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Eric Lamaze of CAN riding Derly Chin De Muze during the CN Reliability GrandPrix World Cup Qualifier at the Spruce Meadows National. (MIKE STURK/Spruce Meadows Media Services.)
Eric Lamaze of CAN riding Derly Chin De Muze during the CN Reliability GrandPrix World Cup Qualifier at the Spruce Meadows National. (MIKE STURK/Spruce Meadows Media Services.)

Beverley Smith

Building a relationship of trust between horse and rider Add to ...

Derly Chin is already in Europe, and Mr. Lamaze has mapped out a plan to erase the surprises of Spruce Meadows. He’ll take her to some smaller shows in the Netherlands and in Italy to help her find her confidence again on a simpler course with less pressure.

“You have to see what happens in the next two weeks,” he said. “There’s no certainty of anything. You have to regroup and do the best you can to help your country.”

Mr. Lamaze said this Olympic Games will give him a chance to give back to the sport, to help Canada be on a show-jumping podium again as a team. He led the team to a silver medal four years ago.

“I think I can help Canada do something very good,” he said. “I would not go if I thought there was a better person in the back [the alternate rider] that could do better than me.”

But the odds, for now, are against him. Derly Chin de Muze reminded him of that.

LETTING THE HORSE LEAD

In the beginning, Eric Lamaze and his famed Olympic champion mount, Hickstead, were not a match made in heaven. At one point, he was so frustrated with the willful stallion, which tended to be unpredictable, that he considered giving up on him.

But eventually, Mr. Lamaze learned that to get along with Hickstead, there had to be give and take. Give Hickstead a little of what he wants, and he’ll return the favour.

“There were buttons we couldn’t push,” Mr. Lamaze said.

Logic would say that Hickstead needed a strong bit in his mouth to exert control, but the horse would have none of it. When Mr. Lamaze backed off, and used a less aggressive bit, Hickstead became a partner and returned the kindness. It did take a long time for the pair to become a team, however, as Mr. Lamaze experimented with different bits.

Hickstead, too, used to refuse jumps. Ironically, when he was nine years old – the same age as Mr. Lamaze’s new horse, Derly Chin de Muze – he also refused obstacles in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Spruce Meadows near Calgary. In fact, he refused two jumps and was eliminated. Lamaze’s new Olympic mount, Derly Chin de Muze is also 9 years old, and refused a jump at the same event last weekend.

“People laugh and they say that I was in the same position with Hickstead,” Mr. Lamaze said, recalling his disappointment after Derly’s refusal to jump on Sunday.

CARROT OVER STICK

David Marcus's biggest problem with Chevri's Capital, the mount he is bringing to London, was that he was an inexperienced partner in dressage, a sport where the horse-rider partnership is paramount. The horse must follow unseen commands from the rider to perform difficult manoeuvres in the ring such as a piaffe (trot on the spot) or passage (a highly extended trot), all moves that are not natural to horses. It often takes years for the horse to learn the cues.

Mr. Marcus and Chevri's Capital started doing top-level dressage only six months ago, and have defied all expectations to make the Olympic team for London. And Mr. Marcus did it by becoming a bit of a horse psychologist to persuade his mount to do moves horses don't usually do.

“You have to figure out what makes them tick,” he said.

Mr. Marcus says a system of positive reinforcement for the horse, taught by U.S. Olympian Robert Dover, has helped him and his young, inexperienced mount qualify. for the Olympics even though they started competing at the top level only six months ago. Theirs is an unusually quick rise to the top level.

As Mr. Marcus rides his horse around the ring at his Campbellville, Ont., arena, he does not hesitate to reward the horse with his voice after a snappy extended trot. Mr. Dover, he said, always trains the horse with a lot of praise, and makes them understand what he wants, rather than to force them into a move. “You have to get into their heads a little bit,” Mr. Marcus said.

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