The first time I made the team it was by default.

It was 2011. Andy and Carlene Ziegler (owners of Artisan Farms) had just bought me a horse, Southwind VDL, and I was excited to make the international rider list at the Spruce Meadows Masters’ tournament in Calgary, Alberta for the first time. It was a really big deal for me. They only take six Canadians and I’d never jumped a 1.60m class before.

That year, the main team was competing in Calgary—Ian Millar, Jonathon Millar, Jonathan Asselin and Eric Lamaze—and a second team was doing the Spanish Nations Cup Tour. A week before the show, Jonathon Millar had to back out. John Anderson was named as his replacement, but then his horse sustained an injury. There was really nobody left.

Torchy [Millar], our chef d’equipe, called Eric and said, “What do you think? Is Tiffany a possibility because we really don’t have anyone else at this last minute.” Eric was like, “”We can try, for sure the horse can do it!” Southwind had already done a ton of Nations Cups and 1.60m classes with his previous rider, Cameron Hanley (IRL).

Twenty-four hours later it was confirmed. They took a risk and put me on the team. I was in shock.

Before you get to Spruce Meadows, being named to the team is great—it’s the best possible thing. Then you get to there and the reality sets in. The best teams in the world compete at the Masters. The stands are packed. It’s a televised event. As a Canadian, it’s the most terrifying place to make your Nations Cup debut. It’d be like a German rider making their team debut at Aachen. Of course, that was the year Spruce Meadows broke the attendance records too.

I was terrified. There’s a video of me being interviewed by CBC and I’m like, “I don’t know! I’m going to give it my best shot!” It’s hilarious. In a painful kind of way.

In the days leading up to the Nations Cup, Eric made sure I kept showing every day, just to keep my mind focused on competing and off the team event. I didn’t know the horse well, but I had so much confidence in him so that definitely helped.

I rarely get nervous before a class. But I was nervous the day of the Nations Cup. I don’t even remember walking the course. I do remember riding up to the ring. I was the second rider in rotation and I asked how Jonathan had gone. Eric was like, “Don’t ask. Don’t worry about. You just ride your best round and we’ll take care of everything else.”

I remember thinking, “Okay, they don’t expect much. This is good.”

It was all kind of blur after that. Southwind really took care of me and the team ended up second, so it was a good day overall. But for me, it was a really big deal. Hickstead was on that team with Eric—it was the last Nations Cup he ever jumped. And riding with Ian Millar and Jonathan Asselin—these are all riders I’ve looked up to my entire life. It was a special moment.

The second time I rode on the team was supposed to be my first time.

Prior to the Masters at Spruce Meadows, I had been named to the Nations Cup team headed to Buenos Aires, Argentina that fall. Mark Laskin was the chef d’equipe. It was much more laid back—there were maybe four people in the crowd and all of them from Argentina. We won that one—Angela Covert, Emily George, Jonathan Asselin and I. I posted a clear in the second round. It was a really fun, relaxing experience.

My favorite Nations Cup was when we won in Calgary.

©Spruce Meadows Media Services

©Spruce Meadows Media Services

Anytime you have a good result at Spruce Meadows, it’s special. The crowd in Calgary is so unbelievable. You ride into the International ring and this roar goes up! It’s so cool for the riders and the horses, the good ones anyway. They cheer for the Canadians whether you do well or not, but as an athlete, you really want to do well for them. When you win, they’re extra loud and extra enthusiastic.

It took getting used to, though. Even last year, riding in the jump off for the Queen’s Cup, I was ahead, flying to the last jump, and the crowd started thundering. I remember thinking, “Wow, they are loud!” I ended up having the last jump down because I was distracted for that split second.

Winning the Nations Cup there in 2014 was a big day for Canada—we had only won it once before at Spruce Meadows in its 38-year history. And it was a big deal for me. I watched that class every year growing up. It’s a moment you dream of as a little kid.

The Nations Cup in Wellington, Florida is also really special. I don’t know if it’s because it’s on North American soil and there are so many Canadians in the crowd, but it’s always a fun night. It’s also where I posted my first double clear in a team event—so it’s a favorite of mine, too.

I had the worst Nations Cup of my life at Spruce Meadows in 2012.

I fell off in both rounds. It was a disaster.

In the first round, we took off a stride early in the combination. I flipped over the jump and knocked myself out.

Eric told me I didn’t have to go back for the second round. But that was not going to be how I ended it. It was right after the Olympics where I’d been disqualified on the first day. I was determined to come back and do well.

