Inside CSIO Spruce Meadows Masters 2019

Eric Lamaze (Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Ashley Neuhof) Eric Lamaze (Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Ashley Neuhof)

Eric Lamaze wins the CANA Cup at the Spruce Meadows 'Masters'

Fifty horse and rider combinations took on Venezuelan course designer, Leopoldo Palacios’ 1.60m challenge in Thursday afternoon’s CANA Cup. Of those 50 partnerships, 14 eventually went clear and progressed to the jump-off, which consisted of eight obstacles. But it was Canadian favourite, Multiple Major winner and Olympic individual gold medallist Eric Lamaze and his 13-year-old gelding, Chacco Kid, who proved to be a class above the rest of the field, with the pair seemingly thrilled to claim the 2019 title. Australia’s Rowan Willis and Diablo VII finished in second place, while Frenchman Kevin Staut and Urhelia Lutterbach slotted into third.

On his winning performance, Lamaze commented: “You rarely win those classes going first in the jump-off. Chacco Kid today was quite fast. He doesn’t have the biggest stride, so when I ride forward to a distance he gets going and he jumped very carefully, so that was my advantage today.

“Chacco Kid is very careful. I sometimes have to worry about the back rail of the oxers because he is so careful that he’ll stand away from the front rail and can make an oxer be a little wider, but in general you can flat out run to a fence and feel that he’s got his eye right on it, and he’s taking care of you.

“This has been a special venue since I was much younger than I am now. I’ve had the greatest memory here at Spruce Meadows. One cannot get tired of hearing that noise going through that clock tower, and I think it brings the best in me, and it brings the best in everyone, because the last thing you want to do is disappoint the people cheering.”

Linda Southern-Heathcott (Photo: Spruce Meadows Media) Linda Southern-Heathcott (Photo: Spruce Meadows Media)

Word from the organizer

Linda Southern-Heathcott, Spruce Meadow’s president and CEO

CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ is regarded as one of the best equestrian events in the world, how do you keep innovating it to improve it each year?

Firstly, we pray for good weather! What has guarded us over the years are Spruce Meadows’ four stakeholders: our sponsors, our fans, our media and our athletes. While every year we consider all four stakeholders and their respective experiences, we would specifically focus on one or two stakeholders and try to improve their individual experience. This could be the fan experience, which would look at what other activities aside from the world class jumping we can introduce, or the athletes’ experience, which would mainly look at the prize money on offer but would also consider the footing and the stabling. This strategy has held us in very good stead over the years.

Since CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ has been part of the Rolex Grand Slam; in what ways have you seen the show develop?

Since we’ve been part of the Rolex Grand Slam, I see we’ve improved and honed our skills. We learn from the best venues around the world and improve our procedures. As an example, if a horse gets injured or an athlete gets hurt, we must determine the best procedures and protocols, and I believe those are really important details for us to contemplate and get right. You see that at the Kentucky Derby and at other big global sporting events. Being part of the Rolex Grand Slam has raised the bar for all of us.

The indoor tournaments have the luxury of not having to worry about the weather, and they have a grand entrance. At Spruce Meadows, our property is 500 acres, so we must ask ourselves how we make a grand entrance for our fanbase. We tweak it and try to come up with different ideas to make the experience better. But I think it’s been a wonderful learning curve for us, and it’s made us appreciate that we must never rest on our laurels.

We don’t just learn from horse sports, we also learn from the front-page sports, whether that’s NFL, CFL, tennis, golf or Formula 1. We ask ourselves how they are doing what they do, and what makes them the best, and what inspiration can we take from their events to improve our event.

What are the main challenges of putting on an event like CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’?

I look at show jumping, and, in some ways, I equate it to golf. Golf has the R&A, the foundation of the sport, which is based in the UK. However, much of the sport is, in fact, played out by the PGA in North America. Show jumping is largely centred in continental Europe, and in that regard Spruce Meadows is very much seen as a satellite venue. Geographically, we have a challenge because we need to charter a plane to transport the horses from Europe. Calgary has never been an easy place to get to, and you must travel long distances to get here.

The support of our sponsors and their prize money is integral to the success of Spruce Meadows. There must be a compelling reason for the athletes to want to come and compete here. When they do come, compared to other shows around the world, it’s very different for them because it’s a family-owned operation. It has a very cosy feeling, as the family welcomes everyone, and the family is extremely hands-on and involved. The logistics and the changes in travel has been one of our biggest challenges, particularly since 9/11, as homeland security is very difficult. The grooms are transient people, and you need 10 years’ history on them in order for them to get into Canada. Overall, the way the world is evolving, and various global changes are always throwing up new challenges for us.

What are you most proud of during your career working at Spruce Meadows?

The proudest moment of my career was to represent Canada at the Atlanta Games in 1996. For me, as an athlete, my biggest success was mentally overcoming the challenges at Spruce Meadows, and to be able to compete on home turf. That brought about a certain toughness for me, so internally that’s my biggest success.

The best advice I ever received was from my mother and my father. My father would say that you have successes and you have failures; you have one night to bleed about your failures, and one night to enjoy your success, and when the sun comes up you start all over again. The moral of that advice is to always soldier on. My mother always instilled in me that whatever I do I should always do it with grace.

