NEW GLOUCESTER — There comes a point in every athlete’s life when it’s time to stop competing.

Michael Poulin hasn’t reached it yet. And he’s 70 years old.

Poulin, one of the foremost American dressage trainers and riders, won a national championship at the U.S. Dressage Finals in Lexington, Kentucky, in November. But he has loftier goals.

A bronze medalist in dressage in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics at age 47, Poulin dreams of earning a berth in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“You bet,” said Poulin, head coach at the Pineland Farms Equestrian Center. “I’ve got the bug.”

Poulin, who was raised on a farm in Fairfield, has trained several Olympic riders and horses over the years. He feels he has one more ride to glory remaining.

“You never say never to Michael,” said Lendon Gray, an Olympic dressage rider from Dixmont who was trained by Poulin. “If he says there’s something he’d like to do, you better stand back.”

Age doesn’t seem to be a hindrance in dressage. Hiroshi Hoketsu was 71 when he rode for Japan in the 2012 London Olympics. Arthur von Pongracz of Austria was 72 when he competed at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. There are more important factors.

“In this sport, the horse is a big part of the equation,” said Stephan Hienzsch, executive director of the U.S. Dressage Federation. “But you still have to have the dedication and the drive and Michael still seems to be very vigorous.… If Michael says he’d like to compete in the Olympics again, that’s plausible.”

Dressage, a sport with a military background, dates back hundreds of years. It gets its name from the French verb “dresser,” which means “to train.” Each competition involves riders and horses performing specific moves – such as a piaffe, passage, pirouette or flying change – with unnoticeable cues from the rider, as if by memory. Many of the moves are the same that a horse would be expected to perform in battle.

A bronze medalist in dressage in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics when he was 47, trainer and rider Michael Poulin, now 70, wants to earn a berth in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. “If Michael says he’d like to compete in the Olympics again,” said Stephan Hienzsch, executive director of the U.S. Dressage Federation, “it’s plausible.”

A bronze medalist in dressage in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics when he was 47, trainer and rider Michael Poulin, now 70, wants to earn a berth in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. “If Michael says he’d like to compete in the Olympics again,” said Stephan Hienzsch, executive director of the U.S. Dressage Federation, “that’s plausible.” Photos by Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“If it’s being done well, there is complete harmony between the horse and the rider to the degree that it appears the horse is dancing and the rider is sitting there doing nothing,” said Gwyneth McPherson, director and head trainer at the Pineland Farms Equestrian Center.

It isn’t easy to get to that level. “It takes a lot of kindness, a lot of firmness,” said Poulin. “And you’ve got to be able to speak horse to do it.”

TRAINED IN SEVERAL DISCIPLINES

Poulin began riding when he was about 10, his sister Lucy instrumental in hooking him up with his first trainer, Skipper Bartlett of Naples. Growing up on the farm after his father’s death, Poulin became a jack-of-all-trades. “I learned to be creative and to be strong mentally,” he said.

Along the way he was trained by Franz Rochowansky in the classical philosophy of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria, home to the Lipizzaner horses. He also learned ballet, earned a black belt in martial arts, got his pilot’s license and drove race cars – each of those disciplines adding to his own training style.

In addition to earning an Olympic bronze medal, Poulin also trained another rider (Carol Lavell) and three of the four horses for the U.S. team at the 1992 Barcelona Games. But that would be his only Olympics. He was training three horses for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Each one he thought could compete at that level.

Each one, though, fell through for various reasons. “Bad luck,” said McPherson.

“I almost gave up riding,” said Poulin. “That was pretty depressing.”

Poulin splits his time these days between his home and training center in DeLeon Springs, Florida, and Maine, where he still lives on the farm in Fairfield.

Poulin joined the staff at Pineland as head coach about three years ago. He and McPherson want to show that world-class riders and horses can be trained in Maine.

Their results at the U.S. Dressage Finals, where McPherson also won two classes, are proving it can be done.

“Michael brings everything to us,” said McPherson, who has won three medals in international equestrian competition. “There really isn’t another person in this country that has his knowledge base and skill level.

“The depth of his knowledge is exceedingly special; his competitive experience is exceedingly special. It brings credibility to what we’re trying to do at this place.”

