The Canadians Say That If Their Team Finishes, It Will Be Like Winning A Medal
And they could do it for the first time in 10 years; their horses and riders are more solid than they’ve been in a long time, writes Beth Rasin.
Canada didn’t qualify to send a team to the 2000 Olympics, but since then, with the help of Jim Wofford, who came aboard as the team coach in 2002, they’ve earned a silver medal at the 2003 Pan American Championships. That qualified them for this year’s Olympics, and they are sending one of their most experienced teams to Athens, with five legitimate four-star horses and riders.
“They’re all solid at this level; no one is making a leap of faith,” said Wofford. “This is not a prescription to win gold, but the team is in better shape than it has been in three quadrennials at least. All riders are at least solid in all three phases; none have a three-rail horse or a potential looney in dressage. This team is a prescription for solid success, and that’s what we need to build enthusiasm.”
Hawley Bennett was the top Canadian at the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** in April, finishing an impressive 14th in the modified division on her long-time partner, Livingstone. “Livingstone is a talented, experienced horse, and he can be quite impressive [in all three phases],” said Wofford.
Bennett had only ridden at training level when she acquired “Hank” 10 years ago. “I said when I was in second grade that I wanted to go to the Olympics, but I thought it would be in gymnastics,” said Bennett, who had to shelf those aspirations after breaking an ankle.
The pair is extremely solid cross-country, and Livingstone is one of the best show jumpers at the four-star level. “I don’t want to go just to say we’re going; I’m very competitive. I want to win a medal and stand on a podium and see my flag go up,” said Bennett.
Michael Winter was the top Canadian at the Pan American Championships last fall, where he placed 11th, and then he scored an 18th place at Kentucky in the modified division. “Balista is a very nice horse, and her dressage is steadily improving,” said Wofford. “I expect a fast cross-country from them.”
The veterans of the team are Stuart Black and Bruce Mandeville, who’ve each contested the Olympics before. Black will be on a new ride for him, Fleeceworks Blackout, but he proved at Kentucky, where they finished 20th, that he can forge a quick partnership, and his experience will likely help him bring the best out of the horse. Kelli McMullen Temple bought a farm and sold Blackout to Black.
“He is quite a good horse, but his best is still in front of him,” said Wofford of Blackout, who had steeplechased until he was 7. “Stuart has been around the block, but we’re hoping he’s better mounted than ever and in better health than ever.”
Mandeville, on the other hand, brings back his 2000 Olympic partner, Larissa, who has also completed two Pan American Championships and two World Equestrian Games.
Ian Roberts and Mata-Riki replaced Suzy Pettman and Kilcoltrim at the last minute after the team’s final outing at the Wayne Horse Trials (Ill.).
Black conceded that dressage will be the team’s weakest phase, but they’ve enlisted the help of Jane Savoie as their dressage coach. “We will be the stealth team,” he said. “If things go well, we will finish in the top six [teams] and have a party when we get back home. We really hope to finish a team.”
The last time the Canadians finished a team at the Olympics or World Championships was the 1994 World Equestrian Games, where they placed 10th.
Livingstone: b. g., 14, Canadian-bred Thoroughbred, by Wanderkind–Dancing Proud, owned by rider and Gerry Bennett.
Hawley Bennett: age 26, Langley, B.C.
Fleeceworks Blackout: blk. g., 10, Thoroughbred, owned by rider and Elkins Wetherill.
Stuart Black: age 44, Bluemont, Va.
Larissa: ch. m., 15, Trakehner, owned by Mr. and Mrs. Franz Hollenbach.
Bruce Mandeville: age 44, Puslinch, Ont.
Mata-Riki: b. g., 11, Thoroughbred-Quarter Horse cross, owned by Kelly Plitz.
Ian Roberts: age 45, Port Perry, Ont.
Balista: b. m., 13, U.S.-bred Thoroughbred, by Secretary Of War–Baldisette Dancer, owned by Emeline Loughlin.
Mike Winter: age 29, Newnan, Ga