Site icon Horse Network

Horses Made Me…Dream Beyond Reason

I used to always tell people, I’m gonna be the first show jumper from Iran to go to the Olympics.

And everybody would laugh at me. They’d say, “How do you plan to do that? You have no money. You have mediocre talent. You’re built to be a linebacker.”

And I would always turn to them and say, “I don’t see a problem.” Like, I don’t see the problem. And I didn’t. I believed I could do it.

My mom had one rule when we moved to this country from Iran: nothing illegal, nothing that could put you in harm, or bring shame to the family. So every day I woke up and I conducted myself like an Olympic athlete.

I would speak that to the world and I manifested that every morning, every day, every night of my life.

I was always planning to be the first one because then that meant that there’s gonna be 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 more.

It was crazy if you want to know the truth. I started riding at 12. At 18, I did my first Olympic trial in the summer of 1994 in Holland—and I missed qualifying by one rail. Now I look back, that was very, very ambitious.

After that, I had the taste. Olympic fever. So I did whatever it took to make sure I didn’t miss the next one.

I studied the greats like it was my job.

How Ludger Beerbaum stayed in the saddle but kept a light seat so the horse’s back didn’t get hollow. How John Whitaker’s low hand carriage allowed the power to go over the topline. How Jos Lansink and Franke Sloothaak always had the power in front of their hands and engaged. How Eric Navet used rhythm and speed to make up for a lack of scope on a horse. I watched how Albert Voorn found a way to ride every horse in the way they were comfortable and how Marcus Ehning can make a horse articulate around a jump without ever losing connection.

Every rider I studied and learned from.

Riding is only half the equation in horse sport. To compete at the Olympics you need a horse that can jump against the best in the world, too.

So I started saving. I would fly with two empty suitcases to Holland. I would buy nylon halters for like 50 cents and I would turn around the next morning, fly back to the U.S. and sell them for $5.

So it was like from 50 cents to $5.

I started saving money, saving money, saving money. I sold halters. I sold boots. I sold horses. Eventually I saved up enough to buy two horses.

One horse was supposed to be my star and he ended up being not my star. He hated me. He did not want to jump for me at all. He was too small. I overwhelmed him. He would jump with his belly down. He was not my fan.

The other one was my “emergency horse.” Campione. He was ridden by Björn Nagel. This horse had a heart of gold, but he had soundness issues so he was my emergency horse. Very early on it became evident that my number one horse was not going be my Olympic horse and that my emergency horse was my horse.

Campione was my best friend. He had the most beautiful brown eyes and he would do anything for me. I would sit in front of his stall, anxious as hell, and he would just lay his head in my lap and we would just sit there together and dream.

It makes me emotional just talking about it.

Because he wasn’t the soundest horse, I couldn’t jump Campione very much. I probably showed him four times in a year when I had him and I peaked him for the 2000 Olympics.

The Games were in Sydney, Australia that year. I remember I was standing him in ice, 15 minutes before I was supposed to compete in the first round. I was nervous as hell. Could barely breathe. I had Philippe Benoit, my vet, and Eric Navet, my coach, flanking me. And we took Campione to the ring.

To warm up, I could trot two laps, canter two laps, jump ten jumps.

The first round I jumped, I was fourth in the ring and it was carnage in there. Riders kept falling off.

There was this one line that Leopoldo Palacios had built and it was a massive skinny vertical with a death-defying forward four. If you took time at that skinny, the four was not possible. You would have to do five and the oxer was so big and wide, you couldn’t get across it.

I remember I came around the corner with this big rhythm and this horse had to give me maximum effort at that jump—and that four rode perfectly in hand. It was this moment where you realize that whatever this horse was missing, the moment he walked into the ring, he didn’t think he was missing anything. He jumped like he was a million dollars.

It was the most incredible moment of any rider’s life. He just gave me everything, everything.

Then he did again in the second round and we qualified for the Final. First Olympics, we qualified for the Final.

But we never made it to the ring for that last round. I didn’t even present him for the jog.

When they called me to get ready—I was supposed to be the last rider to jog—I went to go get Campione out of the stall. Normally he would run to the front and for the first time, he turned his back on me and he walked to the corner of the stall.

Eric Navet, my coach, walked up and put his arm around me and said, “He just told you.”

We have a saying that I teach all my riders and that was taught to me: We are horsemen before sportsmen at all times.

So when Campione turned his back on me, it was devastating, for sure. I’d been working toward the Olympics my entire life. But Eric said, “He gave you your dream and now you have to listen to him.” And that made it the toughest and easiest decision of my life.

Because when you’re in those moments, it’s battle and you have to have a partner that’s ready to battle. When Campione gave me those multiple rounds, he was ready to battle. But by that final round he had had enough. So it was the right thing to do.

I was 24 when I competed at the Sydney 2000. For sure, I was never the most talented rider from my country. But I got as much out of my little talent as I could. I dreamed it. I willed it.

When I retired at 41, I was at the peak of my career. I realized that sometimes you have to sacrifice in this sport if you want to leave a much larger legacy than whatever Grand Prix you might win. Campione taught me that.

Now I tell people I’m going to build a multi-discipline winter circuit at Del Mar Fairgrounds. And people might be laughing at me. But I don’t see the problem.

Read more:

Do you have a #HorsesMadeMeDoIt story? Send it to and celebrate your unique brand of crazy.

Brought to you by JumperFan, here to fulfill the dreams of every obsessive show jumping fan! Follow @wearejumperfans on Instagram!

Exit mobile version