Wellington, Florida – Canada’s Eric Lamaze marked a career year in 2016 by adding even more medals and accolades to his already impressive list of accomplishments. As much as individual titles are meaningful, it is teamwork that truly drives the 2008 Olympic Champion.
The stage was set for success when, a year earlier, the Canadian Show Jumping Team claimed the gold medal in front of a home crowd at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, Canada. There was only one starting position for the 2016 Olympic Games up for the whole of North, Central and South America, and Canada clinched it with its gold medal performance.
“The Pan Am Games were super important because it was our only chance to qualify for the Olympics; it was absolutely crucial that we put in a good performance,” explained Lamaze of the event that was the catalyst for 2016.
Good riders need good horses, and while Lamaze and his teammate Tiffany Foster were strongly supported by their owners – Andy and Carlene Ziegler of Artisan Farms – Lamaze made it his mission to find major games horse power to put under Yann Candele. That meant approaching potential investors, and the Watermark Group was quickly formed to purchase Showgirl, later followed by First Choice 15 and Happiness. With a group committed to the cause, a small share of ownership for each of them meant big support for Candele, and for the rest of the Canadian Team.
“Canada had a great rider in Yann Candele, but he didn’t have the horses,” said Lamaze. “When the opportunity to purchase Showgirl came about, Jennifer Rogers and John Edwards quickly stepped up to the plate, along with Deborah Roy and Artisan Farms. When the time came to invest in new horses, we were able to expand the circle of support. As a result, Yann was able to put in very good performances, helping Canada achieve great results at the World Equestrian Games, Pan Am Games, and Olympic Games.
Additional investors for First Choice 15 and Happiness included Janice Aron, Susan Chu, and Moffat Dunlap.
“Watermark Group has been a big part of what we, as Canadians, have been able to achieve on the international scene,” Lamaze emphasized. “We are truly grateful for their support, which was not just financial, but they supported us by coming to watch, and by being there at major events to cheer us on. A small investment allowed so many people to support Yann, to support Canada, and to own an Olympic horse. So much camaraderie was created by the members coming to Rio to support Yann and First Choice.”
While having strong teammates was a priority, Lamaze also focused on managing the show schedule of his selected Olympic mount, Fine Lady 5. With other horses in his stable able to jump in grand prix and Nations’ Cup events, Lamaze was able to carefully select Fine Lady 5’s classes to have her in top form for Olympic competition.
“Everything with Fine Lady’s season was based around the Olympics,” said Lamaze of the 13-year-old Hanoverian mare (Forsyth x Drosselklang II) owned by Artisan Farms. “It was a well-planned season; even winning two classes at Aachen but not doing the grand prix in July was all part of the careful preparation. I had a plan, and it paid off. Sometimes it doesn’t go your way regardless of everything you do right but, in this case, it really worked. Everything went my way.”
Lamaze and Fine Lady 5 arrived in Rio and blew the competition away as the only pair to jump five clear rounds and leading Canada into a jump-off against Germany for the team bronze medal.
“For us Canadians to have been jumping off against Germany for the bronze medal was a victory in itself!” said Lamaze. “We had Yann’s horse that is not so fast and Amy Millar’s was a young horse, but to be in that position was, for us, a victory.
“Yann sacrificed his whole year with First Choice to be there for us at the Olympics, and Tiffany has really come into her own and is a very strong teammate. Amy was at her first Olympics riding a nine-year-old horse, and she did everything right to prepare – she came to Europe, she jumped in the Nations’ Cup at Aachen. The effort that everyone put forth for the Canadian team was very impressive, and I am very proud of everybody and how we all worked together.”
With Canada finishing fourth in the team standings, the weight of a nation now rested on Lamaze’s shoulders. Canadian fans reminisced about his incredible gold medal victory with Hickstead at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and, having witnessed Fine Lady’s incredible form, hoped for a repeat performance in the individual final.
The pair jumped both rounds of the individual final clear, but so did six other horse-rider combinations to force an all-deciding jump-off for the medals. While they would have had the winning time, a rail down at the penultimate fence gave Lamaze the individual bronze while his long-time friend, Nick Skelton, claimed the gold for Great Britain aboard Big Star. Added to his individual gold and team silver from Beijing, Lamaze has now won an Olympic medal in every colour for Canada, setting a record for the most Olympic medals ever won by a Canadian equestrian athlete.
“Fine Lady’s performance, in my opinion, made her the best horse at the Olympic Games,” said Lamaze, 48. “She delivered round after round of impressive jumping. It really showed the heart that she has. It’s one thing to jump a clear round at the Olympics, it’s another to jump five of them!
“For an animal to come into its own like that, so on point and so full of confidence, was incredible,” he continued. “She gave me confidence that we could do it because she had confidence. I will always remember her as being the best horse at the Rio Olympics.”
Another great memory that Lamaze treasures from Rio is the support that he, and the entire Canadian team, received.
