British show jumper Ben Maher and his horse Explosion W are into the individual final at the Tokyo Olympics after an impressive round in Tuesday’s qualifiers.
Maher, 38, is appearing at his third games, having represented Team GB at Beijing 2008 and London 2012, winning gold at the latter in the team jumping event riding Triple X III.
The equestrian from Enfield began riding when he was eight and first attracted attention when he won team gold at the European Young Rider Championships in 2004 and has since picked up a team gold, two individual silvers and two team bronzes at the European Championships between 2011 and 2019.
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However, his progress has been hampered since he underwent back surgery in January 2020, which might have kept him out of the Tokyo Games altogether had they not been postponed for a year because of the pandemic.
“I feel like a new person!” Maher said of his recovery after his successful round in Japan on Tuesday.
“I struggled for a long time after a couple of falls and in 2018 and 2019 and I had to have a physio travelling with me – I couldn’t even walk very well,” he explained.
“Actually on a horse, I was doing OK and I felt more comfortable, but life wasn’t much fun so it was planned six months in advance that I’d have lower back surgery in London. I was nervous for a while that me feeling more healthy would make me worse than the ring. But I was in the gym a week after the operation and I was back in the saddle about nine weeks later. I rode literally two classes and then Covid came so last year was a write off for me. So I’m just happy to be here.”
Maher was full of praise for his mount, saying of Explosion X: “He was great. We’ve been waiting here a long time like everybody else – it’s been very boring and I was just kind of edgy to get going.
“It’s tough for the course-builder, but it was a fair course. It suited Explosion – the course is relatively big but all the distances were a bit open and I did one less stride to the last fence where a lot of people were doing the six and that helped me to be a bit quicker. He grows in confidence when I ride with a bit of speed – I have to trust his quality and ride with that pace, so it was a good course.”