Heart Break to Olympics: Belinda Trussell & Anton
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May 26, 2016
By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
When Anton canters into the Olympic competition arena 11 weeks from now, Belinda Trussell will be aiming for the performance of their 10 years together, putting behind her a broken heart when injury she feared had ended the horse’s career.
Belinda and Anton are Canada’s top pair to fill one of the two individual starting places at the Games in Rio de Janeiro, with qualifying scores so high that it is almost inconceivable their lead will change before the qualifying period ends July 3.
At the age of 16, Anton is logging best ever scores and Belinda thinks they’re “getting better.” Anton, a German Sport Horse, is not “old” in the world of high performance mounts–Salinero was 18 when ridden by Anky van Grunsven to team bronze at the 2012 Olympics and team mate Jerich Parzival at the age of 19 is being ridden in CDIs by Adelinde Cornelissen.
Anton and Belinda started Grand Prix in 2009 and a year later went to the World Games in Lexington, Kentucky. Next in their sights was the Olympics in London in 2012. But Anton was injured.
“When Anton was injured and his recovery uncertain my heart was broken,” recalled Belinda now 44 years old and the mother of two. “He is a very special horse and they don’t come along every day in your life. The thought of never riding him again was incredibly sad for me.”
Recovery was so complete in the 2 1/2 years away from comptition, that the pair made the team for the World Games in Normandy in 2014 followed by the 2015 Pan American Games, their first and at home in Toronto, to capture team silver and earn an individual start for Canada at this summer’s Olympics.
“I am more grateful than ever I have him in my life,” Belinda told dressage-news.com. “When something is taken away from you is when you realize how much it means to you. Every day I am thankful for each ride and every moment I have with him. We never know how long we have, and now I think about that every day.”
It was an earlier Pan Ams that brought Anton and Belinda together.
Born in Sydney, Australia Belinda’s family hop scotched around Asia and then the United States on assignments for a multinational corporation, taking up riding along the way. On moving to the Toronto area as a teenager, she continued riding as an Australian until 1994 when she switched to Canada. Five years later she rode Royan II on Canada’s team at the World Games in Spain in 2002 and at the open European Championships in England a year later, the World Cup Final in Dusseldorf in 2003 and the Olympics in Athens in 2004.
She was at the farm of her trainer, Christiloy Boylen, in Germany in 2006 looking for a new horse as a prospect for the Pan Ams, held once every four years as an Olympic qualifier and at Small Tour at the time.
“When I tried the horse,” she said, “I did not feel a connection with the horse which I knew I needed to compete at that level. My Mom was with me on the trip and she asked Christie if she had anything else in the barn. Anton was six, very hot to ride but I loved him. We bought him on that trip.”
The next Pan Ams were too soon though, coincidentally, in Rio de Janeiro in 2007.
By mid-2009 the duo made their debut at international CDI and competed in Canada, the East Coast of the United States, the increasingly competitive Florida winter circuit and three months at the top events in Europe before going to the World Games in Kentucky.
A return to Europe in 2011 and then… the injury. A bone lesion, surgery and a long road back.
It was the winter circuit in Florida 2014 before Anton returned to competition. At the World Games in Normandy later in the year, the pair were the highest placed for Canada. Then the Pan Ams in 2015 where the pair earned for Canada the first Olympic start.
“I think there are a number of factors that have kept him fit, healthy and happy for so long,” Belinda explained. “I treat him like a horse. When I am home he is turned out for eight hours a day. He has a half-acre (0.2Ha) paddock to roam in most of the day. I vary his routine with hacking, suppling and gymnastic days and intense training days.
“When we are in show competition gear, I rarely ask more than two movements of him daily. For example one day I might work on half passes and changes, but that it all. I add lots of gymnastic exercises everyday. Leg yielding, transitions, 10-meter circles. He also has regular chiropractic and acupuncture work from my Vet Dr Knabe. She knows Anton so well and knows his body and mind inside and out. ”
Her awareness of Anton’s personality has increased over the years as “I spend a lot of time with him and really watch his reactions to things and how he feels under tack. Post injury I became much more engaged with his personality. He has always been so sweet, kind and a very willing horse.”
The combination to fill the second starting place for Canada is undecided. Qualifying does not end until July 3.
Belinda plans to stay home with her family until Anton leaves from New York for Rio and the start of dressage competition on Aug. 10 at the same venue in Deodoro where the 2007 Pan Ams were staged.
She’d like one more show before then “to stay sharp in the ring and feel very well prepared.”
“I am very excited to go to another Olympics,” Belinda said. “Olympic Games don’t come around every day, and to have a top horse that is fit you have to go for it! I’m very excited. I do get nervous and I am very focused.
“I use my nerves to bring a higher level of performance. I also think about how grateful I am to have the opportunity to ride such a quality horse. There are times we can lose perspective in our sport, it is important to me to keep the reason I do this close to my heart daily. I love horses, I love the sport of dressage and I love competing and challenging myself among the best in the world.”