Olympic dreams take shape in London

Rebecca Howard was 13 when she started drawing Olympic rings above her bed.

World class style: Salmon Arm’s Rebecca Howard and Riddlemaster placed second at an international three-day event at The Fork in North Carolina

World class style: Salmon Arm’s Rebecca Howard and Riddlemaster placed second at an international three-day event at The Fork in North Carolina

Rebecca Howard was 13 when she started drawing Olympic rings above her bed.

Now 33, those drawings have come to life. Her website says it all.

“Countdown London Olympics, Eventing – 45 days, 5 hours, 36 minutes.”

On Sunday, Howard and her horse Riddlemaster were named to the Canadian Eventing Team. They will participate in this summer’s 2012 Olympic Games in London, England.

“I’ve been drawing the Olympic rings for a long time,” says the woman who grew up in Salmon Arm and has been the equestrian director at The Fork Stables in Norwood, North Carolina since 2006. “Even still, they’re on my bathroom mirror at home; I write up all my goals with highlighter.”

Still, attaining her goal is a little beyond belief.

“I’m very excited. The goal is to be at the top of my sport and to be competitive and sustainable at the top of my sport. The Olympic Games, definitely, in terms of a sporting event, it’s unbelievable. I’m very excited to represent there. Hopefully it’s one of many Olympic Games.”

The selection process has been arduous.

“The selection trials were hard mentally – the final selection trials, competing to get on the team. It’s different than competing once you’re at the Games. The pressure situation of the Games will be more familiar territory. But competing to be selected and to make sure you check the right boxes, that you and your horse stay safe and sound, so the rug doesn’t get pulled out and you don’t get to go…”

The most recent competition was the Bromont Three Day Event in Quebec, where she placed fifth overall and was the top Canadian.

Eventing is made up of dressage, cross-country jumping and stadium jumping.

“It was not an ideal weekend, not picture perfect. The first day, Rupert (Riddlemaster’s nickname) was really excited, for lack of a better word. He put in some really good work but also misbehaved,” she explained, adding that his cross-country round was great, as was his show jumping.

“At the end of the day, it was a good thing to have those mistakes happen now – It gives you perspective of things to work on from now until then.”

She notes as the horses get fitter and fitter, they also get more energetic. Time at the Olympic venue will be crucial for getting Riddlemaster comfortable.

After spending this week in Salmon Arm, Howard will be in Virginia until July 9, when she and Riddlemaster go to England to a farm just west of London. They’ll do preparation trials and then head to the Olympic venue on July 23, with competition set to begin July 27.

“The actual venue at Greenwich, it’s going to be very electric,” Howard says. “A horse is an athlete, so you try to make their world smaller; focus on what my job is, and what their job is. That’s why it’s so important to have all the people around me. Dana Cooke (from Merritt) is my groom, I couldn’t do it without her. There are so many people who take care of the noise in the background and the details so athletes can really focus on the job.”

Being in England, the hub of the sport, will be a thrill in itself.

“The venue there is going to be just buzzing. Greenwich Park is right downtown London, so Greenwich has a ton of history… We do dressage right in front of the queen’s house. The mecca of the sport is in England. It’s going to be quite the buzz.”

Following the Olympic Games, Howard will be staying on in England for a minimum of two years, so she can benefit from riding and training in that mecca.

However, she’ll always be from Salmon Arm.

“Truly, I’m from Salmon Arm, B.C. It’s good and it’s part of coming home – I will touch base with people, I’m giving some lessons, giving some chats, I hope to visit some of my first instructors. It’s really nice to be home for this week…”

And, she emphasizes: “No Olympian ever does this alone, it takes such a team of people and I’m there representing such a team of people. It comes all the way back down to the people here. My parents and family are at the top of that list…

The amount of support I’ve gotten from all over the continent is overwhelming. It’s pretty special really.”