Ben Maher caught our eye in Hong Kong in 2008 when he made a surprisingly big impression at the Olympics on Rolette. A short time after the games Rolette was sold, but it didn’t take Ben more than a few months before he was back at the top – this time on a new horse; Robin Hood W. This year Ben has brought another exciting prospect on to the international scene; Triple X – bred by Ben himself. WoSJ decided to find out Ben’s secret; how does the British rider turn the horses he touches into gold?
Ben does not come from a particular horsey family, but nevertheless ended up on the horseback due to his mother. “My mother rode as a hobby, and at the age of six or seven I was on the back of a pony. Then it went from there, and I joined the local Pony Club. After a while I started competing and I ended up doing the European Championships as a pony rider,” Ben tells us – excusing himself extremely politely as he has to take a phone call regarding a horse he is about to buy and the money needs to be transferred as we speak.
This is the thing about Ben. He seems like a really, genuinely, nice and polite guy – and it’s almost impossible to imagine somebody not liking him. Well, back to the conversation. When Ben was sixteen he left school and started to work for Liz and Ted Edgard – where many other talented riders have started their careers, like Beat Mändli. After two years with Liz and Ted this was exactly were Ben went; to Mändli. “I stayed with Beat for two years before I moved back home to England and set up my own business. I now have my own yard north of London, very close to Stanstead airport,” Ben explains. “The location is an advantage as I can get everywhere really fast,” he smiles. “I have 18 horses at my yard that I ride, and I have twelve horses there that belong to people who are training with me. I have between five and six people working for me now,” Ben lets us know about his business that has expanded over the last years.
Being based in Britain – on the other side of the channel – is not something Ben sees as a disadvantage; “I have a good business running there, and I’m one of three or four people that get offered good possibilities. In Germany I would have been one out of a hundred, so I’m quite happy to stay in Britain,” he smiles. “It’s slightly longer for the horses to travel, but it’s still not that far away. Also Billy [Twomey] and I try to cooperate with the horses’ travels, and help each other out – which make it easier!”
Ben’s career took off when he won the famous Hickstead Derby in 2005 on Alfredo II. “That changed a lot for me. Suddenly I got PR and coverage in the media, and most importantly I got owners and horses,” the 28 year old smiles. “I could start to make a business out of it!”
“Then I got Rolette. She was jumping 1.40 nationally when I got her, and I was approached by Rolette’s owner Daniel Paul to take her on to sell. I was happy to be asked and said yes. Rolette looked hairy, but apart from that like a normal kind of horse,” Ben laughs. “Within ten months we were at the Olympics in Hong Kong; to this day I don’t quite know how it happened,” the British rider smiles modestly. “Well, of course I made a careful plan – I won a Grand Prix class on her in England, and after that I took her to Florida to compete her there before we started on the outdoor season in Europe. I suppose I was very politically correct with the job I did with her; my aim was not to win much on her, but to make sure she had really good results and that she was really well prepared – so that the selectors had no way around having me as a candidate for the Olympics,” Ben smiles when looking back at the winter and spring of 2008.
Rolette and Ben did not go unnoticed, and were selected for the Olympics. This was a true international breakthrough for Ben; he came to the final where he was clear in the first round. Unfortunately he fell out of the medals after too many faults in the second round, and ended up 19th. “I still haven’t gotten over that,” Ben says – sounding uncharacteristically annoyed. “I don’t watch the video from the final to this day!” Although Ben finds it hard to look back at some costly faults, it was impossible to not be impressed by this young and stylish rider.
But then came the blow; Rolette was for sale, and she got sold. In October 2008 the news broke – the then ten year old mare was sold to America and was later competed under Shane Sweetnam. “There was no choice but to sell, as Daniel was offered so much money for her. But at the time it was really hard; I didn’t know if that horse was that one horse – or if I would bounce back,” Ben says.
Ben is certainly a fighter though, and within a short amount of time he was back – this time on Robin Hood W. “I got Robin before Hong Kong. He had been with an amateur rider in England doing 1.40 classes. His owner didn’t want to sell him, but in the end I got to buy him,” Maher smiles when telling about his scoop.
