National tournament kicks off at Spruce Meadows with eyes on Olympic hopefuls

Article content

They may be working hard on 50th anniversary celebrations for 2025, but for this summer, Spruce Meadows is intent on making the 49th year its own unique experience for fans of show jumping.

Even the city-wide water restrictions haven’t derailed proceedings at the equestrian facility in south Calgary, as it has its own supply.

“How it affected us is we completely respected the demands that were going to be put on the city’s water system,” said Ian Allison, Spruce Meadows’ senior vice-president, sport and media services. “We have an internal water system here that is driven off wells and reservoirs and our catchment ponds so we haven’t been on city water at all.

Advertisement 2

Article content

“We went the first 40 or so years without any access to city water. We did connect to the city (a few years ago) with a meter we can open and close, should we have to, but we don’t need to.”

So with the grass a luscious green and flowers blooming, Spruce Meadows is into its second week of competition, as the National tournament gets underway. There are 144 FEI horses in the stables, chomping at the bit, including several Canadian entries. Many eyes will be on those who are hoping to be named to Canada’s Olympic squad, which will take part in the Paris Games in August. Among those vying for a spot are Tiffany Foster, Erynn Ballard, Amy Millar, Mario Deslauriers and Calgarian Kyle Timm.

Canadian chef d’equipe Ian Millar will be in Calgary this week to begin deliberations as to who will make up the four-person (including one alternate) team. The selections should be announced in the next few weeks.

Because of the Games being close on the heels of the Spruce Meadows Summer Series, some usual suspects are not here. The U.S. team is using Europe as preparation for their long list of 10 riders, which includes competitors such as Kent Farrington, Laura Kraut and McLain Ward.

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

“Normally in an Olympic cycle year, you might see your numbers down a bit,” Allison admitted. “What’s interesting is we have a lot of first-timers and trainers who we haven’t seen for a few years.”

From a competition standpoint at the National, which began Wednesday and runs until Sunday, the focal point is Saturday’s RBC Grand Prix of Canada, presented by Rolex. Sunday will feature the ATCO Cup and the ATB Cup.

Spruce Meadows is always more than the sport and this year is no exception. Live concerts will be featured on the main stage in the International Plaza on a first-come, first-serve basis both Saturday and Sunday. George Canyon, Jess Moskaluke and Steven Lee Olsen are the headliners.

The venue is introducing Seniors Day on Thursday this summer at all its tournaments. Anyone 65 and over can enjoy complimentary general admission. Other highlights of the weekend: a First Responders Display and FireFit, a fitness challenge designed to test the endurance and agility of firefighters; a kids’ Hobby Horse Challenge; and Globe Quest, an opportunity to win VIP tickets to 2025 events.

Advertisement 4

Article content

But of course, competition is first and foremost and on the opening day of the National, under perfect riding conditions, it was one of those new faces Allison alluded to that grabbed the spotlight. In his debut at the venue, Sean Jobin and Arkuga raced to an early 69.70 clocking and it held up in the 1.50m Friends of the Meadows.

“It’s so special to be at Spruce Meadows,” said the Toronto native. “I really wanted to come last year but we couldn’t make it. First thing off the plane on Monday, I was like I have to come and see the International Ring with my own eyes. It was even bigger than I thought it would be.

”It takes some of the pressure off for the rest of the week. For me, when the momentum is there, it makes you ride a little bit better, it gives you more confidence and it simplifies things.”

Jobin and his 13-year-old mount have been together just 10 months.

“I was like Arkuga loves it here,” Jobin, 32, smiled. “It suits him really well. He likes to have a big gallop. He was just flying on that grass.”

In the first event in the International Ring, Irishman Conor Swail proved his horses aren’t getting any slower as he and My Lady Lavista sped to a time of 65.55 and victory in the 1.45m Friends of the Meadows.

Article content