New Olympic showjumping champion Ben Maher knew he was steering the equine equivalent of a Ferrari in his quest for gold medal glory.
In such an unpredictable sport, it is rare for one combination to arrive at an Olympic Games as red-hot title favourites.
But as with Nick Skelton and the brilliant Big Star in Rio five years ago, it is a partnership capable of being a class apart.
After winning the Rolex Grand Prix Show at Royal Windsor Horse Show last month, confidence oozed from Maher, so much so that he joked the horse could probably make him breakfast if he asked.
And while he confessed to never having driven a Ferrari, he added: “I imagine riding Explosion is what it feels like.”
Riders talk about their “once in a lifetine” horse. Some find one, others never do, but for 38-year-old Maher he knew that Explosion’s engine was purring and ready to cruise through the gears.
“He grows in confidence when I ride with a bit of speed,” Maher said. “I like to trust his quality and ride with that pace.”
Maher was born in Enfield – the same home-town as Great Britain’s multiple Olympic dressage medallist Charlotte Dujardin – and began riding at the age of eight.
He attended Saffron Walden County High School, and his riding career quickly flourished, working initially with renowned British trainer Liz Edgar – the sister of double Olympic bronze medal-winning showjumper David Broome – then moving to Switzerland where he was based with international rider Beat Mandli.
Maher rapidly rose through the ranks, enjoying a glittering junior career that culminated in a European Young Rider team gold medal.
By the time he was 25, he gained selection for his first Olympics, representing Great Britain in Beijing, and it started a run of four successive Games appearances, underlining his performance consistency and considerable horse-power.
He began to acquire some top-class horses – the likes of Robin Hood W, Tripple X III and Cella – and it was aboard Tripple X that he helped Great Britain to a spectacular team gold medal success at London 2012.
Alongside his current Tokyo team-mate Scott Brash, Skelton and Peter Charles, Britain ended a 60-year wait for team showjumping success, while also taking Maher’s career to another level.
“The horse was not going to let me down,” Maher said, following a dramatic jump-off victory over Holland. “He jumped fantastically well.
“Tripple X was amazing from the first competition he went to. He really grew into himself, and I always had the belief he was going to be special.”
More success came a year later at the European Championships in Denmark, this time aboard Cella as Maher claimed team gold and individual silver, before heading to Hickstead’s Royal International Horse Show and winning its flagship class – the King George V Gold Cup.
He had firmly established himself among the sport’s most prolific winners, underlined by numerous grands prix successes on the lucrative Global Champions Tour that saw him crowned overall champion in 2018 and 2019.
Among his owners was Jane Clark – her great-grandfather helped start the Singer Sewing Machine company – while he co-owns Explosion W along with Pamela Wright and Charlotte Rossetter.
In 2020, the partnership had a quiet build-up towards Tokyo – Maher had a back operation in the early part of the year – before the coronavirus pandemic meant they only competed once at grand prix level, winning in New York.
But they blasted out of the blocks when the Global Champions Tour resumed to set up a full-scale tilt at Olympic success in Tokyo.
And so it came to pass, with British showjumping in the rarefied position of having successive Olympic individual champions following Skelton’s Rio triumph.
Only one other country – Germany – can reflect on such a feat after Ludger Beerbaum and Ulrich Kirchoff won gold in 1992 and 1996, and Maher becomes Britain’s sixth Olympic individual showjumping medallist after Skelton, Broome, Peter Robeson, Marion Coakes and Ann Moore.
It was an explosive combination that quite simply blew all their rivals away.