After months of training, competing and contemplating, Olympic show-jumping champion Eric Lamaze has decided which horse he will ride at the London Summer Games.
Nine-year-old mare Derly Chin de Muze will take the place of Lamaze's celebrated Hickstead, which died of a ruptured aorta in the show ring last year in Europe.
Hickstead helped make Lamaze the No. 1 rider in the world, and also carried the Canadian to individual gold in Hong Kong four years ago.
On Thursday, the Montreal native was nominated to the 2012 Canadian Olympic team, along with Ian Millar of Perth, Ont. (riding Star Power), Jill Henselwood of Oxford Mills, Ont. (on George), and Tiffany Foster of Schomberg, Ont. (on Victor).
Yann Candele of Caledon, Ont., is the alternate. He and mare Carlotta Singular la Magnifica will also travel to London.
Three of the riders (Lamaze, Millar and Henselwood) were on the Canadian squad at the 2008 Olympics that won a silver medal in the team jumping event, although they are now on different horses.
Lamaze will be gambling on the abilities of a mare that is young and inexperienced, by Olympic standards, to defend his title in London.
"I'm realistic and respectful of my horse's age and lack of experience," Lamaze said Thursday in Calgary. "I can't go with the same certainty I had in Hong Kong. I went into Hong Kong on one of the best horses in the world.
"I just don't want anybody to think unless I win a medal, this will be a disappointment. It's not going to be a disappointment."
The veteran rider decided to go with Derly Chin de Muze because of impressive results this season. He hasn't ridden the other horse previously under consideration, 10-year-old gelding Verdi, as much, chef d'équipe Terrance Millar said.
In Lamaze's hands, Derly Chin de Muze made the jump-off round for the $200,000 CN Reliability Grand Prix at Spruce Meadows in Calgary a month ago.
Terrance Millar said it would be more ideal if Derly Chin de Muze had another year of international experience, but the horse is special enough to warrant the trip to London.
"Even though she lacks a bit of experience, she's as good a nine-year-old as you can find anywhere on the planet," he said. "You match her up with as good a rider as you can find on the planet, and anything can happen. She's an exceptional horse."
Derly Chin de Muze is also very athletic and can handle the big jumps ahead in London.
Although the members of the team are on developing horses, Millar said Canada will still field a very competitive group of show jumpers.
Ian Millar's horse, Star Power, has been competing well this year. Henselwood's George is "a bit of a handful" and easily distracted, but Henselwood is a talented trainer. And although Foster competed at her first Nations Cup for Canada at Spruce Meadows last year, she's shown poise under pressure.
"All in all, when you take Hickstead out of the equation, it's like taking a nuclear component out of your arsenal," Terrance Millar said. "But we are not going to London, holding our heads and thinking: 'Gosh, this is not going to be good.' "