Fighting spirit (and the Eric Lamaze factor) lifts all-female team’s chances at World Showjumping Championships

  • The Canadian quartet of Beth Underhill (Nikka VD Bisschop), Erynn Ballard (Gakhir), Tiffany Foster (Figor) and Amy Millar on Truman have made it through to today’s (12 August) team medal decider at the Agria FEI World Showjumping Championships in Herning, Denmark, after some tremendous individual performances and a heartwarming display of team spirit.

    Only the top 10 teams qualify for the team final under the lights on Friday night and the all-female Canadian squad, led by chef d’equipe Eric Lamaze, finished eighth with a score of 15.56 after Thursday’s second round, leaping up from their 12th-place finish on day one.

    Both Erynn – riding a former horse of Ben Maher’s – and Amy posted four-fault rounds on Thursday, while Beth and Tiffany were thrilled with their clear rounds. Tiffany’s score (0.95) from the first two days’ of competition puts her in fifth place, with the individual medals decided on Sunday (14 August).

    Pathfinder Beth Underhill, 59, is the veteran of the team and rides the nine-year-old mare Nikka VD Bisschop. Their opening clear on day two earned her an early top-six placing – they finished the day in 23rd – as well as helping to keep Canada in contention in the team standings.

    Beth’s appearance for Canada at the World Showjumping Championships this week is something of a milestone as it has been over 20 years since she was last selected for a championship team.

    “It’s wonderful to be back,” said Beth, who rode at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and won a bronze medal at the Pan-Am Games.

    Beth, who turns 60 this year, joined Canadian chef d’equipe Eric Lamaze’s Torrey Pines Stables last year, and has since returned to the top level in what she has described as a “second career” in showjumping. She took the ride on the relatively inexperienced mare Nikka VD Bisschop from Olympic gold medallist Eric when he announced his retirement from competitive sport.

    “I’ve been riding her since Wellington, Florida, in January, so not long,” said Ontario-based Beth, who embarked on a singing career before focusing on showjumping. “And we didn’t do a heavy circuit with her there. I just got to know her and she did her first under-the-lights small grand prix, 1.50m, at WEF and she was fabulous. We’ve just been gradually building her up.

    “She had the opportunity to be under Eric’s tutelage until the end of last year so he’d done some bigger classes with her towards the end of last year and Nina Mallevaey had taken over in the winter and put some great mileage on her as well. So I was fortunate that I got her as a horse who had been developed beautifully and had so much confidence already in her programme. It was a very easy transition and she’s a lovely-natured horse so even with the change of riders, she’s always just gone with the flow,” added Beth, of the mare who was produced through her early years by British rider Emma Stoker.

    “Nikka is a tomboy – she’s a very strong character. She’s old beyond her years, she’s a bit of an old soul. She doesn’t get upset or worried or fussed. She always comes to the races and she loves her job. She’s very resilient and always comes back wanting to do better. She just has a character that suits showjumping.”

    World Showjumping Championships results: Canada’s top 10 finish

    Canada’s phenomenal team spirit has shone through in Herning this week.

    “It’s been great and we had Mario Deslauriers here as well, who was our reserve rider, so that puts a man’s perspective in as a group, which isn’t a bad thing sometimes!” said Beth. “But yes, we know each other well, all of us girls on the team, and we’ve worked together with our own businesses and together on teams in the past. So it really just feels like friends coming together to support each other and doing the best for Canada as possible. We do take it very seriously, but it’s also good to be able to go out and have dinner together and be friends as well. So it’s a great atmosphere, and I think it very much makes us stronger and more more resilient as a team.”

    Talking about the World Showjumping Championships results on Thursday, Beth said: “Going early, you always have some questions and there were definitely some options when we first walked the course. I’m fortunate that I have an amazing team behind and beside me and my team-mates are watching and coming back and giving us information as we were warming up. But I had a plan A for sure. And then a couple of options for a plan B if I felt I needed them, given that she doesn’t have the experience and mileage as some of the older horses.

    “I always have to adjust a little bit on the fly sometimes if she needs a moment of support or she needs a little time. But from the first jump she was focused, she was with me all the way and as it turned out, my Plan A was was the one I used. So it just shows how much maturity she has and how much she’s learned.”

    Canada’s third rider Tiffany Foster was thrilled to move up to fifth individually with a super clear on Figor, crediting their team coach Eric Lamaze as the driving force behind the squad.

    “He’s just really calm,” she said. “There’s a lot of energy coming from him, for sure. Eric and I have a long history together and I know how much this means to him. We’re so tight as a team, and I know that the girls and I were doing this a lot for him, too. We know how much it means to him and he’s put so much effort and so much time and energy in – you can see it, he’s vibrating out there! He’s just 110% behind the whole team.”

    You might also be interested in…

    Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find how you can enjoy the magazine delivered to your door every week, plus options to upgrade your subscription to access our online service that brings you breaking news and reports as well as other benefits.

    You may like...