Victor, my horse, had other ideas. We came to the combination again and he was like, “Were you here, like, 30 minutes ago? Because I am not jumping that.” He stopped. I held on.

At that point, the only thing going through my mind is that we’re going to jump that damn combination. I turned back and approach it again. Victor stopped and I fell off. Again. It was the worst. Literally, the worst-case scenario. But the crowd stilled cheered for me, good ol’ Canadians.

Our team is so cool because it’s so close.

Canada does not have a huge pool of horses that jump at the 5* level. It’s usually kind of the same group on the team at the major eventsme, Eric, Ian and Yann Candele—with a couple of people who change in and out. But even when someone new comes in, everyone is so nice and so encouraging. It’s a really great country to ride for.

Team Canada, Eric Lamaze, Mark Laskin, Tiffany Foster

And we all really get along. We know each other’s horses, so that goes a long way. We have valuable information to give to one another on what to do on one line or another. I don’t think we can publish the things they say on the course walk, but it’s usually pretty funny.

When you work so closely with your team members, it’s a really fun and relaxed environment. You know they have your back no matter what happens. They are the first ones to congratulate you when you do well and the first ones to say, “Don’t worry, we’ll get better in the second round” when it doesn’t go your way. I had an experience at the Pan American Games where I made a mistake in the first round that was really dumb. Ian said, “It’s alright, we like digging you out of a hole every now and then.”

In a way, it makes you feel even worse when you let them down a little bit because you so want to do well for them. I came back and jumped clear in the second round at the Pan Ams. I try hard not to make the same mistake twice.

In the beginning, I needed a lot more encouragement.

The first year I was on the team, it was “You’re cute! We like helping her.” I was under the protective wing of Eric. Maybe others would get hazing, but I was always protected.

Now I hold myself to a higher standard. Two down is no longer good enough. In my mind, I need to be four faults or less. You feel your teammates’ expectations shift, too. It’s no longer, “Do your best.” It’s “Okay, we need a clear now—keep it together.” I really get the sense that Eric thinks both Yann and I can do something positive for the team and holds us to a high standard. We try to rise to that.

Tiffany Foster

It’s a bit like a young horse. There’s a point in a young horse’s career where he shifts from being a developmental horse to a competitive horse and it’s no longer just about gaining experience. It’s the same thing when you’re developing as a rider. At the beginning, it’s okay to just get around. Nobody expects you to go double clear and be the anchor of the team. As time goes on, you begin to be more accountable for what your scores are and that’s a good thing. Eventually, these guys will age out and I will have to go in the last position.

I’ve always looked up to Jill Henselwood.

Jill Henselwood is someone who the guys all depend on. If she’s on the team, they’re thinking that’s a clear, or worst case scenario, a four. They expect her to deliver and she always does. We rode together on the London Olympic team and I remember thinking at the time, I want to be at the point where I’m that rider.

Beezie Madden is another person as a woman to look up to. She rides as anchor rider on the American team and she delivers every single time. That’s something I aspire towards.

Tiffany Foster

The Zeiglers are my career.

If you don’t have the horses you can’t do much in this sport. The Zeiglers have been so behind me and Eric, and, therefore, the Canadian team—they are unbelievable owners and supporters. For me, I’ve gotten a lot of experience in a short amount of time. They only way to do that is to have a lot of horsepower underneath of you.

It’s a bit of a unique situation. The Zeiglers didn’t go out looking for a Canadian to get behind. They are very patriotic people. They would much rather sponsor American riders. We have a very good and lasting friendship, which started with Eric training Caitlin, their daughter, at age 12 and, later, with Andy getting into it and me training him. It just happened to be we rode for another country.

It’s a goal of mine and Andy and Carlene’s to get a team of horses that will get me to the point where my skill level and experience level is up to par to be competitive in those Nations Cups and Championships. If you don’t have the horses to go to the 5* shows in Europe, then you get to these Championships and you’re not prepared. You just don’t have the same chance as the people who go every weekend and jump those kind of classes week in and week out at that height. Obviously, Eric’s skill and experience level are already there. They just make sure he continues to have the horsepower underneath him. 

The Zeiglers really give us an opportunity to be at the top level. It’s a journey to get there. There are ups and downs along the way. Knowing you have that support, whether it goes well or badly, really helps. And having owners with the right goal in mind. It’s not a short-term thing. You have to look to these big events, like the Olympics. The road there isn’t always smooth, and easy, but if you’re headed in the right direction, that’s the most important thing.

Tiffany Foster