Written by: Jennifer Ward

Canada’s highest ranked rider in the FEI World Dressage Rankings has finished grieving for his first major games experience and is firmly focused on the next.

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Susan Stickle photo

“When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” Never has an old adage been more applicable than to the circumstances Canadian dressage rider David Marcus faced at the 2012 London Olympic Games.

In their Olympic debut, David and Chrevi’s Capital proudly came down the centerline in Greenwich Park. The pair looked composed and confident as they began their test, undeterred by the light rain, as an audience of 23,000 towered around the stadium and television cameras filmed the action for millions more spectators watching around the world.

In an instant, the rain became a torrential downpour and spectators opened umbrellas or flocked for cover, creating a sea of movement and a loud din on the metal scaffolding.

In the center of the ring, Capital spooked and refused to go forward. In what surely must have felt like the longest 20 seconds of his rider’s life, Capital reared and careened before the judge at “C” rang the bell, eliminating David and Capital, and subsequently the entire Canadian dressage team, from the Olympics.

Stimulus Overload

In the hours, days and months that would follow, David, 33, proved himself a true sportsman, gaining the respect of his teammates, his colleagues, and even the notoriously hard to impress media. While he had every reason to escape back to the barn after being disqualified, David instead faced the music, candidly explaining that he didn’t know what had gone wrong. He didn’t blame the crowd for putting up umbrellas, and he didn’t blame the TV cameras positioned around the ring, covered with flapping plastic hoods to keep them dry. Most importantly, he didn’t blame his horse.

“It was just stimulus overload,” David said of the conditions. “Capital couldn’t concentrate and when he lost concentration, he went into “panic mode” and was petrified beyond reason. When I watched the video play back, I realized how extreme the weather was that we had to ride in – rain, wind, hail. It was weather that I would not turn my horse out in, let alone ask him to perform at his best at the Olympic Games.”

“I wasn’t angry or upset with my horse,” he confirmed. “I was just shocked and disappointed, not only for myself, but for our team and our country. I really felt like it was out of my control. I’m not sure if or what I could have done differently.”

Grieve But Don’t Dwell

After an evening spent commiserating with his family and friends about the unfortunate turn of events, David opted to put the past behind him and started looking forward to his next goal, the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

“It had happened and now it was time to figure out how to move forward,” said David in his usual no-nonsense manner. “While grieving is an important part of the process, it’s also important not to dwell. So, I got on my horse and started training again with my eyes set on the World Equestrian Games in France.”

Just two months after their Olympic disappointment, David and Capital won the Grand Prix at Dressage at Devon, known for its large crowds and electric atmosphere. A year ago last January they were the top-placed Canadians at the invitation-only World Dressage Masters at Palm Beach. A week later, the pair won the Grand Prix and Grand Prix Freestyle, with their highest score to date (74.45%), at a World Cup qualifier in Wellington.

“I’m not nervous to put him into those situations,” said David candidly. “He has to keep going into those types of circumstances to get used to it and gain confidence. It’s part of his development as an international competitor.”

Their partnership was further solidified at the end of 2013 when, in front of a packed house at Toronto’s Royal Horse Show, David and Capital won the Grand Prix for the $20,000 Royal Invitational Dressage Cup. David was also presented with the Ian Nicoll Memorial Trophy as the highest-ranked Canadian rider in the FEI World Dressage Rankings while his owner, Deborah Kinzinger, was recognized as the 2013 Dressage Canada Owner of the Year.

A year and a half later, one could say that David and Capital’s partnership was strengthened by what happened in London.

“It made me put a lot more thought into the next steps going forward,” said David. “I thought about how we could have positive experiences, and which situations could hurt his confidence. It made me more compassionate towards him.”

A Winning Partnership

Through the highs and lows, David has had the full support of Deborah Kinzinger. Having been involved in standardbred racing, even owning the 1999 O’Brien Award winner, Latest Chapter, Deborah decided on her 50th birthday to return to her childhood passion of riding. Within the space of two years she had gone from Googling trainers in her area to having a horse on the Canadian Olympic Team. While the experience could have been memorable for all the wrong reasons, Deborah, like David, is empathetic to the fact that horses will be horses.

