“It just goes to show that you never know what’s around the corner, because a year ago I didn’t have a Grand Prix horse,” said Canadian show jumper Beth Underhill, 59.
Underhill is a Pan American, Olympics and World Equestrian Games veteran with a list of accomplishments longer than most rider’s FEI records. For the past few years, her illustrious career appeared to be winding down.
Turns out, it was only an intermission.
While a year ago Underhill was without a Grand Prix horse, the tide has shifted and she’s now riding a wave of new successes. Since March, Underhill has competed for Canada on five Nations Cup teams, highlighted by a double clear performance in La Baule and a single time fault in Rome. She’s achieved individual distinction, too, winning the prestigious CSI5* Rolex Grand Prix Ville de La Baule 1.60m with Dieu Merci Van T & L in May.
The spark behind Underhill’s career resurgence: an unexpected phone call from Olympic champion Eric Lamaze (CAN).
Lamaze announced his retirement earlier this year due to his ongoing battle with brain cancer. He tapped Underhill to take the reins on his Torrey Pines Stables string.
“When I got the call from Eric in November with the opportunity to ride some of his horses, it just changed my whole world,” said Underhill.
“I was not expecting [it] at all. My first thought was, Am I up for this? I’ve had a strong career in the past and had a couple of very nice horses along the way. But competing in Europe and back at that top level was something I had to consider. Though not for very long.
“It took me but a moment to make the decision to jump on board and go to Wellington [Florida] and get started.”
Lamaze may have stepped away from competition, but he’s still at the center of Canadian sport in his new role as chef d’equipe. One of his first orders of business was to reinvigorate the team talent after the retirement of himself and Ian “Captain Canada” Millar. In addition to Underhill, he’s called upon Olympian and team veteran Yann Candele, securing Candele the ride on top horse Farezzo.
That hands-on approach has provided Underhill with the horsepower and support to do what she does best, ride for her country at the highest level.
“It is definitely is the strongest string I’ve ever had,” she said.
For Underhill, who has enjoyed the elusive combination of career success and longevity, the excitement of more opportunities are not lost.
“I’ve always been very grateful for the good moments and very humbled by that. So I never really felt, Oh, my career trajectory is going to go X, Y, Z. I’ve never been that kind of person. I’ve always been someone who, you know, worked hard but was pleasantly and joyfully surprised when everything came together and the stars aligned. And I still very much feel that way,” she smiled.
“Of course, at this point in my career, it’s even more special. It’s more important. I step into every competition, thinking, give it my all, give it my best.”
One thing that has not changed over the years: her will to win.
“Eric’s helped me very much on the front of getting to know the horses and improving my ride at this level, which has been a fantastic experience. But mentally, I’ve always been able to step into the ring and be able to clear my mind and focus on the job at hand and normally come through with my best performance within myself,” she continued.
“Whether it’s good enough, whether things go your way, doesn’t always happen. But I’m very mindful of this moment and this time and this opportunity and how fortunate and grateful I am to be right here.
“I think it comes partly from experience. But it’s also a little bit of a mindset, for sure.“
Equestrian sport often, and uniquely, favors the seasoned athletes, something Underhill attributes to the wisdom of experience.
“A lot of us, as riders, become technically better the older we get, and there are not many sports where we have that luxury. We can be athletes at this level and still be getting pretty old, honestly. I mean look at us, we’re not spring chickens!” laughed Underhill. “But the fact of the matter is that we’re at our best mentally.”
That positive outlook is something she and Lamaze share in common.
“I think so much [of what it takes] to be successful as an athlete or successful in life is your attitude. And I don’t know anyone who has a more positive attitude—other than myself—than Eric. I’m very much a glass half full kind of person. And he just believes, you know, he believes it can happen. And because he believes so much, many things happen that don’t seem that possible. And that’s a very rare gift that he could instill that not only in himself as a rider, but in others.
“And so for me to be part of that and to train together as a Nations Cup team in Europe, as we did prior to going to La Baule and Rome, it’s just such a wonderful experience.”
Underhill has the horses, and a plan to stay at the top of her game. Safe to say, Beth is back.