By Martin Cleary
Canada’s First Family of Show Jumping has been shaken and is struggling as it deals with a critical injury to one of its own 11 days ago.
But the Millar Brooke Farm contingents in Perth, ON., and Wellington, Florida, have been buoyed by an untold number of prayerful supporters around the world.
Jonathon Millar, the son of 10-time Olympian Ian and brother of national team rider Amy, sustained a head injury on March 12, while driving a utility vehicle during the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington.
When Jonathon didn’t return home after the day of equestrian competition, his wife Kelly Soleau-Millar went out, found him and had him quickly transported to the St. Mary’s Medical Centre in West Palm Beach, according to the Millar Brooke South Facebook page.
Millar, 48, had successful surgery to stop bleeding in the brain and to relieve the swelling.
On Wednesday, Millar Brooke Farm issued this social media message about Jonathon:
“The last few days/weeks have been tough, but our time with the horses allows us to still feel connected with Jonathon, when we aren’t by his side at the hospital. He has an incredible team of doctors doing their absolute best and we believe he would want us to continue doing what we love as a family. Each time @TeamMillar steps in the ring this week, it will be for him.”
Three days ago, Millar Brooke Farm released this detailed report about Jonathon, who was a 2000 Summer Olympic Games alternate for Canada and competed in three Nation’s Cup competitions with his father in Calgary, Washington and Toronto.
“Jonathon is in stable condition. He remains under sedation in the ICU at St. Mary’s being cared for by the trauma team, (which) is helping him around the clock on his way to recovery. These are just the first steps on a long road, but Jonathon is a determined fighter.”
Team Millar has received many messages of encouragement and support from the equestrian community for Jonathon, Kelly and the family, which has been “comforting and humbling,” according to social media posts.
There also was a special thank you to Cayden Hill and staff at Millar Brooke Farm South “for the incredible work at seamlessly keeping operations at the farm and show moving forward.” Hill assists Jonathon and Kelly in the co-ordination of the horses at Millar Brooke Farm South, which is a branch of Team Millar’s Florida operation created in 2020.
A GoFundMe campaign has been established by family friend Olivia Airhart, an equestrian photojournalist, media professional and amateur rider. The goal is to raise $500,000 (U.S.) to cover medical expenses. As of Thursday, more than $32,000 from 134 donations had been donated for Jonathon’s expenses.
Jonathon’s last competition ride was a third-place finish on Feb. 25 during the $77,300 1.45-metre Grand Prix at the TerraNova Equestrian Center in Myakka City, Florida., while riding Isotropic Shadow.
In 2018, Jonathon posted a double-clear effort, riding Daveau, to help Canada win the 250,000 (Euros) Nation’s Cup in Coapexpan, Mexico.
Meanwhile, Ian Millar is off to a good start in his new Equestrian Canada role as Chef de Equipe.
In his first assignment earlier this month, he guided Canada to victory in the $150,000 (U.S.) Nation’s Cup competition in Wellington with a national team of Tiffany Foster on Hamilton, Erynn Ballard on Gakhir, Mario Deslauriers on Emerson and Beth Underhill on Nikka VD Bisschop.
As Chef de Equipe, Millar not only leads Canada’s high-performance riders at major competitions, but also is involved in many national team programs, including Youth Riders and Great Riders Intensive Training.
“Many thought it would be a natural step once I stepped back from competition that I should become chef. I didn’t for several reasons, among them my son (Jonathon) and daughter (Amy) and their involvement in the sport; the whole idea of conflict of interest. There must never be a hint of that,” Millar told Due South equestrian writer Nancy Jaffer.
After Eric Lamaze and Mark Laskin previously held the Chef de Equipe role, Millar reconsidered and thought he really needed to latch onto that assignment.
“I am enjoying it immensely. It’s a responsibility, a challenge and a great honour to be Chef de Equipe for your country. I’m a forever learner, I love to learn,” added Miller, who is 76 and doesn’t understand the word retirement.
“I really do not see the point of retirement. It’s not a word or a concept that really has anything to do with me. I’m doing as much work now as pretty much I ever did, in different ways.”
Millar also continues to be active on the farm – training, teaching and riding five or six horses a day, according to Jaffer.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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