I Went 30 Years Without Competing, but I Proved to Myself That I’ve Still Got What It Takes
Rick Maynard has spent his life with horses competing internationally in eventing, show jumping, and dressage, and he coaches both Olympic jumpers and pentathletes. Rick was short-listed for the Canadian eventing team for the 1976 and 1984 Olympic Games, but before this February, the 75-year-old hadn’t left the start box at a horse trials in over 30 years.
To be honest, I hadn’t really been thinking about getting back to competing, but it all came down to meeting the right horse. My son, Tik Maynard, had a horse called Galileo for sale. He’s a great big (18-hand) horse who was for sale last spring at a dressage barn. He did not sell, probably because of his size, and he didn’t have enough movement for an upper-level dressage prospect. But he has a superb gallop and a sweet personality. I rode him in a dressage clinic with Christoph Hess and thought he would be fun to jump. Shortly after the clinic I went with Tik’s team to school cross-country. I galloped three cross-country jumps and that was all it took. I was hooked — again.
I had originally stopped competing because in the 70s and early 80s I had too many unpleasant and expensive accidents. Was I asking too much of my horses? Were they not fit enough for the challenges? A lovely, brave mare died of a heart attack while on cross-country, another was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat after roads and tracks, and another bowed a tendon after cross-country. Was I crazy to be doing this expensive sport on a "shoestring?" Was I good enough compared to the amazing riders at the top with their wonderful horses? I was also competing on the East Coast, far away from my family in Vancouver, Canada. I started to feel like the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze.
But this time it was different. There was no stress or pressure while I was eventing in Florida this year, and it actually allowed me to spend more time with my family who live there: Tik, his wife Sinead, and my grandson Brooks. Of course, my riding goals are different now than they were in my younger years, and so my priorities have also changed. The welfare of my horse and the day-to-day work are more important than lofty goals. And I didn’t have to set any kind of high expectations for myself, I just wanted to give it a good try and have fun. I needed to be in the moment, stay relaxed, and keep a smile. There is no room in my brain to be nervous or to put pressure on myself.
I started back at a low level, Beginner Novice, to give myself and Galileo confidence and to not put undue stress on either of us. The last time I competed in eventing, it was during the days of the long format. Today’s short format without steeplechase and roads and tracks is much more inviting to me and many riders just starting eventing (or returning to it) as the fitness level of horse and rider is not so demanding. Nevertheless, I wanted to be sure I was physically prepared for the job.
I ride three or four times per week at home in Vancouver, so I felt my riding skills were okay, but I wanted to make sure I was fit enough for a horse trials and be able to jog the cross-country course several times before competing. Because Galileo is a big horse, my fitness is even more important. I often feel as though I am steering a 4-wheel drive vehicle, trying to control the front from heading in a different direction from the rear, as well as keeping him on a light contact and a steady head carriage. So, I bike to the gym three times per week where I stretch, do core exercises, and run three miles on a treadmill, stair climb, and row. Not too shabby for a man my age!
So I had bought the horse, done the training, and I was finally ready to compete again for the first time in three decades. My first event with Galileo was at Rocking Horse Winter II Horse Trials. We did okay in the dressage, but of course I was thinking about cross-country. I left the start box with some trepidation. The adrenaline level was up. I was worried I would forget to start my watch, go too fast or slow, refuse a jump, get lost on course. In fact, I do not remember doing the last jump at all, and I had to wait until the scores were posted to see if I was eliminated (I wasn’t).
At an age when many riders are stepping down a level, Teri Kessler realized she could do even more.
At the next show, Three Lakes Winter II Horse Trials, I was less nervous. The only time I got a little concerned was in the staging area for cross-country where we had to make some last-minute tack adjustments. Galileo was spooking at the warm-up jumps and someone walking the cross-country relayed to Tik that riders were having problems at jump four. Finally, I had three good warm-up jumps and I was ready, with 1.5 minutes to walk into the start box. Yes, my adrenaline was up but I settled by visualizing the track and jumps I was soon to take. Galileo went wonderfully and we ended up winning.
I’m in no hurry to move up the levels, but if Galileo and I are comfortable and confident, we will take a shot at Novice. Who knows? Maybe we will compete at the The American Eventing Championships at the end of August. That sounds like an attainable goal.
It’s been rewarding for me to start competing again, but it wasn’t without challenges. For anyone like me who wants to compete — or even ride regularly and comfortably — but you are feeling unsure about your abilities, this is my advice:
- You need strong support from a family member, coach, and close friend(s) who are encouraging and supportive.
- Work on rider fitness, especially your core.
- School two or three small cross-country courses so horse and rider have confidence over different obstacles, including ditches and water.
- Practice show jumping so you can ride a 60’ distance between jumps in four or five strides. If you can fit in six, that is even better.
- Buy a really nice pair of white breeches, tall black comfortable boots, and a classy show jacket that will make you feel like a winner.
Take it from me, you can do it!
Read this next: Riding at All Ages: A Frank Conversation About the Ins and Outs of Riding Over 60
All photos by Victoria DeMore Photography.