Olympic gold medallist Eric Lamaze returned to his native Canada last week for the prestigious Spruce Meadows Masters in Calgary, where his groom Kaytlyn Brown (pictured) gave an exclusive insight into life on the road with one of the greatest showjumpers in the world.
Eric, who has been undergoing treatment for a brain tumour, took some time out from the sport after last year’s CSIO Spruce Meadows Masters but returned to competition earlier this year.
“My absolute highlight was to see Eric back in the ring — it’s unbelievable what he can do,” says Kaytlyn. “It wasn’t just a highlight for me, it was the highlight for all of the team. It was very difficult for all of us when he stopped showing. After everything that happened, to come to Spruce Meadows for the Summer Series and win two five-star classes back to back, we couldn’t have asked for any more than that.”
At last week’s show, Kaytlyn was looking after three of Eric’s horses, 14-year-old Coco Bongo; his dual-winner at the show, Chacco Kid, and the 16-year-old mare Fine Lady 5, with whom Eric finished fifth in the renowned CP International grand prix — the sport’s richest class.
“All three horses have very different personalities,” says Kaytlyn.
“Coco Bongo is very easy going and nothing seems to bother him. He’s very simple to take care of and has very low stress levels — I’d say he’s pretty cool. You can literally do anything with him – he’s so easy to have around all the time.
“Chacco Kid is the sweetest thing I’ve ever met — I’ve never met a horse that understands humans like he does. He always wants someone’s attention and he always has something in his mouth — he will literally try to eat anything. When Eric is around his stress levels go up and he gets quite anxious because he always wants to please, and he knows that Eric expects a lot of him.”
Of Fine Lady 5, Kaytlyn says she is “the most complicated out of the three”.
“She’s the only mare that we have,” says Kaytlyn. “She’s very sensitive and is bothered by everything, particularly music and anything loud — it drives her crazy. If it’s loud and she’s in the horse box, she’ll dig and roll around and generally cause a huge scene. She’s my absolute favourite, though and we’ll never have another one like her — she’s so willing to please all the time. When I look at her, I know I’ll never have another relationship with a horse quite like this one, she’s unbelievable.”
As every international showjumping groom will know, a huge part of the job is spent travelling the global circuit.
“We’re only in Canada for five weeks of the year during the Summer Series,” explains Kaytlyn. “We’re then in Florida, USA, from December through April, and the rest of the time we’re in Europe. It’s more exciting to be in Europe, as you’re at a new place every week, and every European location is always beautiful.”
Pressure comes at every show, but none more so than a Rolex Grand Slam Major on home soil.
“The week before the show starts, the stress levels at home are high,” says Kaytlyn. “We’re doing absolutely everything we can to prepare to come here, as we know it’s a long hard week for Eric and the horses. The horses came from Europe, so they had to endure a long flight, and our aim is for them to be the best that they can be and on top form, as soon as they arrive here. For sure, it’s stressful – coming here for the Masters isn’t the same as coming here for the Summer Series, as there’s a clear end goal at the end of this week.”
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In the Lamaze stables, preparations are already beginning for greatest event of all, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“We’re still a while away and it’s a long process, but we’re starting to discuss which of the horses we believe have the potential to perform at the Games, and which types of classes we need them to jump to ensure they’re ready,” says Kaytlyn. “We need to consider what time of the day we need to jump them, and if they need to jump more night classes, and we also must factor in the weather, as Tokyo could be very hot.”
Don’t miss the full report from the Spruce Meadows Masters in this week’s Horse & Hound, out Thursday 12 September.