Miller feels Spruce Meadows prepares Canadian riders for international success

CALGARY — Spruce Meadows is the New York City of show jumping according to veteran Canadian rider Ian Millar. As the song says, if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere.

The equestrian venue in southwest Calgary marks its 40th year of international show-jumping competition with the annual National Tournament starting Wednesday.

“It’s only 40? Feels like 110,” Millar joked Tuesday outside the barns.

Spruce Meadows, founded in 1975 by Ron and Marg Southern, has become a fixture for the world’s best competitors and horses. Riders representing 57 countries have earned $110 million in prize money there since the park opened four decades ago.

Millar, 68, who has represented Canada at the Olympic Games a record 10 times, says Spruce Meadows prepared him and other Canadian riders over the years to excel on the world stage.

“They’ve done incredible things for the sport in Canada and for our international success,” Millar said. “What we have found over the years is if we can be competitive here, it doesn’t matter where we go in the world. We’re ready to go.

“Before Spruce Meadows, it was never that way. We jumped around Canada and then we’d go outside of Canada and it was a great shock. Now, it’s no shock at all because this is absolutely world-class. It is arguably the finest facility in the world, which is an amazing thing for Canada and Alberta.”

According to Spruce Meadows records, Canada has won a combined 23 medals at the Olympic Games, Pan American Games, World Cup finals and world championships since the facility opened.

Eric Lamaze won individual Olympic gold and joined Millar, Jill Henselwood and Mac Cone to earn team silver in 2008 in Beijing. Millar has won nine Pan American Games medals, including three gold, in as many appearances.

The $1.2-million National Tournament kicks off Spruce Meadows’ competitive season, which concludes in September with the $2.8 million Masters.

Lamaze, of Schomberg, Ont., is the leading career money winner at Spruce Meadows with $4.2 million followed by American Beezie Madden at $3.67 million and Millar, of Perth, Ont., with $3.59 million.

Those three are among the riders competing this week. The most lucrative class is Saturday’s RBC Grand Prix worth $400,000 and with jump heights of 1.6 metres. Millar has won the Grand Prix nine times over his career. 

His previous appearance at Spruce Meadows was particularly memorable. Miller won the $1.5 million CP International at the Masters aboard Dixson last September.

It was Millar’s first victory in that event since winning it in 1987 and 1991 with Big Ben.

“Winning the CP Grand Prix, it’s one of the toughest in the world,” Millar said. “Big Ben won it twice and Dixson won it and the two are related on the mother line.

“It’s storybook really.”

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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