Horsey or Unhorsey, Spruce Meadows is the Place to Be
Spruce Meadows, southwest of Calgary, Alberta, had a lot to celebrate in 2005. Not only was it the “Mecca” of show jumping’s 30th anniversary, Spruce Meadows had also been awarded the FEI’s Special Recognition Award and was voted the No. 1 Outdoor Venue (for show jumping) in the World once again.
Over thirty years ago, when the province of Alberta was itself just turning seventy, the Southern family came up with the idea of creating a top-level competition facility in western Canada. In spring 1975, the facility opened its doors and has gone from strength to strength ever since. In 2005, over $6 million in prize money was awarded during the five tournaments. This is a far cry from 1976, the first international season at Spruce Meadows, when $174,000 was offered.
Sadly, the weather was determined not to cooperate in this special year. However, Spruce Meadows and the competitors, sponsors and fans, who all make it a part of their year, are tougher then any weather Alberta could throw at them! There might be weather delays or even some cancellations, but nothing can deter from the experience itself.
As usual, The Masters attracted the best horse and rider combinations in the world and the competition was outstanding but Spruce Meadows is more then just a horse show. There is something for everyone in the lush, green space on the edge of the city.
As I walked around the grounds, enjoying my Purdy’s ice cream, admiring the beautiful floral displays, attractive buildings, bronzes and smiling faces of the multitude of visitors, I know I am not alone.
Approximately 150,000 people attend The Masters each year. They come for the horse show, definitely, but they also take advantage of the many other happenings at this great event.
BP Festival of Nations
Started in 1986, this is undoubtedly one of my favourite features of The Masters. Twelve nations set up their pavilions where they sell the traditional foods, drinks and crafts from their country. Each nation also take turns showcasing their music and dances. I have to say that, once again, “Poland” was quite rightly in demand for their tasty, hot perogies, “Germany” for their kaffee mocha and decadent tortes, and “Great Britain” for cheese, sausage rolls and sweets. The longest line-up I saw (on a very cold day) was “Ireland”, where hot chocolate and coffee could be purchased with a warming shot of whiskey or Bailey’s Irish Cream.
East of the international ring you will find a smaller ring with much smaller jumps. This is the home of the Prairie Dogs, sponsored by Kozy Shack Puddings. This canine troop features a variety of canines, small and big, smooth and furry, all of which are bursting with fun and energy. The Prairie Dogs work their way through obstacle courses, canine barrel races and “fly ball”, all to the cheers of their wildly enthusiastic fans. If you’re ever at The Masters and want to see The Prairie Dogs in action get there early to get a good seat!
Horse Power of a Different Kind
There are other ways to get around Spruce Meadow’s extensive grounds without wearing out your shoe leather. GE Energy sponsors various free horse drawn conveyances to be enjoyed by all ages. For the smaller folks in your group, there’s also Little Obie, CN’s miniature locomotive, which offers a short ride for kids while they learn about trains and safety. And what would a horse show be without pony rides. Visit the small wooded area beside the Re/Max Family Centre for a ride in the shade (and a great photo opportunity) for your littlest ones.
The Celle Stallions
Sadly, with the atrocious rainstorm on Nations Cup Saturday and the delicate condition of the turf for the CN International on Sunday, the usual parade of marching bands and floats which takes place every year before the weekend’s feature classes was cancelled. This year, luckily, audiences were still able to be entertained by the Celle Stallions from the Hannoverian State Stud. The stallions’ performance of dressage to music was an elegant and powerful display of horsemanship and horseflesh.
You can buy everything from beautifully scented candles to fully equipped horse trailers at Spruce Meadows. For the horsey set, there is the Equi-Fair, 100,000 sq. ft. of booths selling anything and everything equine. Equi-Fair opened at The Masters in 1983 and is #1 on any horse person’s list. Gift items, clothing, farrier supplies, tack, feed and so much more. The selection is overwhelming. For giftware, artwork and some truly unique products, there is also The Marketplace. Over 50 businesses showcase their wares.
So, whether you are a show jumping fanatic or just looking for a day in the country with your family, Spruce Meadows is the place to be.
By car: take the Macleod Trail south. Drive west on 22X and follow the signs.
By bus: take the free Red Arrow shuttle bus service. Relax and let someone else do the driving.
By plane: major airlines arrive at the Calgary International Airport. A large variety of popular car rental agencies are at the airport.
Accommodation: hotels, motels and bed & breakfasts are all located near Spruce Meadows. Contact Atco Travel (http://www.atcotravel.com) for details.
Tickets: reserved seating for The Masters sell out quickly. Visit www.sprucemeadows.com information.
Alberta is a terrific place for a holiday. If you’re visiting The Masters, I would recommend adding on a few free days to your itinerary to take advantage of some other sites. There are too many to list here, but I would like to highly recommend the following:
Calgary Zoo (http://www.calgaryzoo.org/)
Don’t miss the TransAlta Rainforest!
Museum of the Regiments (http://www.nucleus.com/~regiments)
If you have an interest in military history, you musn’t miss this museum. Just east of Crowchild Trail, the museum details the history of Alberta’s regiments using incredible displays and motion-activated narration.
Fort Calgary (http://www.fortcalgary.com)
This historic park explains the founding and development of the city of Calgary, starting in 1875 when the fort was initially built. Tour the indoor city and experience the lifestyle of yesteryear.
When you hear Alberta, you instantly think of the incredible Rocky Mountains. The drive on the Icefields Parkway from Banff to the town of Jasper is absolutely fantastic and must truly be one of the most scenic drives in the world. The town itself offers a variety of accommodations and restaurants, with hiking trails, trail riding, white water rafting, the Miette Hot Springs and more nearby.
Drive west from Calgary on Hwy. 1 (Trans-Canada) and within 2 hours you will arrive in Banff, Alberta. This picturesque town, nestled in the heart of the Rockies, is a great place to walk, dine, shop, go for a trail ride or canoe. A further 20 minute drive west with bring you to world famous, Lake Louise. A day in the mountains, enjoying the awesome views, clean air and truly great outdoors is a pursuit which is highly recommended. Don’t forget your camera!