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Von Martels eyes podium finish at Olympic Games

For as long as he can remember, Chris von Martels has dreamed of standing on an Olympic podium.

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For as long as he can remember, Chris von Martels has dreamed of standing on an Olympic podium.

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He’s not there yet, but he’s closer than he’s ever been.

The 38-year-old rider from Ridgetown is about to make his Olympic debut with Canada’s equestrian team.

“It’s very exciting to be in Tokyo for the Games, especially for my first Olympic Games,” he said. “I’m sure if I am able to compete at several Games that excitement would still be there.

“I feel very grateful and proud to be able to represent Canada and to be here to give my best. The absolute best of the best are here to fight for a place on the podium. I am prepared to give my very best performance possible on that day.”

The dressage competition is scheduled to begin Saturday morning.

After a breakthrough season in 2015, von Martels narrowly missed making the Olympic team for the 2016 Rio Games.

“In 2016, I missed a spot to go to Rio by small percentage points, so of course I had a lot of fire in my belly when the selection period began for Tokyo,” he said. “But actually for the most (part) I try to stay relaxed and focused on what I need to do and go step by step towards the goal.”

If there’s one thing von Martels know, it’s the proper steps.

Dressage has been described as horse ballet. A rider must train their horse to perform a series of precise, difficult movements with poise and grace.

It can take years to create a world-class partnership, but von Martels and his horse, Eclips, are in their first year of international competition.

Chris von Martels of Ridgetown, Ont., celebrates winning the bronze medal riding Zilverstar in the individual dressage during the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games at Caledon Pan Am Equestrian Park. (John David Mercer/USA TODAY)
Chris von Martels of Ridgetown, Ont., celebrates winning the bronze medal riding Zilverstar in the individual dressage during the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games at Caledon Pan Am Equestrian Park. (John David Mercer/USA TODAY)

They helped Canada win a bronze medal at the Wellington FEI (Federation Equestre Internationale) Nations Cup in Florida and also won the Grand Prix Freestyle at the Tryon Spring Dressage in North Carolina.

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“Normally many horse/rider combinations have a much longer relationship than what Eclips and I have together, but I feel that when you are the right match it makes things much easier, just like people,” von Martels said.

“Eclips is an extremely talented horse and is very intelligent. I understand what works and what doesn’t and, very importantly, I respect him. So, we are good friends.”

Von Martels, who owns Eclips with Barbara Soederhuizen, has praised the Dutch Warmblood gelding as “a horse of a lifetime” whose biggest strength is his personality.

Finding the right horse helped von Martels make the Olympic team.

“One of the biggest challenges in equestrian sport is to have a horse which is talented enough to achieve these goals,” he said. “Unlike other sports, we have to train ourselves, but we also have to train the horse. So that takes time to find the right horse which fits.”

Von Martels made his debut at a major Games in 2015 when he won two medals at the Pan Am Games in Toronto.

He rode Zilverstar to a bronze in the individual dressage final and won a silver with Belinda Trussell, Megan Lane and Brittany Fraser in team dressage.

He was later named the Equine Canada equestrian of the year and Dressage Canada athlete of the year for 2015.

Von Martels is based in Wellington, Fla., the mecca for equestrian sports in North America. He sells and trains horses at the Von Martels Dressage equestrian facility.

His family, including parents Reinout and Debbie, has worked with horses for generations.

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