen, and Millar’s son and daughter, Jonathan and Amy Millar.

“I think it kind of lends itself to a little excitement and makes this Spruce Meadows (Summer Series) become really important,” Foster said. “I think if people have some good performances here, things could move around a little bit.”

To be clear, Millar isn’t completely ruling out the possibility of competing in Rio, but it’s unlikely. He’s been working with a young horse named Teddy who will be jumping this week at Spruce Meadows, and Millar said that if things go extremely well there’s a chance that he would bring Teddy to Brazil.

But competing at the Olympics is a tall task for even the most accomplished champion horses. Between the team and individual competitions and depending on jump-offs, a horse-rider combinations can end up competing as many as six times, all on courses designed to test the very best in the world.

Bringing a horse to the Olympics that isn’t prepared for that level can be dangerous for the animal and damaging to both its confidence and its career, so Millar said he’ll be cautious no matter what happens.

“It’s a long trip and it’s a different place and if you ever get into trouble down there you wouldn’t have access to your regular veterinary people who have worked on the horse,” Millar said.

For the group of riders who weren’t included on last year’s Pan-Am Games team, though, a window of opportunity has opened up.

Chad has represented Canada at several Nations Cup events and proved she could compete — and beat — the sport’s elite when she won her first ever competition in the International Ring last summer by putting up the fastest time in the jump-off in the 1.50-metre TD Cup.

“(The Olympics) are very much on my mind, I’m honestly grateful for the opportunity and that I’m being considered to even be on the team,” Chad said. “I’m by far one of the most inexperienced and youngest that’s being considered, so I always keep that on my mind, but also, I have a great team behind me, a great coach in Eric Lamaze and the set-up is there to kind of push me into the spotlight or into that position.”


Calgary Herald - Jun 7, 2016

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