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Ben Maher's brilliant 2021: "We still push to be better"

Tuesday, 04 January 2022
Interview

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ Olympic Champion Ben Maher speaks to WoSJ about his brilliant 2021. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

Over the last two years, Ben Maher and his team have every single day strived towards one big goal – the Olympic Games in Tokyo. The result: Individual gold. WoSJ met the reigning Olympic Champion to talk about pressure, the feelings after the Olympic gold medal, good riding, time faults, the importance of having a great team around you – and of course about the horse of a lifetime.

“Because of the Olympics, it has over the last couple of years been a lot of pressure,” Ben tells. “While I haven’t had any pressure from Explosion’s owners, I have been putting pressure on myself – because Explosion deserved a title like this in his career. As a rider I might only get one good chance like this one, so a lot of weight was lifted off my shoulders after the gold medal and I’m just happy for everybody that helped me during the process.”

Still pushing to be better

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ “The gold medal hasn’t changed our day-to-day lives though, we still push to be better," Ben Maher says, here on the way to winning the Rolex IJRC Top 10 Final in Geneva with Explosion W to conclude an unforgetable 2021. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“There were a lot of emotions involved and I’m normally not that kind of person,” Ben tells about winning the individual gold in Tokyo. “In one sense, I felt a bit relieved that it was done. On the other hand, I was of course very proud. It was a lot of work involved, and we had a few bumps in the road along the way leading up to the Olympics. Seeing that everything was so focused on Tokyo, I actually also felt a bit empty for a moment when we had succeeded with our goal."

Obviously, I was, and still am, proud and happy, but when you push and push every day for two years for one goal and then that goal is achieved, all of a sudden you have to start to think about something else – which we hadn’t done for two years.

“The gold medal hasn’t changed our day-to-day lives though, we still push to be better,” Ben smiles. “At the moment I’m enjoying developing a couple of new and younger horses. I have a great, but very small team of horses and I would wish to have a bit more support for Explosion. However, I’m really enjoying the process.” 

Explosion has for the last years been one of the most successful horses on the showjumping circuit, and Ben still thinks there is more to come from the 13-year-old gelding. “Explosion knows he is good, and he is very spoiled," Ben laughs. "Since he was seven years old, he has been the same: A very happy horse, easy to work with and a natural talent. I had many good horses in my career, but he is definitely a horse of a lifetime for me. We have a really good connection and a great bond. There are still some bucket-list things I would want to do for him though."

When I grew up, I saw Milton, Hickstead and Shutterfly – these kind of horses – and I think Explosion deserves to be in that same category.

"He is still only thirteen and there is more left in him if we make a careful plan and give him the best chance to potentially even get back to another Olympics,” Ben says.

Explosion W is owned by Charlotte Rossetter and Pamela Wright, who were present in Tokyo to be part of the gold medal first hand. “Charlotte and Pamela are very supportive, and own both Explosion and the 8-year-old Point Break that I ride,” Ben tells. “They are very new to the sport but came in at the very top end and experienced some great moments already. I will have a hard job to keep it up now,” Ben laughs. “I told them that it doesn’t always work like this! They are fully aware of that, and are enjoying their time right now.”

A new chapter

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ “My focus has now moved on to our other students and hopefully I can do the same as I did for Emily for someone else in the future,” Ben Maher says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

In October it was announced that after five years as Emily Moffitt’s trainer, Ben had parted ways with the young British rider and Poden Farms. “I’m very proud to say that we brought Emily on from a junior rider to 5* Grand Prix level,” Ben says. “My personal opinion is that Emily should have been on the Olympic team for Great Britain last year. She had the results at the right time and did everything that was expected of her. I’m not the selector though, but I did my job, and she did what she needed to do.” 

“My focus has now moved on to our other students and hopefully I can do the same as I did for Emily for someone else in the future,” Ben says.

Good riding and time faults

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ "Good riding is to understand your horses, treat them individually and to not try to make them all the same,” Ben Maher says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“I think good riding is consistency,” Ben says when asked. “If you ride consistent, have a plan and build to the right moment; that is good riding. For example, when I am at a show in Oliva, I don’t want to win any classes there – my focus is to build the horses up and educate them. I probably had more time faults there in two weeks than I had the last two years. The horses aren’t ready to push, and I want to educate them in the right way. Good riding is to understand your horses, treat them individually and to not try to make them all the same.” 

“An example is Point Break, who I have had for a year now. I just have to be patient with him and let him get older because he kind of knows everything already. I will probably just save him for 2022 and then bring him on,” Ben tells about his approach towards one of his biggest talents. “I also have two new 9-year-olds, which both are very inexperienced horses but they have something there and I just have to produce them to see where they end up. I don’t know if they are my next championship horses or not, but they definitely do good things." 

For the moment, I’m actually enjoying the basic work and to not always be under the pressure of going to Tokyo or the next 5* Grand Prix or to win.”

“I don’t want a lot of horses, but to do the level that I want to do without having to use the horses too much I need a few more,” Ben explains. “Now-a-days, you really need at least three Grand Prix horses and I have two – which includes Ginger-Blue that really wasn’t a ready Grand Prix horse. Despite being very inexperienced, Ginger-Blue has done some great things already and won both the 5* LGCT Grand Prix in Paris and in Valkenswaard. I gave her a short break this fall, because I felt she needed that and then we started again in Stockholm. I also have Concona, who unfortunately had an injury and is just coming back – she feels really good though. My long-time supporter Jane Clark owns both Ginger-Blue and Concona, and I have been riding with her for ten years now.” 

The right plan and a great team

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ "To me, good horsemanship is also making the right plan and to have a great team around you," Ben Maher says – here with his groom Cormac Kenny. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“I think good riding and good horsemanship are two different things,” Ben continues. “There are good riders with bad horsemanship and some with great horsemanship that are bad riders. To me, good horsemanship is also making the right plan and to have a great team around you."

The biggest horsemanship issue for me right now is the overuse of the horses.

"To look at myself, I’m really disappointed with how it went for us at the LGCT in Samorin. It was probably the worst show Explosion had in his whole career, and it was because I made a bad plan,” Ben says. “Explosion didn’t really jump much since Aachen, he doesn’t have that much experience indoors, and the minute he gets a bit tense and is a bit under-jumped he is not as good as he can be. I could easily have pushed Explosion to do two more Global Tours last year and given myself a much stronger chance to run with Peder for the overall title, but the decision to not do more was with Tokyo in mind. We had our focus on the Olympics and at the end of the day other things then had to slip. It comes down to horsemanship. Just because I have an incredible horse, I can’t compete at every show. Explosion did six shows before the Olympics, and I needed to be patient. Peder deserved to be LGCT champion last year though, he won with multiple horses and has very strong horsepower right now.”

“Good horsemanship is of course also to surround yourself with great people and I’m very lucky to have very experienced people in my team. They are people I can really rely on,” Ben says.

Riding in the ring is just a small part of a bigger picture and without my team it all would not happen.

"I think Cormac, Explosion’s groom, dined, drank and slept together with Explosion for the last 18 months and I have him to thank for a lot – Cormac deserves that Olympic gold medal just as much as anybody else!”

 

 

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