Ben Maher
Horse & Hound|September 02, 2021
The new Olympic champion has had little opportunity to bask in the golden hue of Tokyo, but he talks to Jennifer Donald about the road to victory, his “freak” of a horse and why Paris 2024 is already on the agenda
Jennifer Donald

SINCE his medal-laden plane full of British athletes touched down from Tokyo, Ben Maher’s feet have barely hit the ground. He eschewed a welcome-home party – “that’s not really my thing” – but was celebrated along with his heroic partner Explosion W in a parade in London. He’s replied to each of the hundreds of congratulatory messages he received – and politely turned down an offer to appear on Mastermind. Then there was his beautiful wedding to long-term partner Sophie Gracida at their Hertfordshire home.

Has he even had a chance to revel in the glory that being crowned Olympic champion rightfully deserves?

“It didn’t feel real at the time but I woke up at 4am the next day and it hit me,” says Ben, who was doubling up on the gold he won as part of Great Britain’s showjumping team in London 2012. “The dream to win an individual gold medal really was the most important thing to me and we’ve come close at recent championships, winning silver twice.

“That did start to play on my mind – especially at the last one [in 2019] where I felt I didn’t finish the job. You only get so many chances at the Olympics with the right horse at the right time.”

Ben certainly found the right horse and has been the envy of the equestrian world since 2018 when he took the reins full-time on the astonishingly talented Explosion W, whom he describes as a “natural born winner” and “the best I’ll ever ride”.

Grand prix titles fell into his hands with such ease that from the outside, it seemed all but a foregone conclusion that the Olympic crown could be added to the pair’s list of global accomplishments.

But that weight of expectation sat heavily on Ben’s shoulders as the Games began.

“I probably felt added pressure because I sold the dream of Explosion to his new owners, then there was a lot of planning involved in the build-up to Tokyo and I guess I felt like I owed a lot of people something back,” says Ben, who was thrilled to be joined in Tokyo by Explosion’s hugely supportive owners, the American mother-and-daughter duo of Pamela Wright and Charlotte Rossetter.

“I always put pressure on myself and I’m fine with that, but there were a lot of expectant people. I was confident going in, though, and in the end some things are just meant to be.”

WATCHING Ben’s progress through the individual competition in Tokyo was an awe-inspiring, if nailbiting, experience – not least the pair’s almost kamikaze jump-off performance that smashed the limits of what seemed possible for any horse and rider to achieve.

“Scott Brash and Peter Charles watched the first three riders for me and, after Peder Fredricson’s round, the last thing I heard before I went in was, ‘Just go at full speed – it’s all or nothing!’” recalls Ben. “And actually I’m better like that, rather than playing the middle-ground game.

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