‘WE’RE PROVING OUR POINT’

The Equestrian Center at Pineland Farms was built in 2003, originally as a breeding farm. After a couple of years, it switched to a training center and includes some of the finest facilities in the Northeast, including a heated arena.

“What we’re trying to do is educate and keep alive the ability to train horses in the country to the Olympic level,” McPherson said. “So every time we do well in competition, we’re proving our point.”

Poulin won the Grand Prix Freestyle Open division at the 2015 U.S. Dressage Finals aboard Thor M, a day after finishing second to his daughter, Gwen, in the Grand Prix Open division. His routine included music from the soundtrack of “Brave.” Poulin said he improvised much of it as they rode. His winning performance can be seen on YouTube.

“He’s an icon in this sport,” said Hienzsch. “To see Michael out there competing and doing well, I think it’s an inspiration. It gives everyone someone to look up to and aspire to.”

McPherson won in two other classes on younger horses (Eskandar at Level 2 and Flair at Intermediare 1).

“This means that the model we’re following is working right,” said Erik Hayward, a vice president at the Libra Foundation, which funds Pineland Farms. “That is, that Maine can compete on the national level in the sport of kings, dressage. Our hope is to spur an industry in the Northeast, and Maine, for the sport.”

WITH THOR M, ‘THERE’S A CHANCE’

In the end, Poulin said success in this sport is all about the horse.

“It’s a little like NASCAR,” he said. “You’ve got to have the right car, you’ve got to have the right driver, you’ve got to have the right crew chief. It’s incredibly difficult.”

Poulin said it takes four to five years to get a horse to this level of competition and, he said, “that’s eight days a week.”

Poulin had been talking to some friends and told them he still had the itch to compete in the Olympics, but he lacked the horse. They told him to go find one and they would buy it.

Michael Poulin, one of the country’s foremost trainers and riders in dressage, works out with his horse Thor M at Pineland Farms Equestrian Center in New Gloucester.

Michael Poulin, one of the country’s foremost trainers and riders in dressage, works out with his horse Thor M at Pineland Farms Equestrian Center in New Gloucester. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Poulin found Thor M in Holland, on his fifth trip to Europe. It took a couple of years to heal the animal’s physical wounds – it suffered from mouth sores and leg injuries – and then a few more years to train him.

“I think the only thing that holds us back is the quality of our horse,” Poulin said in November of getting back to the Olympics. “It’s good, but not quite great enough to be competitive on the Olympic circuit. The Olympic horses have the same heart as Thor M but perform like a Michael Jordan. (Thor M) is sort of in the middle, maybe three-quarters of the way there. There’s still a lot left.”

Nonetheless, Poulin declared his intentions last week to ride Thor M for an Olympic berth.

Unlike sports such as swimming and track and field that hold their Olympic trials over the course of a week or so, the U.S. Equestrian Federation will hold a series of qualifying events in Florida through February and March. Each rider must compete in at least two of them. Poulin said he plans to compete in three: a Grand Prix competition with 32 movements, a Grand Prix Special individual test with 29 movements and a Grand Prix Freestyle that includes the 32 movements set to music.

Based on several factors – including, among others, scores of the qualifying events, consistency of scores over 70 percent and previous international experience – the top U.S. riders will be brought to Europe for the Olympic qualifier in the spring. The four best rider/horse combinations will be selected to compete at the 2016 Olympics, which open Aug. 5. Poulin will be 71 by then.

He figures Thor M can finish in the top 12 of the qualifying events. “So there’s a chance,” he said.

THE EFFECTS OF LYME DISEASE

More training is needed for the two to get to the Olympics. Poulin isn’t letting Lyme disease stop him, though it does force him to pause occasionally.

“Everything you do is more difficult,” said Poulin. “You’re sore and tired, all your joints hurt. It just slows you down. Anything you do is 10 times harder.”

Poulin has been on medication since he was diagnosed with Lyme and said he is feeling much better. He often flies his own plane between Florida and Maine, and finds the energy to work on the farm in Fairfield. “That’s my escape,” he said.

Poulin, McPherson, Thor M and five other horses from Pineland will move to Florida on Jan. 18 for the winter. There they will join Poulin’s wife, Sharon, and daughter Gwen to continue training, riding and dreaming of another Olympics appearance.

“I’m going to do this until the day I fall off,” he said. “I don’t feel 70. I may look it. But I don’t feel it.”