Eric Lamaze will ride again.
The 43-year-old show-jumper from Schomberg, Ont., spoke of retirement after his Olympic champion mount, Hickstead, died of a ruptured aorta in the show ring in Italy last October.
But a little nudge from one of his supporters, Andrew Ziegler, convinced Lamaze that he should try for another Olympic Games. And he has not one, but two new horses that could take him there.
“After what happened, you can either fold in and say we’ll never find another horse like that – and for sure you never would,” said Lamaze, devastated after the death of the horse that won him an Olympic gold medal and a No. 1 world ranking. “But we’ve made a decision to go on and give it a few years anyway, and then for sure make London. And then make a decision after London.”
Lamaze said the first decision he made after he left Canada last November for Florida, where he spends the winter, was whether to go for the Olympics at all. “It’s hard to redo what I’ve already done with Hickstead,” he said. “To put yourself in that situation, I needed a little push to want to do it.
“My first instinct was the opposite. I think if people want to support you and push you, at that point, it’s an easy decision to make.”
Ziegler, an American who owns some of the horses that Lamaze rides, was one of the people who convinced Lamaze that it was a sport that he loved and had a passion for.
And it was Ziegler who purchased Lamaze’s two new prospects: Verdi, a flashy grey gelding previously ridden by young Dutch rider Stephanie Van Den Brink, and a 10-year-old mare, Luikka, formerly ridden by Irishman Shane Breen.
Ziegler is co-founder and managing partner for Artisan Partners, a money-management company that manages about $57-billion for clients around the world. His daughter, Caitlin, is a young, promising rider who trains with Lamaze.
Lamaze saw both horses compete with their former riders at the Spruce Meadows Masters tournament last fall in Calgary. He’s especially excited about Verdi, an experienced horse that is ready for the rigours of Olympic competition.
“He’s really careful,” Lamaze said. He likes the fact that he has competed in some big classes, but he hasn’t been used hard on Nations Cup global tours. “It’s really coming up to the year where he’s ready to do some bigger things. Hopefully, I’m right about it,” he said.
John Fleishhacker, the owner of Hickstead, also gave Lamaze a horse to ride immediately after Hickstead died. The horse, named Derly Chin de Muze is a mare that also has ability. In all, Lamaze has picked up eight new horses, mostly from Ziegler’s Artisan Farms, but they are all at various levels of development.
Luikka is still in quarantine in Florida after arriving from Europe, and Lamaze likes her because she has the ability to jump huge obstacles and is very “brave.” He sees her as his backup horse, but then he does not know how their partnerships will develop. Luikka is really intended to be the mount of Caitlin Ziegler after the 2012 season.
Lamaze hasn’t ridden either of them yet. He’s given Verdi time off after a long season. He’ll start riding them and training them in a few weeks. He thinks he’ll compete in a show-jumping event in Wellington, Fla., next Thursday with Derly Chin.
For now, he spends 80 per cent of his time teaching young riders in Florida and riding the rest of the time.
There are no guarantees with horses, but Lamaze is pleased that he has an Olympic chance now. “I consider my chances good,” he said. “I just didn’t get a horse to get a horse. I think I got some good horses and I have some really nice ones coming up as well.
“So it’s pretty exciting and we’ll just have to get started.”