Canadian dressage competitor Chris Von Martels recently returned to North America following six months of training and competing in The Netherlands. As a recipient of a $20,000 High Performance European Training and Competition Grant from the Canadian Dressage Athlete Assistance Program (C-DAAP), Von Martels was able to apply the funding towards his training and competition expenses.

While in Europe, Von Martels and his two horses were based at the stables of Tim and Leida Collins in Riethoven, The Netherlands, which was a short drive to his trainer, Sjef Jannsen. He represented Canada in three International Equestrian Federation (FEI) sanctioned competitions in three different countries: CDI3* Compiegne, France, CDI2* Peterhof in Perl, Germany, and CDI3* Zandhoven, Belgium. In addition, he competed at a number of national shows and also showed a horse on behalf of one of his German-based clients at the Trakehner Championships, giving him great exposure to European breed championships.

With his top mount, Zilverstar, a 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, Von Martels ended his European tour on a high note at CDI3* Zandhoven, placing fourth in the Intermediaire I and taking third in the Intermediaire Freestyle with a score of 71.85%. His second mount, Winsor Rox, an 11-year-old black Dutch Warmblood stallion owned by Barbara Nitsch, also gained valuable mileage during their time in Europe.

While Von Martels was already planning his six month stay in Europe before learning that he had successfully acquired one of five C-DAAP grants awarded in 2014, the additional funding allowed him to apply a larger amount of funds towards his training, as well as help off-set the costs of boarding, competition, and horse maintenance. Being the recipient of a C-DAAP grant has also strengthened his vision of his long-term goals, both personally as well as for Canadian dressage in general.

“My goal is to represent Canada at a major games and, in doing so, to help raise the profile of dressage in Canada,” said Von Martels, 32, who operates Von Martels Dressage Inc. in Ridgetown, ON, and Wellington, FL. “Being in Europe, where equestrian sport is much more mainstream than in North America, and being surrounded by the top performing horses and riders in the world, has been incredibly impactful in helping me to achieve these goals. The competitive environment and the quality of horses and riders plays on the physical and psychological components of performance. Having this experience has not only advanced my physical skills and the training of the horses, but it has us much better prepared for the pressures and the atmosphere of major international competitions.

“I am also bringing back a stronger vision for what I believe we can achieve for dressage in Canada, not just for riders and horses, but also for sponsors, owners, grooms and everyone who supports us,” continued Von Martels. “They have a tremendous infrastructure in Europe, and there are some great ideas and small details that would be easy for us to implement in order to enhance the overall development and support for the sport.”

Von Martels is especially appreciative of the C-DAAP program as it has not only augmented his own training and competition efforts, but also those of his fellow athletes who may one day be riding alongside him as members of the Canadian Dressage Team.

“Through the grant program, C-DAAP is giving Canadian dressage riders increased opportunity to gain the experience, training and exposure that is needed to help develop truly competitive horse-rider combinations,” said Von Martels. “If our national goal is to have improved team placings at major games, and to ultimately be on the podium at an Olympics or World Equestrian Games, then we need to be able to provide riders with access to the European environment, and to be amongst the best in the world on a regular basis.

“I would like to express sincere thanks to Deborah Kinzinger Miculinic for her vision, her commitment, and her passion in bringing C-DAAP to life,” concluded Von Martels. “I also need to thank the Collins family and their team for all of their support, and Barbara Nitsch for trusting me with her lovely stallion in Europe. There is a host of others that deserve great thanks and without whose support I would never have got this far; the farriers and vets that keep our horses in top form, my family, friends, and sponsors are all incredible, and all of my clients have been amazing and encouraging. However, at the top of my list, I give thanks to the horses. They are the most deserving of all!”

The four other Canadian athletes to receive C-DAAP High Performance European Training and Competition Grants in 2014 were Brittany Fraser of New Glasgow, NS, and All In, her nine-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding; Megan Lane of Loretto, ON, and Caravella, her 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare; Karen Pavicic of Surrey, BC, and Don Daiquiri, a 12-year-old Oldenburg gelding owned by Pavicic and Jayne Essig; and Belinda Trussell of Stouffville, ON, and Anton, a 14-year-old German-bred gelding owned by Robyn Eames.