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London 2012 gold medallist Ben Maher targets Team GB place at Tokyo 2020 Olympics on Explosion W

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Hanging at one end of international showjumper Ben Maher's indoor arena is a jump from the 2012 London Olympics where he won a gold medal - Team GB's first showjumping gold in 60 years.

The five Olympic rings that featured as part of the fence serve as a reminder of dreams realised and the inspiration for goals still to be achieved.

And a special invitation to visit Ben's Elsenham stables and meet some of his equine stars - most notably Explosion W who is the No 1 showjumper in the world right now - gave a fascinating insight into the dedication, hard work and determination required to make it to the top.

Ben Maher and Explosion W. Picture: Vikki Lince
Ben Maher and Explosion W. Picture: Vikki Lince

Ben Maher MBE is currently ranked fourth in the Longines Global World Tour listings and has had an incredible season that has included individual silver and team bronze at the European Championships in Rotterdam, Grand Prix wins in Prague, New York, Rome and London and a week before Christmas competed at the London Olympia International Horse Show, with his younger up-and-coming horses.

But it is his partnership with Explosion, a 10-year-old gelding, that has made them one of the best horse/rider combinations in the world and likely contenders for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as a member of the British squad.

Ben, 37, travels extensively throughout the year, competing his horses around the world and is rarely at home, so catching up with the former Saffron Walden County High School pupil before Olympia was an opportunity not to be missed.

If you could design your own equine facilities with no expense spared and every detail thought of, then Elsenham Stud is the blueprint. From the manicured outdoor arenas and paddocks to the spacious and light stables and immaculate office and entertaining areas, nothing has been left out to ensure the best for horse, rider and the team who work behind the scenes.

And for Ben, the welfare and happiness of his horses is key. As he mounts his eight-year-old chestnut Gokhir, it is clear that even having had the horse since a three-year-old, the process of producing a top showjumper is on-going.

After watching him warm up the horse and pop a few practice fences it was then time for a tour and we headed off to the huge outdoor arena. It sits next to a large grass working in area, encircled by an all-weather track. "I like the horses to be more free and open and not too enclosed when they are working to keep them mentally happy and enjoying what they do. I use the track a lot - maybe racing was my second calling! But we train more outside than in to try to keep things as normal as possible for the horse."

The indoor arena has an adjoining office which spans the length of the facility with windows running down the long side - a viewing area from where the team run everything from the logistics of transporting horses all over the world to ensuring veterinary records are up-to-date. It houses the main office for Ben's secretary and boasts an impressive collection of photos and trophies and even a chair made out of one of his red showjumping jackets.

It is a place to display everything that Ben modestly shies away from having displayed within his home. "I like my house to be 'normal' without horse photos around!" he laughs. And as for the gold medal? "That's kept in a safe!"

The tack room was next - orderly and spotless with rows of bridles and shiny bits (which fit in the horse's mouth) of every description hung on the wall. Glossy wardrobes pulled open revealed the piles of rugs Ben has accumulated as prizes - with such a huge team and a lot of horses to look after, organisation is vital for Ben.

An under-cover tacking up area is situated at the end of the yard and on the wall, a synchronised electronic board which serves as a hub of information on all the equines. "It has their work schedules, their health details, it's all on there so that staff at our different locations around the world all know what the horses are doing. It's also good to be able to look back over their records and keep track of everything. It's a great system," he said.

Next we were to meet the equine athletes who with eager heads over their stable doors were happy to be made a fuss of and were delightfully friendly, relaxed and interested in the press pack - to me that meant happy horses.

Our first encounter, however, was not to be with a top class showjumper, but a tiny Shetland pony named Rio. He was rescued from America by Ben's girlfriend and is now living it up in five-star quarters with his talented stablemates. "He was free because he was a rescue pony, but I had to fly him over here to keep my girlfriend happy. He takes up the same space on a plane as a horse, so it ended up costing me quite a bit!"

Then, standing next door under heated lamps, rugged up to keep him warm having just had his coat clipped, was Explosion W. A magnificent stamp of a horse with an intelligent eye and handsome face - grandesque in stature and happy to walk out and meet everybody, but seeking the occasional reassuring nuzzle from Ben, demonstrating their close bond.

His legs are wrapped in bandages with protective boots over his hoofs to guard against knocks and scrapes. For an athlete who has amassed almost £1 million in prize money to date, his legs are certainly worth protecting!

It is difficult to comprehend this horse's talent and what he has achieved at just 10-years-old. He appears the consummate professional with a temperament that enables him to cope well with the demands of the job - the travelling and pressure of the showjumping ring. And according to his groom, Cormack, who takes care of his every need, he has plenty of spirit and a love of jumping.

After touring the facilities, Ben takes us all back to his office where we get the chance to interview him face-to face.

He reveals that his week back home is the longest he has returned in the last six months. "Unfortunately I spend very little time here. I've probably only had 40 days at home this year. I spend a lot of time in America with my girlfriend and I don't get to catch up much with friends. It's hard to have any normality when you're travelling so much, but I am very lucky to do what I do and I am still hungry to be better and to win."

Ben started riding when he was eight years-old and began competing in pony showjumping classes from a very early age. Soon after leaving school, he trained with British rider Liz Edgar, before travelling to Switzerland where he spent two years riding for Swiss showumper Beat Mandli.

He was a very successful young rider, helping the British Young Riders to a Team European Gold in 2004. He has since become a regular member of the senior British international team, competing in the 2009, 2011 and 2013 European Championships, and the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, riding Tripple X to team gold in the latter.

As 2020 arrives, Ben has his sights set on selection for the Olympic Games, although he will be out of action for six weeks for an operation on his lower back.

Team GB selectors will be watching the progress of the top British horses and riders throughout the forthcoming season before picking the team in June.

And Explosion is the horse he hopes will take him to further Olympic success. "I have had many good horses and you always feel that each one is the best for different reasons, but I think he is probably the horse of a lifetime.

"I am a sports person, he is an animal and not a machine, but for what he has won in the past 21 months, at only 10, I would go as far to say he is probably one of the biggest winning horses there has been."

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