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Olympic champion Lamaze sets new course in show jumping

The Canadian Press

6/4/2013 6:20:28 PM

CALGARY -- Olympic show jumping champion Eric Lamaze hit the reset button on his career by taking a hiatus from the sport and acquiring some new horsepower.

The 45-year-old from Schomberg, Ont., had an emotionally exhausting 2012 following the shocking death of Hickstead, the horse he won Olympic gold and silver with in 2008.

A grieving Lamaze scrambled to find a suitable mount for the 2012 Summer Games in London, where he finished 22nd in the individual event and fifth with the Canadian team aboard an inexperienced Derly Chin de Muze.

Lamaze announced after the Masters at Calgary's Spruce Meadows in September that he would not compete again for the remainder of the years. Instead, he played golf and went on safari in Africa.

"The break was something I really needed," Lamaze said Tuesday at Spruce Meadows. "I was sort of running on empty. It had been quite some time at the top level of the sport and I just was not fired up like I needed to be to compete at that level."

Lamaze intended to fly under the radar on his return to competition in 2013 by developing younger horses away from the world spotlight. Two developments changed his mind.

The former No. 1 rider in the world realized while watching Grand Prix events in Florida that he wanted back in the game against the best in the world. Then came the opportunity to acquire a pair of elite international horses.

"I didn't know if I was really going to miss it or not, but I ended up really missing it," Lamaze said. "These new horses weren't planned. I was willing to sacrifice the year at making young horses and coming back next year.

"I tried to make the process a little quicker by purchasing some going horses ... horses already competing at the top level. We were lucky enough to find such horses."

With Carlene and Andy Ziegler of Artisan Farms as co-investors, Lamaze just recently acquired Powerplay from Swiss rider Pius Schwizer and Quelmec du Gery from co-owner and rider Penelope Leprevost of France. Both are nine-year-old geldings.

Lamaze will ride both horses in competition for the first time at the National Tournament at Spruce Meadows starting Wednesday. The annual event offers more than $1 million in prize money and is the first of five consecutive tournaments at Spruce Meadows.

The international stars of the sport, including Canada's Ian Millar and Beezie Madden of the U.S., will also compete in the National.

Lamaze won the tournament's premiere event, the $400,000 CN Reliability Grand Prix, in both 2010 and 2008. Millar won the Grand Prix aboard In Style in 2009.

Even though Lamaze had yet to ride Powerplay or Quelmec du Gery in competition, he already put them at the top of his depth chart in his stable.

"They're world-class horses and I think they really suit me," he said. "Tomorrow will be my first time in the ring with them. We just received them from Europe a few days ago, so I don't know much about them.

"That's the beauty of Spruce Meadows. You've got plenty of time to get to know your horse, plenty of height to choose depending on how you feel, so this is a perfect venue to get myself acquainted with them. Obviously I wish I had six weeks prior to Spruce Meadows because I love competing here and I love arriving with my guns loaded ready to fire because I love winning here."

Lamaze was twice the No. 1-ranked rider in the world with Hickstead. They won Olympic gold in the individual event and silver with the Canadian team in 2008.

They also won approximately $3.7 million in prize money and a large portion of that came at Spruce Meadows. Lamaze once joked Hickstead's name should be "ATM."

But at age 15, Hickstead collapsed and died of a ruptured aorta while competing in Verona, Italy, in November 2011, with Lamaze still on his back. While the equestrian world mourned the loss of its superstar, a devastated Lamaze considered retirement.

There was little time to get his feet back under him in the rush for London. For Lamaze, the last few months have been about setting a new course

"We were obviously planning to have Hickstead a little longer than we had him," Lamaze said. "I needed to reorganize. Along with the young horses that will eventually become superstars, we just acquired two superstars.

"I think I'm really set and looking forward to going back to the top of the sport."