Six months ago, David Marcus was not on the radar to go to the Olympics in London. But now he's Canada's No. 2 dressage rider and on the team.
He was an American living in Canada with a nice little business riding, training, and selling dressage horses and coaching students in a bucolic setting near Campbellville, Ont.
Then one day, Deborah Miculinic gave him a call. An owner of successful standardbred racehorses, she wanted to revisit her childhood hobby of riding dressage horses. And she wanted Marcus to find her a kind horse. She had gone online, researching dressage trainers. His name came up.
He didn't find her one right away. A week went by, then two. "Where is this kid?" said Miculinic, chairman and chief executive officer of Skilcor Northbud, a company that produces portion-controlled, ready-to-eat foods.
Marcus told her that he hadn't called her because he hadn't found a horse for her. "I won't sell you something that I can't honestly tell you is safe for you and that I know you're going to have fun with," he told her.
Miculinic was pleased. "That guy is the most honest guy I've ever met," she enthused. "He could have sold me 10 horses over. It wouldn't have mattered. I would have bought."
Marcus eventually found a horse for her, and then in December of 2010, he found another one in Denmark. Chevri's Capital had just started to learn Grand Prix skills and Marcus figured he'd finish developing him, and sell him for a profit for Miculinic.
Then some time last year, he confided in Miculinic that he wanted to gain his Canadian citizenship. Born in Omaha, Neb., Marcus competed five times at the North American Young Rider Championships, but with a scarcity of high-level dressage coaches in Nebraska, he came to Canada for some clinics with Neil and Cindy Ishoy, who was known for placing fourth individually at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.
Once Marcus got to Canada, he just never left. He was 18 when he came north.
He earned an economics degree at McMaster University in Hamilton. He says he thinks of himself as Canadian, having been here his whole adult life. He's now 32.
Marcus gained his Canadian citizenship on Dec. 28, 2011, just three days before the deadline to ride for a Canadian Olympic team. Next step? Markus decided to pay the fees that would ally him to declare himself as a candidate for the team.
He and Miculinic looked at each other.
"Yeah, but we don't have a Grand Prix horse," they said.
Well, there was Chevri's Capital, but although he's 12, he was an inexperienced horse, a long shot. He was just learning difficult Grand Prix moves and usually it takes a couple of years for horses to master them. He was running out of time.
Marcus sent the horse to six-time U.S. Olympian Robert Dover for a crash course in Florida over the winter.
The first Grand Prix tournament for both of them was in Florida last January. "I'll never forget," Miculinic said. "His score was pathetic. It was like 52." Markus was discouraged. "Give yourself a chance," Miculinic told him.
Before long, Chevri's Capital and Marcus started to win almost every class they entered, consistently scoring 70 per cent. They defeated the Pan American Games gold medalist. He defeated his teammates. By the deadline, Marcus ranked second among Canadians. Three team members go to London.
"It's been a dramatic rise for him, for sure," said Christine Peters, manager of dressage for Equine Canada. "It was quite unexpected in the beginning, because it was the first year Grand Prix for both rider and horse. He's been a standout for Canada this year."
The best is yet to come. "I would think that my horse has the ability to be up there at the top of the world, eventually," Marcus said. "He's so competitive already."
And if their rise has come as a surprise to many, Marcus's sister, Lauren, never doubted it. When Marcus told her that he had thrown his hat into the ring as a potential Canadian candidate last December, Lauren booked time off from her job as an ultrasound technician.
"If you go [to the Olympics,] I'm not missing it," she said.