Battling ill health, Eric Lamaze takes break from showjumping

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Eric Lamaze won his third Olympic medal for Canada riding Fine Lady 5 at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Eric Lamaze won his third Olympic medal for Canada riding Fine Lady 5 at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo by Arnd Bronkhorst, www.arnd.nl

Canadian Olympic showjumper Eric Lamaze is stepping back from competing while he contends with serious health issues.

For the past three years, Lamaze has been undergoing treatment for a brain tumor and continues to battle the condition with the support of his medical teams in Brussels, Belgium, and Paris, France.

Lamaze says he is taking “a sabbatical” from the sport, and fellow top-level rider Beth Underhill will join his Torrey Pines Stable and take over his rides when the horses relocate from their base in Brussels, Belgium to Wellington in Florida in December.

Lamaze’s last competitive appearance was on home ground at the 2021 Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ tournament in Calgary, Alberta, in September where he was a member of the victorious Canadian team in the BMO Nations’ Cup riding Fine Lady 5, the horse he rode to an individual bronze medal at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

He withdrew from contention for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, saying at the time: “While my health is stable at the moment, there are several risk factors that have to be taken into consideration. I’ve decided that Tokyo is not the best venue for me.”

Lamaze, 53, is Canada’s most successful show jumping athlete having claimed gold, silver, and bronze medals in Olympic competition alone. Lamaze and Hickstead, the horse he rode to individual gold and team silver medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, were recently inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.

Underhill will begin competing on Lamaze’s top string at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, which runs from January 5 to April 3, 2022.

Beth Underhill and Eric Lamaze, pictured on a course walk at the 2019 Royal Horse Show in Toronto.
Beth Underhill and Eric Lamaze, pictured on a course walk at the 2019 Royal Horse Show in Toronto.
Photo by Starting Gate Communications

“Due to my own health issues, I have to hand the reins over to someone else and I could think of no better candidate than Beth,” said Lamaze, who will continue to oversee the horses’ training programs from the ground.

“She’s been to Belgium to ride some of the horses, and we are both excited to see her in a position to compete with top-caliber mounts.”

Underhill and Lamaze first rode on a team together at the 1994 World Equestrian Games in Den Hague, and were teammates at the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg, where Canada won a bronze medal.

“I’ve always admired her determination and winning attitude as well as her dedication to producing the best results for Team Canada,” Lamaze said.

Underhill has been a mainstay of the Canadian Show Jumping Team for the past three decades and has represented her country in Olympic, World Championship, Pan American Games, and World Cup Final competition. She has been crowned the Canadian Show Jumping Champion on four occasions, most recently in 2019 riding Count Me In.

Underhill’s students will also be based at Torrey Pines Stable for the winter, and she was excited with the prospect of riding for her long-time friend. “We’ve been friends for many years and competed on numerous Nations’ Cup teams together. He’s also been a fantastic supporter, teammate, and friend to me.

Canadian Olympian Beth Underhill, pictured here competing for Canada in the 2020 Winter Equestrian Festival Nations’ Cup in Wellington, FL, is joining Eric Lamaze’s Torrey Pines Stable. Photo by Starting Gate Communications
Canadian Olympian Beth Underhill, pictured at the 2020 Winter Equestrian Festival Nations’ Cup in Wellington, Florida, is joining Eric Lamaze’s Torrey Pines Stable. Photo by Starting Gate Communications

“While I’m saddened that Eric’s health is forcing him to take a step back from his own riding career, I’m thrilled to be given the opportunity to join the Torrey Pines team.”

Several of the horses that Underhill will be riding are owned by Lamaze’s Torrey Pines Stable in partnership with fellow Canadians Mark and Tara Rein, who began supporting Lamaze in 2019.

“The quality of horses that Eric has is outstanding and I’m thrilled to be able to ride such top-level horses, especially as I’ve not had one at that level myself for some time,” Underhill said.

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