Hickstead Memorial at Spruce
The headline of a New York Times article on the day we left for Spruce Meadows was “Drastic Flooding Causes Mass Evacuation of Calgary”. Of course it didn’t occur to me that this could get in the way of horse showing; I just piled more coats in my suitcase.
The flooding in the city has indeed been devastating, and many evacuees are staying in our hotel. One older couple told me at breakfast they had not been able to return to their house yet and didn’t know what they would find. Yet the show does go on. The grounds at Spruce are on a high plain so the water drains away from the property. The stables are dry and the footing is good.
Cielo got here after a 36-hour trip and the powers that be assigned her to be stabled by herself. She wasn’t with the Northern California horses, or the horses on our Prix de Nations team, or the Mexican barn with whom we requested stabling. When she couldn’t be found, Dusty’s friend Antonio went to the office to inquire about Cielo but the show uses her passport name, which is Sky Dancer, so they couldn’t tell him where she was. By the time we got there his grooms had found her and were looking after her,and by the next day Antonio managed to move some horses around (strictly illegal) and get her into his barn.
My bike suffered a similar fate. The shipper didn’t know which horse went with which bikes. Mine ended up being dropped off at an old, unused quarantine barn out back of the main stabling area. We found it 24- hours later in tall weeds leaning against a tree, a little lonely but unharmed. Dusty’s bike did not make the trip so Antonio gave her one of his groom’s bikes which is bright blue with a high seat and short little wheels so it looks like a circus clown bike. It only has three gears while mine has many, so needless to say I have the advantage on all these hills. But she gamely agrees to go bike riding with me all over the grounds, even though I got out of control today and crashed into her. The job of a riding teacher is not easy.
The Mexican grooms don’t know what to make of us. They live and breathe the horse business and the stable is their domain. Mostly the Mexican owners and riders meet the grooms at the ring. The grooms bring up the horse and all equipment, hand the rider their hard hat and perfectly polished boots, and give them a leg up. After their jumping round the groom is waiting at the gate, the rider hops off, and the groom takes the horse away. In the U.S. we are used to having more contact with our horses on a day-to-day basis and enjoy hanging around with our animals at the shows. We are also accustomed to doing a lot for ourselves. Antonio’s wife, Carla, told me most Mexican riders would not be able to tack up their own horse. In one famous case a student threw a fit at the show because his horse wasn’t acting like himself, only to be told by Antonio that it was because the one he’d been riding around was not his horse! The groom had brought it to the ring, the rider got on and never noticed. It is a sad commentary that this rider was so angry and embarrassed that he fired the groom.
When I want to have time with Cielo I try to be respectful of customs. So for example, if I want to take her out for a walk or to graze on all this green grass, I tell the grooms so they can put the halter and lead rope on for me and get her out of the stall. It’s kind of embarrassing being so pampered and it’s awkward feeling we are treading on their territory, although they couldn’t be nicer. Miguel, our groom, has been with Antonio for 19 years and knows his job as well as anyone I’ve ever seen. They sleep in the stable on beds they make with bales of shavings and they have set up a kitchen in their grooms’ stall. They make all their meals there, frying onions and cooking up things that smell so good that nothing we get in the Garden Court food tent can really measure up. Dusty and I have begun stealing their Mexican cookies and I am afraid we will arrive one day and find the food stall padlocked.
Spruce Meadows is preposterously big and gorgeous, with green green grass, rolling hilly rings with ditches and banks, and huge, English-looking grandstands around the arenas that make it feel like a combination of Stratford on Avon and Wimbledon. You never know what you will see or experience on the grounds. One day down the little street that curves through the heart of the show grounds and past our stables came grooms leading mares and little foals running loose by their sides. They were bringing them in from the fields. We think it happens at 4:30 so will make sure to be there tomorrow to watch. Today we were bicycling and as we rounded a bend we came in sight of a troop of Royal Canadian Mounties on horseback framed against the blue sky with huge white clouds, and just behind the Mounties on a hill were the flags of all the countries that are competing. Yesterday I walked over to the “Meadows on the Green” to watch a show jumping class. (In the U.S. we name our rings things like “Jumper Ring One” or “Bank of America Arena”, very un-picturesque.) Anyway, as I got to the ring the announcer, who has an Irish accent so everything he says sounds charming, announced that four of the five class leaders were Olympians. It really hit me how lucky I am to be here and see these magnificent horses and riders.
The first day we went to a jumping clinic given by Katie Monahan Prudent, a legendary horsewoman. It was offered free to all competitors and I not only learned a lot but I was grateful for the training we get at Full Circle Farm because all the challenges she put to the four riders in the clinic were things we work on regularly at home. One other nice memory from today. We bicycled over to see the International Stadium, which is saved for only the highest level competitions and can seat 10,000 or so people. In a hidden corner of the building Dusty showed me a window display with all the famous, historic trophies that have been given out year after year. If you win, you don’t get to keep them, but instead your name is engraved on the trophy with the year you won. Some were new and shiny with only one name plate, and others went back decades and were covered with names. It gave a sense of the pageantry and drama that goes into our sport, and a sense of wonder for the horses that give us so much.
Some of the many Spruce Trophies
More on the competition with the next blog. I just needed to write about the marvels of this place and this experience first.