WHAT started as a one-year-old toddler discovering a new rocking horse on Christmas day has turned into an Olympic experience for North Vancouver's Tiffany Foster.
Earlier this month Foster was named as one of five athletes who will represent Canada in equestrian show jumping at the London Olympics. The announcement was made at the famous Spruce Meadows show jumping grounds in Calgary.
"It's surreal," the 27-year-old said after her name was revealed along with teammates Gillian Henselwood, Lisa Carlsen and Canadian show jumping legends Eric Lamaze and Ian Millar. "I think today was the first day that it sunk in, when I came here. It's one of those things that has been floating around - we've obviously all been thinking about it for the last year or several months. We got the email two weeks ago that we were nominated, but I honestly came in here today, seeing how it was all set up, seeing my name along with the other names . . . I was really excited."
As a young girl with a love of horses, Foster moved on from her rocking horse and started riding the real deal at age eight when she began taking lessons at the North Shore Equestrian Centre in North Vancouver.
She later moved on to Thunderbird Show Stables in Langley where she became a rider, teacher and stable manager for owners Brent and Laura Balisky.
In 2006 she made another move, this time across the country to work for Lamaze at his Torrey Pines Stables outside of Toronto. Over the next several years Foster became head trainer at the stables and began her own show jumping career. Meanwhile Lamaze provided ample inspiration as he won gold at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Foster was there to see it happen.
"The Olympics is different than a normal horse show," she said. "I've been to a lot of horse shows with Eric, even a lot of championships, just to watch and . . . the Olympics definitely has a different feel I would say. There's a bit of a magic."
In 2011 Foster's own riding career took off as she won the TD Cup at the Spruce Meadows North American tournament in July, claiming $80,000 for the victory on top of Victor, a horse co-owned by Torrey Pines. That win earned her a spot on the Canadian Equestrian Team and she went on to help the squad finish second at the Nations Cup last September on a horse named Southwind.
"I would say the first time I thought (the Olympics) was a possibility was the Nations Cup in Florida, just because Eric said, 'You know what, I think we can maybe do this,'" said Foster.
Strong results kept coming, particularly after Foster settled on Victor as her main horse. She'll ride the 10-year-old Dutch warmblood in London at the Olympics.
"He's always a horse that steps up - whenever I ask a little more from him, he's always there to give it to me," said Foster. "We have a real good partnership, we're a good match. I love him and he seems to love me. I'm obviously really grateful to have him and I'm excited to see what he can do there."