When I started riding dressage seriously as a Young Rider, my dream was to go to the Olympics and represent my country. Twenty-seven years and three World Championships, a World Cup, a European Championship and an Olympic Games later, I wish I had known then how hard it would be to make that dream come true. My story is about perseverance. I want it to inspire everyone who has dreams and who hits roadblocks to keep going and never, never give up.
When I was 22, I moved to Germany and became a working student. That was in 1994, and 1995 was a Pan American Games year. After working 18-hour days, I was told by my coach that I was not good enough to go to the Pan Ams. Looking back now, I know she was right. I had no idea what I needed to be on that team. But at the time, I thought, I can’t believe it. I moved all the way over here to Germany. I work my butt off everyday. What is she talking about? If I had gone for that team at the time, I would have been a disaster. I was not mentally prepared and did not have near the ring experience I needed.
I persevered and after two years of training in Germany, I was ready for a team. I had a wonderful horse, Elis, and was ready to try out for the Atlanta Olympics. We booked our flights home. Then, just before the trials, Elis got injured and we were out for the trials and the Olympics.
I tried again. This time it was the Sydney Olympics in 2000. I had a new horse, Kiwian, who was the most talented horse I had ever sat on. I was prepared and excited for my future with this horse—a future that never happened. He was plagued with injuries, and I was never able to qualify for Sydney. Three team attempts and three failures.
Have you ever asked yourself the question, Why am I doing this? Why do I spend tons of dollars, tons of hours, and seem to end up with heartache? I asked myself that question many times. All I knew at that time in my life was that I loved horses, loved riding and something inside me told me to keep going.
In 2002, a new horse came into my life: Royan. Within six months, I was on my first team: the World Equestrian Games in Jerez, Spain. The following year we made the team for the European Championships. In 2003, Canada was allowed to compete at the Europeans because it was our team qualifier for the Olympic Games. Royan continued to be spectacular, and I represented Canada in the 2004 World Cup and competed in the Athens Olympics that same year. What a run! Royan was a wonderful partner and gave me the dreams I had been aspiring to for so many years.
It would have been so much easier to deal with the trials and tribulations of this amazing but challenging sport if I had known then that by deeply loving the sport, having that intense feeling inside of me that by never giving up, staying on course, by listening to all the advice my support team could give me, it would be possible for my dreams to come true.
After the Olympics in Greece, I had an inspiring moment that I now live by every day. I attended a conference for para- and able-bodied Canadian athletes, where I had the opportunity to listen to the triple-Olympic gold medalist in wheelchair sprints, who did not have legs. He said, “It is not about the hurdles that are out in front of you, it is about how you jump over them.” Not having legs is quite a hurdle in my mind. But that was not the case for him. He jumped each hurdle and achieved his dreams.
It would be another six years before I made another team. I still had that feeling inside and I kept jumping hurdles. I made my second World Equestrian Games with a horse named Anton. We competed, and he was my most successful horse to date. I was once again flying high about our future together, but that came crashing down on me in 2011 when Anton suffered a possible career-ending injury. The veterinarians told me there was a 50-percent chance of him recovering. After intensive treatment, Anton was not getting better. My dream to go to the 2012 Olympics was over. It was not going to happen. I thought about putting him in the paddock and retiring him.
In 2013, Anton had a turnaround—he was sound. I was so nervous to ride him again. I was afraid he would re-injure himself. Eight months later, we were competing internationally again. We made the 2014 Canadian WEG team. In Normandy, Anton gave me my best major games finish to date.
What do I know now? Keep jumping your hurdles. Everyone has them. It does not matter what is put in front of you. It is about how you jump it. Achieving big dreams doesn’t come easily, but if you have that feeling inside of you, never, never give up. My future will continue to have hurdles and I will keep jumping them!
Belinda Trussell has represented Canada at the Olympic Games, the World Cup, the World Equestrian Games and the European Championships. She operates Oakcrest Dressage in Stouffville, Ontario.