He's taking a road to redemption

October 29, 1994|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Sun Staff Writer

FAIR HILL -- Todd Trewin is on a journey of redemption with a remarkable horse named Sandscript.

The pair's latest odyssey has taken them on a six-week cross-country jaunt of horse trials and schooling sessions. In a two-horse trailer, pulled by a pickup truck, they have traveled from their home near Seattle to Idaho, New Mexico, Kentucky, Virginia and now to Cecil County, as competitors in this weekend's international three-day event at the Fair Hill Natural Resources Center.

The last time the American public saw a snapshot of the pair, included in a 13-minute packaged glimpse of the equestrian three-day event, was on an NBC telecast of the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

It was not a pretty picture.

Accompanied by photos of a series of spectacular-looking spills taken by other competitors on the cross country course, Trewin was seen riding Sandscript to the point of near exhaustion to reach the finish line.

Shannon Hiliker, who is now Sandscipt's groom and at the time was a riding student of Trewin's, remembers watching the television footage in Seattle.

"I burst into tears," she said. "It was horrible. But I knew something had to be terribly wrong, because this just wasn't Todd. If anything, he is overprotective of his horses and always stresses safety."

To compound Trewin's problems, the Olympic ground jury that supervises the equestrian events, disqualified him from competing in the third phase in the Games because the jurors thought Sandscript was too exhausted to continue.

Trewin's image went from Olympic equestrian to animal abuser.

When Trewin, 36, returned to the United States, not only was he skewered in the press, but he was also attacked by animal rights groups and lambasted by one of his fellow competitors, who sent a letter to members of the United States Equestrian Team, blaming him for the near death of his horse.

"Of all the things I had to endure, that letter was the hardest," Trewin said yesterday at Fair Hill, where he and Sandscript are tied for 24th place out of 63 after the first phase of the dressage competition. They head out today in the second phase, a 14-mile cross country course.

Trewin said he doesn't blame equestrian fans "for their perception of me, because that was what they were fed." But he also feels that his side of the story has not been told, that the full circumstances of the episode were never fully explained, including his own inexperience in his first Olympics.

"I wouldn't have gotten through this without the help of my family, my wife, Tracey, and the horse. Sandscript is an incredible animal and was, after all, the real victim."

What the public didn't see, Trewin said, was that about two hours after he completed the course, Sandscript was fine.

"All they remember is me jumping off the horse, veterinarians rushing to attend to him and me looking pretty haggard. I was mentally beat, not by the course, but by having to decide: 'Do I pull up the horse or ride to the finish for the sake of the team?'

"If I had stopped, the horse could still have been cooked. There was no one out there on the course to help him. Remember, we were in the middle of nowhere on a mountain range in Spain. The only help was at the finish line.

"Then, I had heard that our first rider to go, Michael Plumb, had fallen on the course. I knew I had a job to do as the third member of the squad. I had to finish for our score to count.

"Riding that horse to the finish was the most difficult two minutes of riding in my entire life."

Trewin said that before the Olympics, he felt his horse was overtrained. After winning the final U.S. selection trial at the Rolex Kentucky three-day event in April, the pair trained in England.

"But the weather there was 60 degrees and raining," Trewin said. "We flew into Barcelona just two days before the event, and on the day of the competition, it was 90 degrees with 70 percent humidity. I felt early on the horse was running into a wall.

"My mistake was thinking the animal underneath me was the same horse I had always been on. I had never been in this type of situation before. My mind was reeling after he put in a stop at the seventh fence. I thought: 'Is this really happening or is it just my nerves from being in my first Olympics?' "

Trewin said he felt the horse wilt between jumps, "but then he'd take a fence and he'd feel fabulous."

Roger Haller, former vice chairman of the three-day committee of the Federation Equestrian Internationale, which governs the sport, was at Barcelona. He helped select members of the U.S. team and is course designer for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

"What happened to Todd was blown out of proportion," Haller said. "He finished on a tired horse but not one that was going to die. He was not whipping the horse or pushing him.

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