Up Close And personAl
Up Close And personAl with Allan Ehrlick by MARY KIRKMAN
Allan H.L. Ehrlick, of Campbellville, Ontario, is best known in the Arabian horse world today as the vice chair of the Canadian National Show Commission. A little more research reveals that he is also President of the Ontario Equestrian Federation, a two-time winner of the AHA President’s Award, a three-time APAHA Horseman’s Award winner, Equine Canada’s 2011 Volunteer of the Year, a member of the Canadian Equestrian Team’s Wall of Honor and Pony Club Wall of Fame, and as of August 2014, the owner of 101 national championships and reserves in the Arabian show ring. That should be enough of a description for anyone—but for Ehrlick, it just scratches the surface.
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Up Close And personAl
Allan aboard The Nomad, his Olympic eventing partner.
t was mid-morning on a late October day in 1968. The sky was a piercing blue over the resort area of Avándaro, in the mountains northwest of Mexico City, and the tension in the air was palpable. It was the second day of the equestrian three-day event at the Summer Olympics, and the 78 riders on deck faced a 30 minute, 35-obstacle cross country course that was daunting. Not only that, but despite the sunshine, rain was predicted and everyone wanted to get through before it hit. Already one of the water jumps, more than six feet wide and four feet deep, was a hazard.
Twenty-two-year-old Canadian rider Allan Ehrlick stood by his Anglo-Arabian gelding, The Nomad, and concentrated on his mission. “You try to remember everything you’ve been taught forever, and all the people who have faith in you,” he says, recalling those moments. “You have a job to do and you try to do it the best you can, so you block out everything else that’s going on in the world or anywhere else.” He had confidence in his horse, a sizable grey with a floating tail and a quirky personality. And he had something else he could count on too: his own grit and determination. Two
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years before, he had survived an abduction, spending three days facing the fact that if he weren’t located and rescued, his life would be over almost before it began. “It drove me to never, ever accept not being able to do something,” he says. That day, only 49 riders finished the course, but Ehrlick was one of them. He and The Nomad helped propel the Canadian three-day team to sixth place in the standings. The nasty water jump? They soared over it, landed fearlessly on the other side and scrambled through the rush of brown water to re-attack the course. It was, after all, eventing; it was what they were there to do. “I think I probably just enjoyed it so much—the whole concept of it,” Ehrlick says, looking back. “It was exhilarating. You know how sometimes you just find an activity that you really, really like? You feel like, wow, this is what I was designed to do.” He did not, however, focus so much on the competition that he didn’t appreciate the experience of being at the Olympics. He knew that it was extraordinary. The Canadian Equestrian Team was on site for six weeks to get used to the altitude (Avándaro was at 1,800 feet), so unlike some athletes today
who fly in and out, they marched in the opening and closing ceremonies and soaked up the atmosphere, particularly the emotional closing ceremony. That was so over the top, he remembers, that it was almost hard to digest, but he separated it in his mind and allowed himself to absorb it. “You’re just saying, ‘Thank you, this is so special,’” he says. “It’s so much more than has ever been described.” Ehrlick would return to the Olympics twice more, although eventing took its toll on his body; in his 12-year international career, he endured four operations on his left knee and three on his left shoulder, which cut into his ranking, so that in 1972 and 1976, he travelled as the team alternate (he calls it “the spare”). But once again, he would be a little too close to tragedy: he was on the grounds in Munich when the extremist group Black September took 11 Israeli athletes hostage and eventually murdered them. “It was pretty ugly,” he says briefly. He speaks little of his own time as a hostage. For 20 years afterward, he couldn’t talk about it at all, and even now, nearly 50 years on, he doesn’t want to discuss it. Answering questions about it, he says, would be a horror.
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Allan with Dal-Apollo, 2007 Canadian National Champion Regular Working Hunter AAOTR.
EVG Ellie Mae
…………………… Ehrlick’s life did not begin with that kind of drama. He Was his father impressed with what he ultimately rode horses at his grandparents’ farm from the time he accomplished? He hesitates. “I’d like to say I hope so, but he could walk, and like many children, started his formal didn’t need to be impressed. I wanted him to be pleased.” training in Pony Club. A point of pride is that from age 12 to 21, his trainer was the highly respected Captain John He chokes up a little when he offers an illustration. “I was in my De Kenyeres, a classical Hungarian horseman who had 40s—not a little boy—and I was playing on a professional hockey immigrated to Canada after the Hungarian Revolution. team here, and he walked in the dressing room. We had a charity Kenyeres, he says, was a consummate gentleman and like game that night, and I didn’t even know he was coming.” a second father to him—and although his own father was one of the greatest influences of his life, there was no such And his mother? “She was patient,” Ehrlick laughs. “She thing as too much guidance at that point in his life. “I was was the consummate sports fan—she could quote you one of those kids who was physically very mature, but a statistics on almost any sport. She would watch games, go typical boy, very immature,” he chuckles. “I was looking for to games, she would follow me around the world.” the rush, rather than the substance.” She never questioned the risk factor in her son’s equestrian sports. After When did he grow up? “My wife would say I’m still a eventing, he took up polo (the attraction was the speed) for 17 years. child,” he deadpans. “But, certainly not until after I was 30.” Despite all the athletics, he did understand that life was not all He had a full-grown drive for achievement, however. “I was about his having fun; having attended university, he also got the victim of great parents,” he jokes. He is serious only in into business. In the 1980s, he owned marketing companies the compliment. “They were very supportive. My father was that supplied clothing for sports organizations such as the a great athlete, All-Canada in football and hockey at the National Football League and National Basketball League, university. And he was a fanatic golfer; when he was killed and for a period, got into insurance with his father. “I always [in an automobile accident] at the age of 78, he still had a did something,” he nods. “But there were always horses.” 10 handicap. He had high expectations for me in anything, so I played hockey for Team Canada and swam on the In the 1980s, that would mean that there were Arabians peering national swim team.” out of the stalls in his barn.
