Looking forward to the 2012 competition season, reigning Olympic champion Eric Lamaze has added several new horses to his show jumping stable following the tragic loss of his 2008 Olympic gold and team silver medal partner, Hickstead, in November.
Lamaze, 43, of Schomberg, ON, has acquired seven new horses. Five were registered as Canadian-owned by December 31, 2011, as per International Equestrian Federation (FEI) requirements, in order to be eligible for the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Three of Lamaze’s new horses are Olympic hopefuls. Verdi is a 10-year-old grey Dutch Warmblood gelding (Heartbreaker x Mr. Blue) acquired from Stephanie van den Brink of The Netherlands while Luikka, a 10-year-old Anglo European mare (Luidam x Renville), was formerly owned and ridden by Shane Breen of Great Britain. Both Verdi and Luikka are owned by Carlene and Andy Ziegler’s Artisan Farms of Wellington, FL, in partnership with Lamaze’s Torrey Pines Stable.
The third Olympic prospect, Derly Chin de Muze, is a nine-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare (For Pleasure x Nabab de Reve) that Lamaze owns in partnership with John Fleischhacker’s Ashland Stables, who also owned Hickstead. Fleischhacker’s daughter, Ashley, trains with Lamaze and is currently competing under his tutelage this winter in Wellington, Florida.
“There is still a long way to go before London, but these are the three horses that we are targeting towards the Olympic Games,” said Lamaze, who suffered a shocking and emotional loss when Hickstead collapsed and died of a heart attack during a World Cup qualifying competition in Verona, Italy, on November 6. “Losing Hickstead was obviously very difficult, but with these new horses, the Olympics can now very much be a reality again. I am really excited for the future.”
Two new eight-year-olds have found their way into Lamaze’s stable. Hunter’s Scendix, a Hannoverian stallion (Stakkato x Dinar), is co-owned by Torrey Pines Stable and LVS Hunters of Belgium while Wang Chung M2S, a Dutch Warmblood stallion (Royal Bravour x Ahorn), is co-owned by Torrey Pines Stable and breeder Tom Reed of Morningside Stud in Ireland.
Lamaze also has two new seven-year-old horses that he considers to be exciting prospects for the future. Both owned by Artisan Farms, Cachaca 4 is a Westphalian stallion (Cornet Obolensky x Pinocchio) while Evano S is a Belgian Warmblood gelding (Nabab de Reve x Mellinor).
Lamaze is currently in Wellington, Florida, for the 12-week Winter Equestrian Festival running through April. Olympic observations trials will take place during this time for potential Canadian Show Jumping Team members hoping to earn a ticket to London.
Coaching is also a major commitment for Lamaze and several top show jumping athletes train with him including 17-year-old Caitlin Ziegler of Mequon, Wisconsin. In 2011, Caitlin Ziegler made history at Spruce Meadows in Calgary, Canada, by becoming the youngest rider to ever win in the International Ring, claiming victory in the $31,000 1.50m AON Cup. This season, her mounts include Valencia, Touch Down, Take Off, Dollar Van’T Eigenlo DH, Butragenia, VDL Groep Camara, and Herald 3.
“Caitlin is a very good up-and-coming rider who made her mark last year, and will continue to do so this year now that she is able to do some bigger classes,” said coach Lamaze, noting that age restrictions prevented Caitlin from competing above the two-star grand prix level last year. Lamaze also trains Caitlin’s father, Andy Ziegler, who competes in the Masters division despite only taking up the sport a few short years ago.
Tiffany Foster, 27, is a short listed Canadian Show Jumping Team member who trains with Lamaze. After making her Nations’ Cup debut for Canada at the 2011 Spruce Meadows “Masters” Tournament, Foster was subsequently named to the winning Canadian team for the Buenos Aires Nations’ Cup in November. Foster has declared Southwind VDL and Victor for 2012 Olympic consideration, and will also ride Quilea de St. Druon, Vitesse, and Whitney this season.
“I would say I spend 80 percent of my time teaching and coaching and the other 20 percent riding,” explained Lamaze who also coaches Colombia’s Daniel Bluman, who placed seventh at the recent 2011 Pan American Games to earn an individual berth for the London Olympics, and Alexandra Paillot of France whose father, Christian Paillot, is Chair of FEI Group I. “We definitely have one of the biggest teams of people competing at the grand prix level, and a really great support staff who make it all possible.”
The logistics of running a successful show jumping stable involve a team of several key players. Venezuela’s Alejandro Karolyi has been working with Lamaze since 2009 and has become an integral member of the Torrey Pines team.
“Alejandro sources and buys horses for Torrey Pines Stable to invest in, develop, and potentially sell,” explained Lamaze. “He also shows some of our horses, including Vichy in the 1.50m classes, as well as a nice young horse owned by Steve Cohen of New Zealand.”
Following the Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida, the entire team will move to Belgium in April, returning only to North America for the Spruce Meadows summer tournaments in Calgary, Canada. In order to pursue their international show jumping careers, Lamaze and his students will be based at a new stable outside Antwerp that was recently purchased by Carlene and Andy Ziegler.
“The purpose of having a base in Europe is to give Caitlin and Tiffany the best experience and the best exposure that they can get,” explained Lamaze, who first began basing himself in Europe in 2006 as part of his 2008 Olympic plan. “The sport is played at the highest level in Europe, and that is why we are making the move to have everyone based there.”
For six consecutive months during the 2011 season, Lamaze was ranked number one in the Rolex Rider Rankings. At the end of 2008, the year he won Individual Gold and Team Silver medals at the Beijing Olympics, Lamaze became the first Canadian rider to reach number one in the revamped world rankings.
In the Rolex Rider Rankings, riders earn points – the number of which depends on the level of competition and prize money – when they compete in FEI-ranked team and individual events throughout the year. The rankings are updated weekly and released at the start of each month. The system for calculating points has undergone changes in recent years. Under the old system, Ian Millar was the first Canadian rider to ever reach number one in the world in 1987. He topped the rankings again two years later, in 1989. This was an impressive feat, considering that Millar gained most of his points in North America, where there were fewer FEI-ranked events than are available today.