CALGARY - Eric Lamaze is under no illusions that his new horse can replace the legendary Hickstead.
The reigning gold medallist in Olympic show jumping has decided on Derly Chin de Muze as his mount for the 2012 London Games. While the nine-year-old Belgian mare is a promising horse, she's not in Hickstead's league.
Lamaze won individual gold and team silver aboard Hickstead at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. The equestrian events were staged in Hong Kong.
Hickstead's sudden and tragic death in competition last November diminished Lamaze's chances of defending his gold in the individual event, and left the talented rider scrambling to finding a competitive horse in time for London.
The 44-year-old from Schomberg, Ont., believes he and Derly are capable of contributing to another medal performance in the team event.
"I'm realistic and respectful of my horse's age and lack of experience," Lamaze said Thursday at Spruce Meadows. "I can't go with the same certainty I had in Hong Kong. I went into Hong Kong on one of the best horses in the world.
"I just don't want anybody to think unless I win a medal, this will be a disappointment. It's not going to be a disappointment. The reality of it is my horse is inexperienced and I'm going to try my very best to win a medal."
Hickstead was in the prime of his career in 2008. At 12 years old, the stallion had the talent, power and experience to handle any course in the world. He died at 15 of a ruptured aorta Nov. 6 while he and Lamaze were competing in Italy.
Derly is smart and brave, says Lamaze, and could do well in London if the course layout is kind to her.
"Because of her lack of experience, there are still some things that are more suited to her than others, some types of courses, some lines," he explained. "It all depends on what we're presented with in London. There are things she doesn't have the skill to do yet.
"I'm hoping some of the courses go in my favour a little bit. If they do, I think she could do some really incredible things.
"If I run into courses that are not quite there for her, it's not going to be a disaster. It's going to cause me to change my plan and ride a little bit differently. I'm going to have to help her out a little bit in some situations."
Lamaze's decision for a horse was between Derly and a 10-year-old Dutch gelding named Verdi.
Lamaze bought Verdi in partnership with Artisan Farms of Wellington, Fla., after Hickstead's death.
Lamaze rode Derly as a seven-year-old and acquired her with John Fleischhacker's Ashland Stables, which also co-owned Hickstead.
Lamaze rode both Derly and Verdi in competition at Spruce Meadows over the last month. In the end, the rider went with an inexperienced horse he was familiar with, rather than a more seasoned mount he did not know as well.
Canadian team chef d'equipe Terrance (Torchy) Millar is bullish on Derly, which also factored into Lamaze's decision.
"It is true to say I personally have more mileage on Derly," Lamaze said. "I would have been comfortable on both horses to be quite honest, but Torchy loves Derly."
Added Millar: "She's probably as good a nine-year-old show jumper as there is on the planet. You pair that with as good a rider as there is on the planet, anything could happen."
Derly reminded Lamaze of her inexperience when she balked and stumbled at a double combination fence Sunday at Spruce Meadows.
"She's been nothing but a very brave horse," Lamaze says. "She's inexperienced and perhaps I rode her like she had experience. It was a wake-up call for me to stay focused on the fact she is a young horse."