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…………………… It all began with The Nomad, but the fact that the gelding was an Anglo-Arabian was incidental at the time, Ehrlick says. He just knew he liked the horse. “We bought him as a 3-year-old from a famous old horse dealer around here,” he recalls. “I was just coming out of the junior ranks and he looked like a pretty nice horse.” In fact, The Nomad was so nice that in the summer of 1967, he won the National Pony Club A Rally Championship, and the following year topped the Olympic Trials and was selected for the Canadian team. “It was his incredible energy and ability,” Ehrlick notes, “and he was defiant and stubborn; you have to treat them a little bit differently. He just had that certain something. He wasn’t the fastest in the world, but he was a really good mover and a very, very good show jumper. He was reasonable at dressage; in the Eastern Canadian Three-Day Championships one year, he had the lowest score (which is the best) in the FEI dressage test, a record which stood for about 30 years. “He had his quirks—he had lots of those—but he had a certain character and he was a pretty neat boy. He would have been a great one in any time; it could have been today or 10 years ago or 20 years ago. He was just very talented.”
“Oh, yeah,” he replies. Clearly, he never considered any other choice. Recognizing that much of what he admired in The Nomad came from the horse’s Arabian heritage, Ehrlick eventually began showing Arabians and Half-Arabians in jumping, hunter over fences and hunter hack. There would be other horses he cared about—one in particular was the HalfArabian Imarango Meriah—but never one quite like The Nomad. Recently, he has been known for 17-time national champion Dal-Apollo and the late Anglo-Arabian R Jay Bakaro (“he was spectacular”). Now he rides the HalfArabian EVG Ellie Mae, who belongs to his wife, and Psyklon CCA. “I’ve had some great ones,” he acknowledges, and laughs. “I went to my first Nationals thinking I’d go once. I was a little naïve. I’ve been blessed to ride not just good horses, but amazing horses. They did nothing but give, give, give. It was circumstantial that I got into Arabians, but it was the luck of the draw and I’m a huge believer in fate.”
And the horses weren’t all that kept him in the breed once he got started. He made friendships that When The Nomad was 17, he contracted breathing have remained with him for more than 30 years, problems, and without today’s technology, Ehrlick had even though he spends much of his life away from him put down. “I couldn’t see him suffer anymore,” he the breed, stewarding for FEI. “I don’t lose those says, his voice thickening. So he had kept the gelding? friendships,” he notes. ……………………
By the time Ehrick reached the 1990s, he already had had a pretty eventful life, and by his own admission, was in no way prepared for what was to come. That was when he met horsewoman Cheryl Smith—in his words, “The Divine Cheryl Smith.” It happened when she needed to have horses transported to a horse show and he wound up being the one to do it. She was as unaware as he was that anything could develop between them.
Cheryl and Allan, 2007 APAHA Professional Horseman and Amateur of the Year. 108AA | A R A BI A N HOR SE T I MES
Smith, who graduated from a veterinary tech college and trained in England in the British Horse Society, had a barn and clients, and the one time she had met Ehrlick in the past, she was unimpressed. His high profile equestrian life had lent him a sort of rock star aura that meant there were always women around, and in a brief encounter, she had found him a little arrogant.
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Allan Ehrlick and wife, Cheryl, at Sport Horse Nationals.
That show was a turning point for both of them. “It ran very late, and we wound up sitting on the sidewalk until well after midnight, just discussing stuff about the show,” she recalls. “And there was a lot of humility there—it was more appealing than the public perception of him.” “I was kind of at a crossroads,” Ehrlick says. He was smitten from the start. “She changed my life—she may not be perfect, but she’s perfect for me. She never lets me get too high, and all through [my bouts with] cancer, she never let me get too low. She’s as independent as they come, and she’s made a great life for me. “She had everything I have ever looked for,” he adds. “She was beautiful, strong, articulate; she was emotional (and
still is), and probably in the 23 years we’ve been together, I’ve never said no to her. She’s pretty special.” Smith laughs at the “never said no” comment. “Never said no to me? Ha! It’s a tough relationship in that we’re similar in certain ways—we’re both very pigheaded and convinced we’re right, so we clash on a regular basis. But we’re very good at it. It never has any lingering effects.” She came to understand why he sometimes appears arrogant, and like many who know him, she sees through it. “He has to be that way,” she says. “In another world, if he hadn’t been a horseman, I think he would have been a politician.” Reminded of the dismal reputation of politicians in the United States these days, she demurs that she means he has diplomatic skills and a thick skin, which
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R Jay Bakaro 2006 Canadian National Champion Half-Arabian Working Hunter AAOTR with Allan, up.