“When we went into the arena, seeing all the Canadian flags in the air gave us an extra boost of support,” he said fondly. “We really saw their energy, and it transferred into us wanting to do even better. I could see Carlene Ziegler, I could see Kim Kirton, and so many members of the Watermark Group. It meant so much for those people to support us the way that they did. Looking up in the stands and seeing familiar faces brought a smile to my face and made me feel great about what we were achieving. That is a memory I will always cherish.”
Lamaze reserved the greatest gratitude for Andy and Carlene Ziegler, whose generous and unwavering support following the sudden death of Hickstead allowed him to come back from tragedy and once again stand on the Olympic podium.
“The Olympic medal from Rio is every part theirs,” said Lamaze of the Ziegler family, who were recently named the Jump Canada ‘Owner of the Year’ for a record fourth time. “They did everything they could to provide us with the best horses with the Olympic Games always being the goal. I am very happy that we could achieve the goal that we set for ourselves at a time when, for me, it was hard to believe it would ever be possible. We would be nothing without Andy and Carlene’s support.”
Lamaze and Fine Lady 5 closed out their year with a thrilling win in the €300,000 Rolex Top Ten Final on December 9, in Geneva, Switzerland.
“It was a touching moment for me,” said Lamaze, who had contested the Rolex IJRC Top Ten Final four previous times in his career. “It brought back so many memories with Hickstead, and the days when I was in the top ten in the world. It was a competition where we always came close, but I was never able to win it with him.
“It was a title that I was very happy to add to my accomplishments,” said Lamaze, a Rolex testimonee who is also sponsored by Bruno Delgrange, Dy’on, Samshield, and SSG Gloves. “You are competing against the ten best horses in the world on their best horses. To be the only Canadian to have ever participated is something, but to bring the title back to Canada was very special. I hope that seeing a Canadian win that competition is inspiring not just to every Canadian rider, but also to every young person who is looking to move up in the sport.”
Looking to 2017, Lamaze will begin the year competing at the 12-week Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) in Wellington, FL. In addition to Fine Lady 5, Lamaze has high hopes for Chacco Kid, a ten-year-old chestnut Oldenburg gelding (Chacco Blue x Come On) purchased during the 2016 WEF season by Rick and Sara Mershad, Ludi and Carol Sollak, and Andy and Carlene Ziegler.
“One of the reasons we were able to prepare Fine Lady so successfully for Rio was due to my other horses all playing a part in giving her some relief,” explained Lamaze. “She was able to skip some Nations’ Cup competitions thanks to the Chacco Kid Group supporting me by purchasing this incredible horse. With Chacco Kid stepping up and taking on some difficult tasks, especially given his stage of development, it really gave Fine Lady a chance. We look forward to a very bright future with this horse.”
Reflecting on an incredible season by anyone’s standards, Lamaze said, “I would like to thank all of my staff for doing what they do. We are very much looking forward to a new season in 2017 with all our students striving to get better and better; we look forward to helping them achieve their goals. A special thank you to Kara Chad, who is my rider and helps organize Torrey Pines. Kara was on the Nations’ Cup team at Aachen and the reserve rider for the Olympic Games. She is only 20 years old, and it is refreshing to have a young rider on our team. I think she will be a big asset to Canadian show jumping in the future.”
Currently ranked number six in the world, Lamaze credits his success over the past decade to basing himself in Europe and competing against the best in the sport week in and week out. Lamaze’s personal success also helped open the door for other Canadians to gain European exposure, with Canada fielding teams at such prestigious Nations’ Cup events in 2016 as Rome (Italy) and Aachen (Germany). Individuals were also invited to five-star events such as La Baule (France), Paris (France), and Geneva.
“We have now established a strong path to international competition where we, as Canadians, are well-received,” stated Lamaze, who is based in Brussels (Belgium) and Wellington, FL. “We have the support of our chef d’equipe Mark Laskin as well as Karen Hendry-Ouellette at Equine Canada, who is well-connected and such a valuable liaison and asset to our team, especially when we are competing at all the venues in Europe. The pathway to Europe for up-and-coming Canadian riders has already been created, and I urge everyone to get themselves to Europe and better themselves. Other than Spruce Meadows, there is no place in Canada where riders can measure themselves against the highest level of the sport.
“Tiffany Foster is a great example of that; she is competing against the best in the world, and has climbed so high in the World Rankings,” stated Lamaze of Foster’s 21st position. “It is important to get out of your comfort zone and compete against the best if you truly want to be the best. Initiatives like the Watermark Group and all that we’ve accomplished shows how important, yet attainable, it is for Canada to have the support of owners if we want to keep performing, and winning medals, on the world stage. As we’ve proven, small steps in the right direction can bring big results for Canada.”
In conclusion, Lamaze said, “Thank you to everyone for such an incredible year. I’m so proud of the Canadian athletes and what we have accomplished by working together. We now have the 2018 World Equestrian Games and 2020 Tokyo Olympics to look forward to, and the incredible support of our owners will once again position Canada as medal contenders.”
For more information on Eric Lamaze, please visit www.ericlamaze.com.