Last spring, his mount - a bay gelding named Rhum IV - won the first event at the World Championship trials. But Matz's good fortune was short-lived. The horse fell ill with blood in its lungs.
By competition's end, Matz was in seventh place, out of contention for the team of five that would represent the United States in a competition in The Hague, Netherlands.
In September, a horse named Olisco threw Matz during warmups for the $85,000 American Gold Cup competition at the Devon grounds, and Matz broke his collarbone.
He recovered in time to win the gold medal for individual show-jumping at the 1995 Pan-American Games in Argentina, a competition to which he had been an alternate.
"In this sport, you have to learn to handle the up parts as well as the down parts," he said. "You have to realize that it all depends partly on luck."
The role of chance, Matz said, is not appreciated by many younger riders. Riders see themselves as central to the competition, instead of realizing that their success depends on the horse. Many riders fail to realize what it takes to train a horse, so they fail to understand and appreciate the animal, he said.
"The best riders aren't working alone. They are the ones with the best horses," he said.
Matz first rode horses when Reading-based farm owner George Kohl gave him a
break from mowing grass. He then rode whenever he could. He stayed close to the best horses by grooming and training them. He now runs Vintage Farm in Collegeville.
"I've been lucky with the people I've met," he said. "You can't really get the chances I got today."
Still, he has not led a charmed life.
In 1980, the year he first captured the Mercedes Rider of the Year Award, he was not able to attend the Olympics because of the U.S. boycott. He recaptured the award in 1984, a year when he did not qualify for the Olympics.
At the 1986 World Show Jumping Championship in Aachen, West Germany, his excitement upon winning a team gold medal was tempered by his father's death a few weeks earlier, and the fact that he was going through a distressing divorce.
In 1989, he won the U.S. Equestrian Team's show jumping national championship trophy. Then, he was involved in a plane crash of a United Airlines DC-10 in Sioux City, Iowa, in which 112 died. He was one of 184 survivors.
"Things happen for a reason," he said. "There was a reason why I didn't get to go to Worlds this year, and a reason for why I didn't die in that plane crash. I guess it just wasn't my time."
This array of life experiences, Matz said, has helped him keep riding in perspective. Although he is considered one of the most successful show-jumping riders in America, he no longer beats himself up when he misses jumps during the course of an evening.
"When I was younger, I remember going into one of the classes and having eight falls," said Matz. "I came out and I was so angry with myself. I remember looking over and seeing about 15 people in wheelchairs, with grins on
from ear to ear. They were happy for me. That brought me back to reality."
Nowadays, he's more apt to find humor in the competition which brings him back to Devon and other shows year after year.
At a show two years ago, he was competing on two horses during an event. One belonged to his second wife, Didi; the other belonged to his long-time friend F. Eugene Dixon, Jr.
"I kept wondering whether I would lose my job, or get a divorce," he said. "I kept my job."
Now, the years are beginning to wear on the thin father of two. He wants to make a final run at the Olympics this year, then maybe give up show-jumping to train race horses.
"I haven't ever won a medal in the Olympic Games," he said. "That would sort of satisfy me. If I didn't win, though, I wouldn't commit suicide, my career wouldn't be over, and I wouldn't think that it had been a bust."