are useful in all of his work with equine organizations. “He’s not afraid to put himself out there. If he gets his ass kicked, he whimpers for a bit and then he bounces back. “He has a terrific love of his horses and he’s a great horseman,” she continues. “He’s devoted to them and that takes precedent over everything else. There are traits common, I think, to anybody who wants to serve in the public, whether it’s political office or charitable organizations or whatever. You have to be prepared to be in the spotlight, and have people love you or not love you. He can be a polarizing kind of person. You either love him or you don’t.” She understands the territory that goes with organizational work; although she is the opposite of her husband (while he is gregarious, she prefers a quieter, less public lifestyle), she was on the committee that designed the Sport Horse division. Since its inception, she has served on its show commission, currently as vice chair. They married in 1992, and the balance of their personalities illustrates another side of Allan Ehrlick.
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Describing what she likes best about her husband, Smith cites his sense of humor: it is “unfailing.” And what does she like least? “That he is so incompetent in the house! He can’t boil water! And if you turn him loose to do something like the laundry …” “Okay! Now!” he huffs. “The truth of the matter is, I lived alone for a long time and I think they invented microwaves for me. Yes, I can boil water—and I can make tea, but I cannot make coffee.” He explains that he was more or less barred from “cooking” after Cheryl, who went out to dinner with women friends, left him carefully-prepared frozen food with a note on how to heat it up. Things went well until he removed his dinner from the oven. “I looked down and my oven mitt was on fire,” he relates, “so I banged it against my leg, and now the oven is on fire (along with my pants).” He got the fire out, opened the windows and sprayed with room freshener, but Smith wasn’t fooled. She’s already laughing. It doesn’t matter; what he can’t do happen to be things she mostly enjoys doing. “We’re a pretty good partnership.”
Up Close And personAl …………………… Commission; they have been together for nearly 20 years. Just because Allan Ehrlick had someone with whom to It’s very special, he says, and it’s built on respect and caring. face life’s challenges didn’t mean that everything then went along smoothly. In 2003, he was diagnosed with squamous Much of Ehrlick’s strength, it becomes clear, relates to cell carcinoma (skin cancer), and for the first time since caring. He learned it from his parents, from his wife, from his the 1960s was in a life-and-death situation. The lessons of friends, from his own commitment. How he faces difficulty that earlier time helped him through this one as well; he is how he faces life. “You can’t just fold your tent,” he says. fought back mentally as well as physically. He and Cheryl “That never works. You have to get up in the morning. The rode together every morning, and then before driving to wind is going to blow and it’s going to rain, and you haven’t the hospital for heavy-duty radiation, he would sit in their any control over things like that; you have to make the best trophy room, alone, staring at all the hardware he’d won over of what you’ve got. You can’t always do that, but you try.” the years and reminding himself that he could do what he needed to do. Then he would head off for treatment, talk to There is no question that Allan Ehrlick’s equestrian career people, put it out of his mind that he was fighting for his life. has been a success, and he probably would agree. But what “You just do it,” he says, and adds dismissively, “My face was he calls “success” might differ from conventional concepts. a mess for a long time, but it didn’t matter.” “I’ve never been a statistics chaser,” he reflects. “Everything is about the journey, what you do to get there and how He licked cancer then and he licked it again when it far you go.” He smiles. “One-hundred-one, the journey’s appeared three years ago. That time, he opted for a difficult complete—but it’s not over.”n MOH procedure that left 40 stitches across his jaw. “I’ve been so fortunate in my life,” he says. “I’ve had— have—a great support system.” Easily, the word that recurs most frequently in Ehrlick’s conversation is “fortunate,” followed closely by “lucky.” It’s not calculated or false; it just spins out when he speaks of his wife, his parents, his horses, his friends, his health. He never takes that good fortune for granted, and it may be one reason why he is so fiercely driven to volunteer, to “give back.” “My father was always giving to the public, always volunteering,” he says. “I am my father’s son. It’s what I do. “Somebody needs to give back,” he continues. “Nobody’s going to do it for you. You can’t make people care; they do or they don’t. Volunteering is a dying art. We are such a litigious society that a lot of people are afraid to put their name on anything. I didn’t grow up that way. My father was a huge volunteer and he took great pride and satisfaction from it.” Perhaps basic in his gratitude is that he has been able to live the life he wanted. “I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been able to pursue a passion in my life,” he says. Some of that is that he had the freedom and ability to do it, but some of it is that much of what he loves to do—competition with horses—depends on the volunteers who put it on. Bottom line, Ehrlick respects what he does. He’s big on respect, he concedes. He notices good manners, people that show others respect and who respect what they do. That is part of his affection for the Canadian National Show
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