IanMillar_InStyle_web.jpgCaledon, ON – For the fans who came to the Tournament of Champions horse show today to see Beijing Olympic silver team medal winner Ian Millar in action, the veteran equestrian didn’t disappoint. ‘Captain Canada’ demonstrated that at age 61 he’s still at the top of his game, winning the $100,000 John Deere World Cup Qualifier for the third year in a row.

But his bid to take the overall $175,000 John Deere Canada Cup Championship, based on results from competition held over three days, for the fourth consecutive year was foiled by one of Canada’s top up and coming young riders, Erynn Ballard, 28, of Hillsburgh, Ont. who took the overall title. Her mount was the towering Belgian warmblood gelding, Robin Van Roosendael, owned by her family, who managed a clean first round despite losing a shoe on course.

“It’s pretty amazing. It’s the first time in my career I’ve won a Championship like this,” said Ballard. “It’s sort of like the Olympics as even though it’s not a team event, as an individual rider you have to be consistent over three days.”

Only six horses of 28 managed to cleanly negotiate the first round to advance to the jump-off, and of those six, only Millar managed to go clean in the jump-off with his Olympic partner, In Style, a 13-year-old Holsteiner gelding owned by Susan Grange of Lothlorien Farm, Caledon. “You couldn’t just run and go at this thing,” said Millar of the course. “You had to throttle it back a bit and it was damn tough to jump it clean. This is where In Style’s experience in Europe, in Hong Kong (the Olympics) and at Spruce Meadows comes into play and why it’s important for our young riders to get that type of international experience.”

Ballard, the last to go in the jump-off, tried to catch Millar’s time, but had a rail down on the final fence. “When you go last in the jump-off, it’s a pressure situation especially when you know Ian is on top,” she said. “I had to take a shot at that last jump…that’s the sport.”

Ballard said her goal, like many Canadian riders, is to make the Olympic team for 2012 but a more immediate goal is to be among five Canadian riders who have the opportunity to compete in Super League shows next year in Europe.

Though Millar wants young riders like Ballard to gain that international experience, he’s not planning on hanging up his own spurs anytime soon and plans to be on the 2012 Olympic team. “I feel great and no one wants to see an athlete on the downslide. The minute I feel that happen, I’m outta Dodge,” he said. “But I have top notch horses, thanks to Susan Grange and I see no real reason why I won’t continue on to London.”