Written by: Pamela Young
Is a return to the Olympic podium on the horizon for Ben Maher?
Benjamin Richard “Ben” Maher, Member of the Order of the British Empire and leader of the Longines Global Champions Tour rankings, is as hot as hot can be. Not in the George Clooney sense of the word (although Ben is no slouch on that front) but because he stands out as one of the most, if not the most successful five-star riders of the summer season. Best of all, and certainly with Tokyo 2020 on the horizon, some of his finest results, including grand prix wins in St. Tropez, Madrid, and Paris have been achieved with nine-year-old horses.
The 35-year-old former Pony and Young Rider European champion has won over one million dollars (€692,980) in prize money in the last six months – close to half a million more than his closest rival on the circuit, world number one Harrie Smolders.
Maher (pronounced Mayer) hasn’t seen a season like this since the heady days following the glory of London 2012. Following that historic Olympic gold medal, Britain’s first for 60 years, his business acumen and beneficial relationships with Jane Forbes Clark and more recently with Poden Farms have enhanced his horsepower. Clark was so enamored with his masterful touch she even gave up her position as CEO and president of the USEF after hiring the Brit to take over the reins on her horses.
Her confidence was soon rewarded. The individual silver and team gold at the 2013 European championships with Clark’s Cella led to a world number one ranking and earned Clark the international Show Jumping Owner of the Year trophy.
What is your typical day/week like?
We start every day at 7:30 a.m. with training. We always aim to be finished at 1:00 p.m. so that there is time to do other things that need to be done. In the afternoon the horses are turned out to pasture; all apart from Explosion; he lives up to his name! We keep him on a long rein. At home in the UK we are normally off to a show on Wednesdays and get back late Sunday night.
How many generations of your family have been horse lovers and how did you get your start?
None. My mother had a horse. It was just a hobby and she would do a little show jumping. When I was eight I had a small pony and did some cross-country. I was really bad; I was small and weak, but I was determined and never gave up.
Can you identify a turning point in your career when you said to yourself, ‘I can do this’?
Actually, I tell myself every day. But I think the turning point was when I won the Hickstead Derby when I was 21 years old. People started to pay attention and I got to ride more horses.
Were sacrifices made along the way?
You have to sacrifice everything, really. It is difficult to find a healthy balance between work and social life. I am addicted to what I do. I am trying to take Mondays off to spend some time with my girlfriend and dog or go to the cinema, for instance.
Tell us something that would surprise people about you.
I think I am not easy to work with. I expect the same dedication and focus on details as I have from the people on my team. Everything must be done quickly and now. They are doing a great job.
If you could re-do six months of your life, when would that be?
The period I decided to get married. That was a big mistake. [Ed. Ben married former model Kathleen Baker in 2009. They were divorced 22 months later.]
Horsepower aside, you must be ultra-competitive by nature, but is there another ingredient that gives you an edge?
You have to be measured. For example, I have a different goal when I compete in the LGCT – then I want to win the grand prix. When I compete at the smaller shows with young horses, I am happy when they jump a good round.
How would you describe your personality?
I have a very dry sense of humoor and I can be a little intense. My team says I have multiple personalities.
If life hadn’t taken you where it has, is there another profession that would have inspired you?
In sports I would have tried to get into Formula 1 racing. Otherwise building or interior design.
Where is your favourite place in the world?
Home. We travel so much, it is always great to be home.
Where would you most like to go that you haven’t been?
On safari in South Africa.
When and where did you last go on vacation?
I actually had a two-day holiday last week in Scotland at Gleneagles [golf resort]. It was very impressive.
Do you have a fitness regimen?
I had some back troubles in 2017 and in January of this year I started a program of stretching and swimming. I am trying to stick to that.
Can you recommend a book or movie you have read or seen recently?
I don’t read books. I recently watched When Harry Met Sally. That was a nice film.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Chocolate and Coca-Cola. Nobody is allowed to bring them to the stables. If they do, I will eat and drink it all!
If you had a life lesson to share, what would it be?
It is a bit of a cliché, but if you work hard you can achieve whatever you want.
If you were having a dinner party and could choose four celebrity guests, living or dead, who would you invite?
Denzel Washington, Amy Schumer, Gisele Bündchen (it is always nice to look at someone good-looking when you are having dinner ) and Beyoncé.
Money or medals – which is more important to you?
What’s on the horizon for you for the rest of 2018?
Winning the Longines Global Champions Tour Final in Prague.
If a genie were to give you three wishes, what would you wish for?
Healthy horses … and becoming Olympic champion. I do not have to wish for much. I already do what I love best and I am grateful for that.