Last year, I stood outside a ring with my children, Annie, Charlotte, and Owen. We stood beside a huge oxer, probably 5 feet tall and at least as wide. We were at the new horse show facility, Angelstone Farm, just outside of Rockwood ON. We'd come to watch a childhood hero of mine compete. . .none other than Ian Millar.
I'm sure many of you remember, between the mid eighties to the early nineties, the famous duo, Ian Millar and Big Ben! They were unstoppable. Who didn't love watching that massive chestnut horse tear up the ring as Ian Millar would maneuver hairpin turns into jumps and shave seconds off his jumpoff time? How could such a big horse turn like that? He was 17.3 hands!
Who knows where Ian Millar would be today if it hadn't been for that once in a lifetime partnership. How many riders get to journey to the Olympics twice on the same horse, win the World Cup twice in a row, win Gold at the Pan Am games twice? Their journey together was phenomenal. Of coure that's why Big Ben was voted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. He and Northern Dancer (a great Canadian racehorse), are the only horses to have been voted in.
Big Ben helped horse folk dream of greatness. Big Ben was hidden talent discovered at the right time. Big Ben was passed over for years because he was too big and ugly, until Ian Millar saw him as a seven year old, and was immediately smitten. It made all of us little horse girls on board so-so mounts, believe that with enough perseverance, the greatness we believed our horses to possess would be noticed.
As a teenager, I dreamed of riding Grand Prix. An older woman in our stable who had done some Grand Prix show jumping, told me that jumping the big fences was "like flying." I wanted to fly too, like her and all the others that soared over those Grand Prix fences.
Though I was blessed with many a sweet horse, I never personally jumped those kinds of jumps. But you know when I, along with countless others, watched Big Ben jumping his fences, I felt like I was going along for the ride too. He was a nation's horse.
And so the moment I'd been waiting for came. I drew my little children near to me, and whispered to them as the next competitor entered the ring. It was Ian Millar on board a stunning gray horse. Together we watched them soar over the jumps. It was a different horse that he was riding, but in my mind's eyes, I'm a young girl riding a grand-prix course alongside Ian Millar and Big Ben. Thanks Big Ben, for the giving the gift of flying to so many!