Naïma Moreira Laliberté’s Life at Top Sport, to Compete in Europe in Pursuit of Bigger Goals for Canada
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April 5, 2022
By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
Naïma Moreira Laliberté is basing herself in Europe for the next several months with her Grand Prix mount Statesman and her “next generation” of prospective Canadian team horses for future Olympics and championships.
The 25-year-old rider, reserve with Statesman on Canada’s Tokyo Olympic team last summer, will be based at the training center of Jordi Domingo Coll near Barcelona, Spain where Statesman was developed from a youngster to Grand Prix.
She plans to return to North America in the fall and work with her long-time coach, Ashley Holzer, a four-time Olympian for Canada but is based in Wellington and now rides for the United States.
Naïma hopes to compete at some of Europe’s top German events such as the renowned Horses & Dreams in Hagen in late April and the World Equestrian Festival in Aachen in June. The aim is to produce results that will lead to the world championships in Herning, Denmark in August either on a Canadian team or as an individual.
With Canada’s world championship team qualifying period more than half over, of the lineup of prospects that have so far competed, Naïma and Statesman top the rankings. But overall results for Canada are short of meeting the federation’s criteria for an average score of 70% to support sending a team.
Statesman, that she took over competing in 2018 was the top ranked Grand Prix horse at the 2019 Pan American Games in which Canada took team gold as well as reserve for Canada’s Olympic team restricted to three riders and horses. The Hanoverian gelding is now 15 years old but still going strong.
She also is taking with her Inspire, a nine-year-old KWPN gelding, on which she was successful at international Small Tour at this year’s Global Dressage Festival in Wellington, Florida as well as Jaliska, an eight-year-old KWPN mare that Naïma plans to promote to Prix St. Georges this year.
The idea of spending more time than ever before in Europe came to Naïma when she was returning from Tokyo and competed on Canada’s Nations Cup team at the world’s most prestigious equestrian event, in Aachen.
“I’m focusing a lot on my next string, next generation,” she told dressage-news.com. “Statesman and I have done a lot already, going everywhere, showing all the time. For him there’s goals of qualifying for big events.”
But flying back from Tokyo and spending time in Europe “I really got the sense of what Europe was and I told myself I would come back with more horses, do more shows, have more exposure.
“I think that’s exciting; that’s important to my career as well. It keeps me interested going to new places. I’m super excited about it.”
She wants to have Inspire and Jaliska ready for Grand Prix next year, in time for them to be a prospective partner for the Paris Olympics in 2024.
“If I want either of these two horses to be potential Paris partners I feel they need to jump up to Grand Prix pretty soon,” she said.
“I think Europe will give me new experiences, new show grounds to go to. So for the young horses I think it’s good to expose them to a bit of atmosphere, to stadiums, to indoors, to various scenarios building them up to the end goals.
“I think it will be inspiring, refreshing for me to acquire new experiences. It’s just nice to change things around and get motivated and inspired by new resources.
Naïma admits she was disappointed not to be selected for the Tokyo Olympic team on Statesman following her 2019 Pan Am success and finishing in the top three in qualifying scores in 2020 and 2021.
“It was disappointing news, for sure,” she said. “Of course, there is a panel decision that is made and they take decisions in the best interest of Canada. I respect and support that. But it was definitely close. I’m sure it was a difficult decision for them.”
Although Naïma has become one of Canada’s top dressage riders, she maintains a relatively low profile–not seeking media coverage or promoting herself. Growing up, media exposure of her world renowned family’s marital issues was intense.
She started her equestrian career at five years of age; Pony Club and jumping initially, but her father thought the sport too dangerous. A friend of her father had a horse circus, so Naïma learned to perform baroque on Lusitanos.
“Basically when wasn’t in school or school activities I spent my time at the barn,” she recalled, “set up beds for the horses, had my naps there.
“They were my friends, my piece of tranquility, my shelter from humans growing up, the chaos of a big family.
“Horses for me are also some kind of freedom, to be myself, to travel even, sports, physical aspects that I like. There’s an emotional connection.”
The horses all have their individual personalities that she feels look for the same relationships as humans–“Hey, let’s be really good friends. I want to get to know you. I want to know your moods. How can I help you. How can you help me… a constant communication relationship.”
Like many children growing up interests changed but included different forms of art, playing piano and guitar through both classical and rock ‘n’ roll phases, a drummer in her high school band.
Horses took over her life full time in early teen years. A school sports program enabled her to spend a half day on academics and a half day of sports so she could focus on dressage and compete in Florida in winter.
Her goal of becoming an international Grand Prix rider squeezed out her other interests.
“Then I didn’t have much time to focus on other forms of art, entertainment or even work even though I had the desire,” she said. “I had to catch up to the other riders who were older than me and longer than me in Ashley’s program. I spent all my time training and when off horses working out, working with a sports psychologist, to have a global athlete’s life.”
It paid off but has a renewed interest in artistic endeavors in the form of photography and film.
“I feel like a balance in life is important, Horses are what I aspire to do and am doing, but keeping my mind and heart open to other projects even though it may take me longer to achieve but as long as I keep working at them that makes me happy as well.”
Nevertheless, she describes herself as “very driven, very driven” to succeed in horse sports.
“If you’re not disciplined and not driven I believe it’s going to be hard to make it. Simple as that. And I want to make it. I’m competing internationally, but I‘m really competing against myself.”