UPPERVILLE, VA., JUNE 10 -- Last year Michael Matz stumbled out of flaming airplane wreckage and across an Iowa cornfield. An experience like that makes you appreciate just about everything, he said. But not bumpy plane rides. He flew into Washington in raging thunderstorms Saturday night and after some shakiness, rode Caribe to victory today in the $40,000 Upperville jumper classic.
"You appreciate anything and everything: green grass, blue skies, any weather, well almost any weather," he said. "We flew in here last night and it was rough. I was a little nervous."
Matz rode four of the 26 horses entered in the grand prix event -- the feature of the week-long Upperville Horse Show -- and qualified three for the six-horse jump-off by virtue of clean rounds: Bon Retour, last year's champion owned by Helen Groves and D.D. Alexander; Caribe, owned by Alfredo Riverie; and Heisman, owned by WGHR Farm and Sale Johnson.
In the jump-off, Bon Retour went first and his time was beaten by the second qualifier, Saluut II of Ivory Ranch, ridden by Margie Goldstein, 1989 American Grand Prix Association rider of the year, 39.260 seconds to 42.005.
Caribe was next, and Matz's gamble on the final jump gave him the win. He had Caribe take off slightly farther away from the obstacle than is optimal. The strategy paid off with a victory in 38.695.
"At that point I knew it was close, and what do you do, take that one stride and lose? It came down to, which way do you want to lose," Matz said about not taking an extra stride. "If you make it, okay, you're a hero; if not, at least you tried."
The experience of being a survivor of the Iowa plane crash has made Matz more philosophical. He is not a member of the U.S. national team because the same horse, Caribe, stopped in front of barriers last week at Devon, Pa., during the trials.
"If this was the trials, maybe I'd be going to the world championships," he said. "But that's the way things are supposed to happen."
Luckily for Matz, fate has been on his side. Fate placed him in the plane and fate kept him out of the worst part of the accident, the front section, which broke up on impact.
Today everything went pretty much according to plan, and Matz now views winning and losing in a different manner.
"Just because you've had one bad show doesn't mean much," he said. "You just have to stick to the basics, same as in basketball or baseball, you have a game plan. We all have had bad shows, there's really nothing you can do but go on to the next one."
Maybe this sport brings out the tenacity in folks. Goldstein rode with a leg crushed in a fall two months ago and Katie Prudent rode in her first grand prix after suffering a head injury in a fall in February.
"I spent years developing my skill, it's my profession. And just because of an accident, I'm not going to stop," Prudent said.