What is your favourite part of your job?

I love meeting the people. Towards the end of my father’s life, he didn’t take the time to just enjoy Spruce Meadows. I really think Spruce Meadows is a beautiful and tranquil place, and I walk around the grounds pretty much every day, and I just really enjoy this place. I’m amazed at what my team has created, and you can tell that they really enjoy their jobs, and that makes my role special.

CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ is one of the four Majors – does that add to the pressure of putting on a world class event?

It always adds pressure because we want to excel at what we do, and we want to go further than the point that everyone thought we would reach and do a better job than what people expected. It means we must pay attention to the smallest detail and have precision in everything we do. But pressure is a good thing because it’s a motivator, and for that reason I don’t see it as a cross to bear, rather a challenge. The reality is, if we have full stands on Sunday then we’ve been successful.

Sameh El Dahan (Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Ashley Neuhof) Sameh El Dahan (Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Ashley Neuhof)

Rider Interview with:

Sameh El Dahan

You won last year’s CP ‘International’, presented by Rolex. Does that give you more pressure going into the Major on Sunday?

There’s always pressure in each Grand Prix you jump in, but the higher the stakes the higher the pressure. I personally like the pressure, especially when you have a horse like Suma's Zorro underneath you, as you know she’ll give her best every time, so that takes a bit of the pressure off. I’m very grateful for her that I can go into such big Grands Prix and not really have that pressure on, knowing I just have to do my job.

What are your expectations going into Sunday’s CP ‘International’, presented by Rolex?

My expectations are always high, but in show jumping nothing is ever guaranteed. I love my job and I love my horse, so one thing is sure – we’re going to give our best shot in the CP ‘International’, presented by Rolex on Sunday.

How has Suma's Zorro been since last year’s epic win in the CP ‘International’, presented by Rolex?

We’ve had a bit of an up and down sort of year. Suma's Zorro didn’t really winter too well; she’s a mare that likes a bit of sun and a little bit of heat, so the winter was not so good for her. About a month ago she started hitting form again. She jumped well in the CHIO Aachen Grand Prix, and I’m really looking forward to Sunday, as I believe she’s hitting form at just the right time. I don’t want to jinx it, but I have a good feeling about Sunday!

Can you tell us a little bit about Suma's Zorro’s character?

She’s a stubborn mare and I refer to her as a stubborn red head – very fiery, and you always have to get on her good side, otherwise you have no chance. But I’ve now known her for eight years, so you could say she’s now like my best friend in that I know everything about her, and she knows everything about me. I know one thing for sure: I cannot go against her and I need to get her on my side. But she’s a fighter and she always demonstrates that fighting spirit for me, and I feel very fortunate for that.

Other than Suma's Zorro, which horses have you brought to Spruce Meadows?

I’ve brought a 10-year-old gelding called WKD Exotic, a stunning looking horse. I haven’t had him a long time, maybe just under a year, and I’m just trying to figure him out. He’s done some great things and I’m looking forward to working with him for the rest of the week.

What drives you and keeps you going?

I really love what I do, and I call myself lucky every day, because for me, horses give me an incentive to wake up every morning. Horses are like human beings and you need to treat them like individuals, which means that your mind is always working, and I like that. Figuring out what’s best for each individual horse is a real challenge. I have a fantastic relationship with my teammate, Joanne Sloan Allen. We bounce ideas off one another, and that keeps me motivated. I have a very competitive nature, so every class I compete in I try to win, but in show jumping you lose a lot more than you win, so when you do win you really appreciate it. A moment like Spruce Meadows last year is something I’ll never forget, and when I do go through dull moments, I think back to that win, which gets my spirits back up. Show jumping is a very interesting sport and very much a lifestyle, and that’s why I love it.

What do you love most about Spruce Meadows?

All the people who work here do everything with a lot of pride. From the organisers to the showground to the atmosphere and the crowds; when I come here, I feel as though I need to fight a little bit more to get a good result because everybody does everything with so much passion. I just love the place; I call it Disney for horses. Everything is there, including incredible stabling and so many grass fields. And the organisers have held on to their traditions through the generations, which nowadays is a hard thing to do, particularly with the modernisation of the sport. The organisers of Spruce Meadows have a vision, which they’ve stayed true to, so I have to say hats off to them.

If you weren’t a professional in equestrianism, what would you be doing?

I studied medicine so I guess I’d be a doctor!

For you, how has the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping enhanced the sport?

It’s enhanced the sport in every way. I just look at the start list at this show and I see the world’s best riders and horses. So much money has been injected into these Majors and their individual profiles have been amplified hugely; but for me, it’s not about the money or the material side, it’s much more about being part of the four biggest Majors in the world – Geneva, Aachen, Spruce Meadows and the Dutch Masters – which are all supported by Rolex. When you go to a Rolex Grand Prix, regardless of whether you’re jumping for €3 million, €1 million, or €500,000, you want to win it, even if there was no prize money at stake. If you win it, your name goes down in history, and sits alongside some of the biggest names in the sport, such as Nick Skelton, Eric Lamaze and Eddie Macken, and other riders of that world class standard. It’s a dream for every rider, and I feel so lucky that I, a young rider from Egypt, can stand here today and say that.

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