In December 2008 the pair made their mark when becoming runner-ups in the Grand Prix at Olympia, and consistent results the entire indoor season led them to the World Cup final in Las Vegas in April 2009. In the summer of 2009 Ben and Robin continued impressing with top results at the biggest five star shows, earning them a place on the British team at the Europeans in Windsor. In September 2009 the pair ended up third in one of the biggest Grand Prix classes in the world at Spruce Meadows. “Robin jumped everything clear up until the spring of 2010, but then he got to a negative stage and started to knock the fences down – so we decided to rest him for a while as everything had been going so fast with him over a short amount of time,” Ben explains of the big jumping Animo-son. “Robin jumped really well when we started him up again last winter – he was second in the WC qualifier in Zurich in January this year – but he sustained a tiny injury, nothing big, and we gave him another rest,” Ben says. “He could have come to Oslo and been ready for that, but as next year is really important and I have a maximum choice of horses right now I decided to leave him for another few weeks. I’m trying to be patient, and I won’t compete him internationally until January,” Ben explains. “So, I’ll aim him for Zürich, and couple more indoor shows and the Global Champion Tour.”
While Robin got his rest, Ben appeared with a new exciting horse – the nine year old Triple X III. “I bred him myself and actually almost sold him as a three year old; he looked tall and ugly,” Ben laughs of the Namelus R-son. “But, when I broke him in he felt naturally good so I decided to keep him. He didn’t start anything before he was five, but since then he’s always been good,” Ben tells us about the horse on whom he got the European team bronze medal in Madrid. “I have now bought Triple’s mother back, and I expect three foals from her next year – two from embryo transfer. Two of them will be Triple’s full siblings,” Ben says excited. “I’ve also got a very exciting offspring from him at home, I try to breed about three foals every year,” Ben smiles. “This year I’ve used some of Quainton Stud’s stallions as well.”
Quainton Stud is Ben’s sponsor. They approached him after his win at Hickstead six years ago, and Ben has had several horses with them since. “They own half of Robin Hood, half of Triple X and 100 % of Tackeray – which they just went and bought for me. They thought I needed another horse next to Triple X. Tackeray is a good horse, but I need time with him – although he did well in Rio,” Ben says of the Quick Star-stallion formerly competed by Billy Twomey and Michael Whitaker.
Which horse will be Ben’s next super star? “I have a really nice five year old by Calvaro x Lord Z; he jumps so high he hurts my back,” Ben laughs. “I also have a good nine year old by Andiamo coming up,” he continues. “I like getting my horses around the age of eight-nine, it seems to suit me.”
Keen to find out Ben’s secret to success, we ask him what his magic trick is. “I might just have been lucky,” Ben says in his own modest way. “And I try to buy the best horses for the money I have to spend, as well as having good sponsors behind me. I have a different system for each of the horses; I adjust to them. I also have really good people working for me, and together we try to get the best out of every horse,” Maher says. “If I believe that a horse has got the talent, I don’t try to win early on. Like with Triple X, I just took my time. I try to give my horses a good experience in the ring. Neither do I work my horses too hard; I try to keep them as horses. At home we have a big outdoor arena and a canter track, and work the horses in different surroundings to try and keep them happy.”
A thing that many of Ben’s horses have in common is that they at one point in their career have spent time competing in Florida during the winter season. “The horses get their education quicker than they otherwise would when they compete in Florida. What would take six months at home, takes two and a half in Florida. It’s amazing there; like Disney Land for horses! I don’t think Triple X would have made it to the Europeans if it wasn’t for his stay in Florida this winter,” Ben explains before we round up our conversation. During our interview Ben has bought a new horse; Cloud Nine – another one of those competing at 1.40 level nationally in Britain. Mark the name of the horse; with Ben horses seem to turn into gold.
And it’s not just luck. It’s Ben.
Photos by Jenny Abrahamsson/Text by Jannicke Naustdal - copyright © worldofshowjumping.com 2011.
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