Spruce Meadows - The Most International Place
Written By: Cpl Sean Clarke
When I first came to Mounted Troop, I had never ridden a horse before, yet alone heard of a place called “Spruce Meadows”. However, I quickly found out from the senior riders that we spend a lot of time down there and that perhaps I should take the time to find out more about it. So I looked into it, and discovered that Spruce Meadows was founded in 1976 by “The Builders” Ron and Margaret Southern and has since turned into a world class equestrian facility located in Calgary. Dubbed “The Most International Place” it hosts riders from all over the world competing to find out who really is the best show-jumper. There are 5 major tournaments throughout the year: the National, Continental, Canada One, North American, and the Masters; and the Strathcona Mounted Troop has been participating in them all for years. While we are there, we do everything from standing vedettes, to escorting VIP’s such as the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta, the Minister of National Defence, The Chief of Defence Staff, and even the Prime Minister.
I remember the first time that I arrived at Spruce Meadows and realized how big the grounds really were. This year in particular, they had pictures of the Queen Elizabeth II and British flags practically everywhere the eye could see in honour of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. After we settled the horses in, we took a tour of the grounds and of the different arenas. I was impressed at how well the arenas were maintained and definitely pitied the men who must have been tasked to mow and water it on a never-ending basis. I was particularly impressed with “Meadows on the Green” and at how well the grass looked considering that dozens of horses run and jump on it every day.
For the soldiers in Mounted Troop, it’s always long days at Spruce Meadows. Our day starts early, usually around 7am and doesn’t usually end until 8pm or later. We begin each day by feeding and watering the horses, performing Medical checks on the entire herd, and top it off with the enviable task of mucking out the stalls. After the horses are taken care of we prepare our kit for the day’s activities, ensuring that all the horses’ show tack and our own uniforms are maintained to perfection.
The Troop’s main role at Spruce Meadows is to escort the winning horse and rider around the jump arena. This is known as a “Radetzky”. I am not afraid to admit that the first time I was tasked to do one, I was anything but at ease. Basically, I found myself in the front of the procession beside Captain McLean, and it was our job to lead the riders around the arena for their victory lap. The problem is that many of the jumps were still on the course and many more were being moved behind us as we awaited our time to begin. Thus, at a canter, we were forced to pick a path that veered through the jumps and water hazards while not being able to count on it looking remotely like it did when we entered the arena. Although I would normally follow his orders without hesitation, and with all due respect to Capt McLean (who I am sure is the one editing this article) his limited riding experience left me more then a little concerned that the path he chose would unwittingly result in testing our skills as the newest show jumpers at Spruce Meadows.
During vedette tasks in Spruce Meadows, I can’t help but feel proud when I’m dressed in my scarlets and sitting on my horse watching crowds of people walk by who are awe-struck by our presence. However, despite the pride experienced during a vedette and the fear/rush of a radetzky, nothing beats performing our Musical Ride; the Troop’s bread and butter. As we only get to do the Musical Ride once every tournament, we make sure that it and the following Tent Pegging demonstration are a sight that the spectators won’t soon forget.
So far our busiest tournament was the “North American”. During this tournament, the Recce Squadron represented the Regiment at Spruce Meadows as this years Prince of Wales squadron. They performed a feu-de-joie during Military Appreciation Day that delighted the crowds. A feu-de-joie is a celebratory rifle salute where soldiers fire into the air in rapid succession. It is usually done for high ranking military members or for a celebrated military victory. This year saw a large number of VIPs in attendance during the parade including: the Lieutenant Governor Of Alberta the Honourable Donald S. Ethell; the CDS, General Walter Natynczyk;, the Minister of National Defence, the Honourable Peter MacKay; and our new CO, Lieutenant-Colonel Paul Peyton. Although I am glad we were not there when the rifles began to fire, some of the troop still had issues with positioning their horses so close to the band before the parade of Nations that followed the feu-de-joie. My horse, Starbuck, was very nervous of the band turning in circles in an attempt to escape them. However, with patience and the proper aid we eventually got them under control and the following parade was a definite success.
Leaving Spruce Meadows this year was bittersweet. Although, the members of the Troop will be glad to get home to see the loved ones they have been away from while on the road, we will definitely miss the unique experience that is Spruce Meadows. I know for sure that a certain Corporal (to be discreet lets refer to him as “C. Broome”….no wait that might give it away, instead we’ll call him “Craig B.”) has developed somewhat of a crush on not only many of the riders but also some of the Spruce Meadows staff. Assuredly this Corporal, like many others in the Troop, can’t wait to return next year in order to once again take part in events at “The Most International Place”, Spruce Meadows.