(photos courtesy Belinda Trussell)

U of T alumna rides for gold at Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games

Belinda Trussell’s partner is tall (16.2 hands), dark (bay) and handsome. On July 11, they’ll be performing in the Grand Prix equestrian dressage competition at the Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games.

Trussell, a University of Toronto alumna, is on the equestrian team representing Canada at the Games, along with her horse, Anton, a 15-year-old, German-bred gelding.

Dressage, from the French word for "training", is often described as the art of dancing on horseback. At the Grand Prix level, horses are capable of performing multiple and complex gaits, demonstrating such advanced movements as changes of lead with each stride during canter (often called skipping), piaffe (trot on the spot) and passage (a slow trot with great suspension during each stride). In the Kur portion of the competition, the horse and rider perform these controlled, choreographed movements to music.

A dressage rider normally competes as an individual. Being a part of your country’s team is different, says Trussell, who was determined to make it onto the Pan Am team representing Canada.

“It was on my bucket list!” she says. “I wanted to compete in front of a home crowd.”

In an international competition such as the Pan Am Games, says Trussell, “you get to see all these different cultures. It’s a really special experience.” She will not be living in the downtown Athletes’ Village – bringing the horses into Toronto was not an option – but she will still be interacting with other riders at the OLG Pan Am Equestrian Park in Caledon. 

photo of Belinda Trussell on horsebackBorn in Sydney, Australia, Trussell first became interested in horses at the age of six. She moved to Canada in 1987, continuing to ride for Australia. Trussell attended the University of Toronto Mississauga and graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree in 1994, the same year that she became a Canadian citizen.

“I’m proud to be a U of T grad,” she says, “and I’m proud to represent Canada.”

Trussell, who met her future husband while attending UTM, now lives in Stouffville and has two children. Having just completed a final training camp, she will be monitoring Anton closely for any health or fitness issues, and helping him to acclimatize to the competition site.

“Horses are prey animals,” she says, explaining that their instinct is to run if startled. Anton is frightened by applause, and walking him around the site and taking him for easy rides will help keep him calm during the competition. Trussell’s respect and affection for the horse is palpable. 

“I know him intimately,” she says. “He’s in the best shape of his life. When I go around the outside of the ring, I always feel a real sense of pride.”

Beyond the Pan Am Games, Trussell and her three dressage teammates have their eyes on an even greater prize – if the Canadian team wins gold at the Pan Am Games, they are headed for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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