The past year for show jumpers has been a whirlwind, especially for those based in Canada. With competitions shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, international competitors have had to rejig schedules, restructure training programs and continuously adapt in a fluid situation. While any Olympic year is one filled with added pressure, these tumultuous circumstances have created even more intensity in the final leadup to the Games in Tokyo that have been rescheduled for July 2021.
Mario Deslauriers is no stranger to success in the show ring and the two-time Olympian began the year with his eyes on qualifying for the upcoming games in Tokyo. Currently ranked 43rd in the world, he represented his home country of Canada at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. The savvy veteran understands what it takes to make the team, the horsepower needed to get the job done and the qualification process.
“From the first day I tried him, I knew he was special.” ~ Mario Deslauriers
In May of 2018, Deslauriers added a very talented horse to his string when he and Wishing Well Farm imported Amsterdam 27, an 11-year-old Holsteiner gelding by Catoki x Acord II from Germany. The pair quickly moved up from 1.30m, proving to be consistent competitors in the bigger classes as they celebrated numerous wins together including a CSI4* victory this past summer in Tryon and represented Canada at the Pan American Games in 2019 in Lima, Peru.
“From the first day I tried him, I knew he was special,” said Deslauriers. “I’ve had several good horses and when I tried him, he did everything very easily, his mind was so good, while he is so careful, he’s also so brave. He’s so mature, his rideability is great. Nothing really bothers him. The feeling when you jump a horse like Amsterdam is incredible.”
Fast-forward three years and the 2021 Winter Equestrian Festival opened in Wellington, Florida, showcasing one of the most competitive fields in the history of the circuit. With travel and competition restrictions in place around the world, WEF is the only venue offering CSI5* competition, so the best in the world flocked there for the chance to compete.
Prior to the start of competition in December, Deslauriers was approached about the potential sale of his talented gelding and faced a difficult decision.
“It’s always hard when there’s a good horse involved,” he said. “This horse world is a bit crazy right now. There are a lot of good horses available, but not many of the quality of Amsterdam. I’m at a point in my career that once in a while, you have to sell the good ones. You can’t always keep them. There’s only so much prize money you can win, and I thought it was the right decision at the time with the Olympics so up in the air. I’m in the business to buy horses, make horses, and resell them. I have a few others to ride, so it’s not like I have nothing. With my wife and the owner, we decided to move forward.”
The ride on Amsterdam 27 has now been handed over to Teddy Vlock, who represents Israel in international competition. It wasn’t a decision that Deslauriers made lightly, noting his assessment of the gelding’s future with a talented up-and-coming rider and the solid training program at Vlock Show Stables factoring into his decision-making process. In the end, the timing of the sale and new partnership felt right.
“I think for Teddy and for us, we all want this to work out. Teddy has big goals and he’s come along tremendously in the last two years. Darragh Kenny [his trainer] and his whole team are doing a great job and Teddy is a great student of the sport. He studies the riding and has great mental strength in terms of the way he approaches the riding and the courses. You just see today already [his winning round in the High Amateur Owner Jumpers] in a short time with the horse, it was effortless and it was done beautifully.”
“For me, especially as younger rider, it’s great to have a partner who has jumped bigger classes around the world and in pressure situations.” ~ Teddy Vlock
The new partnership has already proven to be a good one as the pair has experienced great success in their short time together. With a handful of solid outings in the High Amateur Owner Division, the duo landed an impressive third-place finish in the $214,000 CSIO4* Grand Prix during week eight of the WEF in early March. Not only was it a top result for Vlock and his new horse, but the depth of the field made it even more impressive, with seven of the top 20 riders in the world jumping in the class.
“It’s a great opportunity to have a horse in my string with so much natural talent and experience at higher levels,” said Vlock. “For me, especially as younger rider it’s great to have a partner who has jumped bigger classes around the world and in pressure situations. It’s great to have the confidence as I gain more experience that the horse has been there before and we’re able to be confident together as a team.”
Following his stellar CSIO4* result, Vlock was beaming. “I couldn’t possibly be more excited,” he exclaimed during the post-event press conference. “He is an amazing horse, and I’ve only ridden him in about four shows now. Every time I get him in [the ring], I learn something new about him and it’s a very good partnership so I’m ecstatic.”
For Vlock and his team, the purchase of Amsterdam 27 was a long time coming, having previously attempted to acquire the horse a year earlier.
“We inquired about the horse last year and it wasn’t available,” said Vlock. “We approached Mario again in December and it was a pretty quick process. The match was strong from the beginning and we were all confident in trying to get the deal done.”
“I had always really liked the horse when Mario first got him,” said coach Darragh Kenny of their pursuit of Amsterdam 27. “He’s a really good jumper but I thought it was a very good match because the horse is very comfortable to ride and correct in how he goes. I know Teddy can ride very accurately and the horse has the right amount of blood and talent for Teddy.”
As a senior majoring in psychology at Yale University, Vlock balances his education with a busy training schedule and also runs T&R Developments, a US-based real estate development company. What began as a hobby with success in the hunter divisions has now turned into a solid show jumping career, moving through his fifth year of training with Kenny. The 23-year-old has amped up his training program both with and without horses, moving forward with laser focus on achieving his goals, which is evident as he continues to rack up impressive results.
“I think it’s a combination of really being dedicated to training every day and working every day to get better,” said Vlock of his recent success. “I work really hard to not be complacent with where I’m at. I feel like I’ve developed exponentially over the last five years or so but at the same time I can still get better every day.
“It’s really important to me that every single time I get on a horse, I’m doing something to not just make the horse better, but myself as well,” Vlock continued. “I’m very fortunate to have multiple people around me like Darragh Kenny and Stephen Moore who push me every single day. I think just constantly trying to get better is what has put us in a situation to consistently put in good rounds.”
In addition, Vlock has put in extra time outside of the barn to give himself and his equine partners the best chance at success. He’s paid more attention to fitness, sticking to a healthy diet and maintaining good form in his own body.
“I want to be in the best possible shape to allow the horses to do what they need to do,” he said. “Aside from that, I study every video, whether it’s a 1.40m warm-up class or CSI5* grand prix. We go back and look at every round, what we could’ve thought about differently, maybe plan differently for the next one with this horse in the situation and learn from it. We also don’t want to over-analyze it, either. It’s not going to be perfect all the time. You’re showing an animal who is not always on the same page as its rider, so being able to realize that stuff is going to happen no matter what you do to prepare, mistakes happen, and not to get too hung up on those mistakes but focus on where you can get better and improve the parts you can change, I think is a really big thing. Just taking the right things from both the good and the bad outcomes of every round.”
For Vlock, there’s no secret his eyes are set on representing Israel at the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer. The acquisition of Amsterdam 27 adds a big piece to that puzzle.