No matter how hard we try, life doesn’t always follow a plan, and sometimes, the best things are either just stumbled across, or taken as ‘spur of the moment’ opportunities, that go on to create lasting memories. One such ‘hidden gem’ happened to us this weekend …
In terms of horse sports, I’ve watched the occasional ‘show jumping’ event on the TV when it’s been the Olympics, and absolutely and without any doubt, will always put some money on the famous Grand National horse race held annually at Aintree (Liverpool) – making sure we watch the race on the box to cheer both horses and riders on. Limited knowledge of such sports, I’m sure you’ll agree.
So out of the blue last week, my husband was asked if he would accept the honour of ‘tipping the hat’ on behalf of the company he works for, who were sponsoring a show-jumping event at the internationally renowned ‘Spruce Meadows’ in Calgary this weekend.
Spruce Meadows is one of the top showjumping venues in the world, built in 1975 by the Southern Family (Ron and Marg), and opened in 1976. Their daughter, Linda, is a former Olympian who competed in the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games for the Canadian Olympic Team, and now the CEO. They are extremely hospitable, and Marg (now in her 80’s), takes an intensively active, hands-on role, demonstrating an encyclopedic knowledge of the sport and all the athletes. It was both Marg and Linda who we had the absolute delight of spending the vast majority of Sunday with, introducing us to the rules, intricacies and etiquette of show jumping.
‘Spruced’ up in our best Sunday togs, my husband sporting ‘cowboy boots’ and wearing the obligatory white ‘Stetson’, we were accompanied to seats in the middle of the ‘All Canada Ring’ with both Marg and Linda. As each rider enters the ring, they would ride up to the ‘Playpen’ (where we were seated) and the men would tip their helmet, and the ladies will touch their crop to their helmet in a salute. My husband was then to return the salute by ‘tipping his hat’ (taking it off and putting it back on again), to enable the rider to commence his round. It’s a tradition that was initiated with cavalry regiments when the sport was focused on the military. Soldiers would salute their commanding officer / reviewing officer prior to competing and the officer would return the salute. The Spruce Meadows tradition is for the athletes to recognise the sponsor of the competition and in turn, sponsors return the salute with a white Stetson. Serious stuff. Thank goodness they weren’t asking me to abide by the same rules as I struggled to stifle the giggles watching my better half in cowboy boots and hat. Not something you see everyday in Warrington, that’s for sure.
During each round, Marg would provide insights on the riders and their horses – a significant number of whom were Olympians having competed for their respective countries in past Games so the standard was especially high, and many were using the event as opportunities to be considered for selection in the PanAm Games. What never failed to make me smile was the banter between Marg and some of the riders prior to commencing their rounds – clearly her passion, and regarded as extended family, she’s known many riders for the length of their careers, and takes a very keen interest in promoting newer and younger riders too. Sat in the warmth of the gas heaters, and plied with h’ors d’oeuvres, we clearly had the best seats in the house and the enthusiasm for the sport was palpably addictive.
After the event, Marg directed us to the presentation tables and with pics taken of the winning rider and the ‘cup’ with my husband, whilst I was introduced to, and asked to present the ribbons to the riders and horses in second to tenth place. Pictures were taken, and I couldn’t help but equate it to an edition of ‘Cheshire Life’ and kept wondering how on earth we had both been invited into such illustrious company.
On the drive back to Edmonton (a good 3.5hrs North), we reflected on how professional and personable both Linda and Marg had been, and having a passion for something, can build memories and create experiences for others around them that are ever-lasting.
I’m sure an experience like that is once-in-a-lifetime event and has become one of our ‘hidden gem’ memories of being in Canada. It just goes to show, that you never quite know what’s around the corner tomorrow or next week, but it could be – and quite often will be – something quite remarkable 🙂