Mario Deslauriers: Jumping the border

Mario Deslauriers: Jumping the border


After years of competing for the U.S, the show jumper extraordinaire is back in the saddle for Team Canada

By Mario Deslauriers for CBC Sports
September 8, 2017
 

Making the decision to ride again for Canada was not only an easy one for me, but a natural one. After all, I am Canadian.

Show jumper Mario Deslauriers spent years competing for the United States. (Todd Korol/Reuters) Show jumper Mario Deslauriers spent years competing for the United States. (Todd Korol/Reuters)

I was born and grew up in Canada, where playing hockey and riding horses were my twin passions. I started riding professionally when I was in my teens, and I was already competing on the Canadian show jumping team when I won the World Cup Finals in Gothenburg, Sweden at the age of 19. That same year I went to the Olympic Games in Los Angeles for Canada, finishing fourth individually and fourth in the team competition.

I moved to the United States when I was first married at the age of 22, though I continued to ride for Canada. Equestrian sports are very hard to make a living at, because they are extremely expensive. It wasn’t until 2008 that I found myself struggling for financial support in this equestrian world. It was at this time that I was offered an opportunity which included finding a few horses to bring to the championship level and represent the United States of America.

This was a hard decision! A riding job where I could choose the horses with the utmost talent was a dream, but changing the flag under my saddle…whoa! I thought long and hard. I had been missing the opportunity to ride at the highest level in our sport, so I jumped at it. I made the move. Telling my parents wasn’t easy, though they supported my decision, admittedly with heavy hearts.

 

It didn’t take terribly long and soon enough I was back at the World Cup Finals, the World Equestrian Games and Olympic Selection Trials, riding mounts that I had carefully selected and was quite proud of having chosen, but now the Stars and Stripes were on my saddle pad. I have to admit, the first time I won a Grand Prix representing the United States, though I was proud of my mounts, it was very odd to hear the Star-Spangled Banner at the prize ceremony rather than O Canada.

 
 

A good horse

A few years passed and though the horses I selected were proving my judgment correct, I was eventually replaced with another rider. This too was difficult. I was quite proud to watch my selections blossom at the highest level, but it was painful to see another jockey on their backs. And so I began to focus my attention on teaching and training young horses and riders, which was fulfilling in a different way.

Deslauriers'
 parents are thrilled their son is back on Team Canada. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press) Deslauriers' parents are thrilled their son is back on Team Canada. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Unlike other sports, no matter how talented you are or aren’t, you cannot compete at the top of equestrian sports without a good horse. Yes,  some horses can be made better with a super talented rider, and yes, some riders can look better with a super talented horse, but no one can compete without the horse.

And showjumping horses take time to develop. As I continued to teach and train, one of my students who has risen through the ranks is my daughter, Lucy. She has a very special horse named Hester that has enabled her to enter quite successfully into the International ranks and led me to look for a back-up for her.

With more and more competitions and more and more money in our sport, it is not possible to ask one horse do all the work. To be at the top of the sport, riders need a few Grand Prix level horses. So, this spring I came upon a horse I thought would suit my daughter.

 

We named him Westbrook, after Russell Westbrook, the outstanding NBA basketball player. (My family are huge sport fans, so we like to name horses after great athletes.) Westbrook proved to be a shade strong for Lucy, so I decided to have a go with him at Spruce Meadows this June. Let’s just say, with each competition he did, he felt better and better and handled each step up in size with ease, culminating with him jumping three clear jumping rounds in the ATCO Queen Elizabeth II Cup in July and finishing fourth.

I think this caught the eye of Team Canada. Now that they saw I had a horse jumping at the top level, they inquired if I would be interested in returning to ride for Canada.

All along, I knew I could not switch back to represent Canada if I had ridden in a World Cup qualifier in the past two years, which I hadn’t so, again, I jumped at the opportunity. After all, I am Canadian! This time telling my parents the news was a breeze.

It is a privilege and an honor to represent one’s country and I so look forward to hearing O Canada with the Maple Leaf on my saddle pad.

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