By Steve Petrick
Take one glance at the office of Millar Brooke Farm, a barn just outside Perth, Ont., and you can tell that Amy Millar is from an extraordinary family.
All four walls of the office are plastered with medals, trophies and ribbons, most of them won by the farm’s owner Ian Millar, the most celebrated figure in Canadian equestrian history.
But his daughter Amy, a fourth-year Ryerson business student, is starting to add some of her own hardware to the collection.
The younger Millar has been riding in her father’s path from the time she entered her first horse show as a toddler. Now, at 23, she’s making her presence felt on the international equestrian scene.
Earlier this month she had two top-10 finishes at the Spruce Meadows Masters Tournament in Calgary, which hosted some of the world’s best riders.
The five-day show capped a summer in which Millar competed all across the country, and narrowly missed qualifying for the for Canada’s Olympic team.
Millar was ranked fourth in the country going into her final Olympic trial in July. But her fourth-place finish bumped her to fifth in the qualifying series’ standings and off the four-person Olympic team.
Millar took the loss in stride though. She says in her sport, riders often don’t reach their prime until their thirties. Her father is an example. At age 53, he’s competing in his seventh Olympic Games this week.
“Realistically, I’m not that disappointed,” she said in an August interview from the cramped, award-filled office. “I’m pretty happy that I came that close, and I want to get my school finished.”
This means not making the team was a good thing for Millar. Playing hooky from school for a few weeks to go to Australia wouldn’t help her graduate this year.
Once she does graduate, however, she’ll have plenty of time to pursue her Olympic dream.
“It’s going to be one of the biggest challenges of my career,” she said. “I don’t mind waiting a little longer before I do the hardest thing ever.”
Riding competitions have been getting progressively harder for Millar though, a point emphasized at Spruce Meadows.
While representing team Canada in the Nation’s Cup event, held on the tournament’s fourth day, Millar fell off her horse Manhattan.
After riding nearly flawlessly through the first part of the course, she was ready to guide Manhattan over two consecutive jumps to finish her round. But after leaping over the first hurdle, the Dutch Warmblood horse kicked his hind legs up, tossing Millar to the ground.
In the most tournaments, riders are disqualified if they fall off their horse, but since the Nation’s Cup is a team event, in which the times of the top three riders from each country are combined, riders are allowed to get back on.
Still, Millar’s time suffered because of the fall. Team Canada, which included Millar’s father and brother Jonathon, lost out because it needed a good score. It failed to qualify for the second round and finished last out of seven teams.
Although Millar described the fall as embarrassing—it happened in front of several thousand spectators and national TV audience—she said her teammates told her not to feel ashamed.
They realized that falling is something that’s bound to happen in a sport where athletes have to make lightening-quick decisions on how to control a horse.
So instead of returning to school in a foul mood because of the Nation’s Cup mishap, Millar returned to Toronto pleased that she placed well in her opening events at Spruce Meadows.
She opened the tournament with a seventh-place finish in the ProMark Cup with 52 other riders, which earned her $1,350. Two days later Millar won another $3,400 for placing sixth out of 43 riders in the Flight to the Finish event.
It seems these earnings should provide enough to cover her tuition costs, but Millar says her prize money goes back into the cost of maintaining horses.
Many equestrian riders make money by operating farms such as Millar Brooke, where Millar spends her summers taking care of other people’s horses and teaching people how to ride.
It’s a number-crunching operation, which is why she decided a business degree at Ryerson would prepare her to take over the family farm.
Although attending Ryerson limits her ability to train in the winter, and breathe unpolluted country air, Millar says she doesn’t mind leaving her small town of about 15,000 people, located a few kilometres southwest of Ottawa.
“I like Toronto better,” she says. “It gets boring fast here [in Perth].”