“London was a huge disappointment, but I had been involved with race horses for so long that I know how it goes,” says Deborah realistically. “You think you’ll have the winner and then something happens and they can’t race that day. You learn to live with disappointments.”

Deborah’s faith in David and Capital was rewarded when the pair topped the 2012/2013 North American World Cup standings which qualified them for the 2013 World Cup Final in Sweden. While David opted not to compete, instead keeping his focus on the 2014 World Equestrian Games, the achievement was further proof of their potential on the international stage.

On The Home Front

Raised in Nebraska where his mother introduced him to riding, David moved to Canada to attend university and trained under 1988 Canadian Olympic team bronze medalist Cindy Ishoy and her husband, Neil. With five North American Young Riders’ Championship appearances to his credit, including winning silver and bronze medals and the Capt DeSzinay Memorial Sportsmanship Award, David opted to remain in the area after university and open his own business. At the end of 2011, having lived in Canada for more than 10 years, he obtained Canadian citizenship just in time to be eligible for selection to the Canadian Olympic Team.

At his training center, David Marcus Dressage, located 45 minutes west of Toronto, David has approximately 18 horses in training at any one time. His days are spent riding and coaching alongside his partner of three years, Australian international Grand Prix rider Nicholas Fyffe.

In the winter, David and his team migrate south to Wellington, Florida, where international competition is available in abundance. Based at Tuny Page’s Stillpoint Farm, David now works with Israeli trainer, Oded Shimoni, having trained with Robert Dover for several years before he was named the U.S. team coach.

In addition to Chrevi’s Capital, a 13-year-old Danish-bred gelding (Chrevi’s Cavallo x Weinberg), David also competes Don Kontes at the Grand Prix level. While this Swedish Warmblood gelding by Don Schufro was originally intended for Deborah, she recognized that the horse could be developed to its full potential under David. Deborah also owns young horses that David is campaigning in the FEI Young Horse divisions, as well as broodmares and young stock, the latter of which will eventually come into David’s program for evaluation.

“First and foremost, David is a wonderful rider and trainer,” says Deborah of their partnership. “I like how he looks after my horses as if they are his own. He is so talented, and he’s got an incredible eye for horses.”

When asked what he thinks the key is to their successful partnership, David answers, “Honesty and communication. That’s not to say that we haven’t agreed or disagreed in the past, but as long as we keep the lines of communication open, I think it strengthens our relationship. We’re a great team in that way. I couldn’t do it without her.”

Deborah’s contagious enthusiasm has recently spread beyond her partnership with David to the national dressage program in Canada, where she has developed the Canadian Dressage Athlete Assistance Program to financially support riders who have the potential to represent their country.

Role Model

Having being thrust into the limelight in London, David has become somewhat of an ambassador for dressage. He is the model for the 2014 Adequan Global Dressage Festival official poster and often is invited to participate in demonstrations and charity events as a dressage personality. His public profile has attracted a number of sponsors including EquineLux saddle pads, Neue Schule bits, SSG Gloves, and Trilogy saddles.

David balances his public appearances with coaching, a demanding clinic schedule, and his own training.

“Last year, Capital, with the exception of one competition, always scored over 70% in the Grand Prix,’ said David. ‘My goal is to maintain that consistency and squeeze out a few extra points, which I think he is more than capable of. I’m really excited about the way that he has been progressing in his training; he’s really been improving in his piaffe and passage work. I’m hoping that with the new co-efficient that has been introduced for piaffe, it will be useful for our scores as the piaffe is one of our strengths.”

A year and a half after his first major games experience, David remains focused on representing Canada this summer in Normandy with Capital, with his secondary goal being to qualify Don Kontes for April’s World Cup Final in Lyon.

David’s trials and tribulations on his road to success are perhaps best summed up by his owner.

“David was able to pick himself up, dust himself off, and go back out there and win in Devon, win in Florida, be number one in the World Cup rankings and show everyone how good he and Capital really are,” said Deborah. “That’s the epitome of taking a massive disappointment and putting it behind us. We learn from it, and we move forward.”