Team SmartPak rider Chris McCrea recently completed a whirlwind two weeks at Spruce Meadows, full of great rides, many ribbons, and a little bit of rain. We are lucky enough to have Chris’s longtime groom extraordinaire, Genna, give us a behind-the-scenes look at the entire journey.
Our journey to Calgary began when the trucks showed up to load our mountain of equipment, twelve horses, four grooms, and three dogs. We headed to the USDA quarantine facility in Newburgh, NY where the horses spent the night before flying out the next morning.
The horses were loaded at 8:15 the next morning to travel around the corner to Stewart Airport where they would “board” the plane. Unlike flying cargo, the horses did not have crates, rather stalls that were built around them once they were in the plane. There were 15 horses on the flight, which took up most of the space, but there were four rows of seats in the back for us and the crew. The only catch is that they keep the temperature pretty chilly to ensure the horses are not too hot. Translation? We were bundled up like Eskimos in the back!
We landed in Calgary around 1:30 PM and, not surprisingly, it was raining. After a 45-minute ride to the show, we managed to get all the horses and equipment unloaded without anything getting too wet. After a valiant attempt at some organization, we fed the horses and decided to call it a day. We still had Monday to set up some more before the show started.
The first week of showing in Spruce Meadows is like being thrown into the deep end and seeing if you can swim. The schedule is strict. If you miss your spot in the posted order, you don’t show. If you finish in the top 10, you are required to ride for ribbons during the prize giving ceremony. Everything is planned to run with precision and keeps the sponsors and spectators in mind.
All 12 horses showed on Wednesday. Seven of them within the same two-hour block, and the International Arena was a good 15-20 minute hike from the stables. Despite the logistical challenge, we managed to get everyone to the ring on time and Dutchie even won the 1.45. He loves the prize giving ceremonies here and spent plenty of time squealing and bucking. However, there was little time to enjoy the thrill of victory as the 1.50 was starting shortly and we had two horses showing in it.
Thursday did not ease up on us either. Ronaldo won the 1.35 and Chris was required to stay for the prize giving while Zerly was waiting at another ring. After a quick warm-up and a clear round (Jon was also clear on Rocky), we learned about the winning round format that required the top 16 to return this evening for a second round, and then the top eight to jump off. First, however, we had a saddle change at the ring because Wannick was third to go in the next class. For once, I actually did not mind seeing the single time fault show up on the screen. Back to the barn to put him away and then bring Zerly back. Two more rounds for her (she ended 8th) and then it is time for Dutchie to jump the 1.60. Since the sun does not set until 9:30 here, you can show all day and then be completely surprised when you are leaving the show at 10:00.
Friday is Twishter’s day to shine. He was second in the 1.45 jump off class despite a delay due to a passing thunderstorm. Luckily, there is a covered arena by the International Arena to hide out in while the rain, thunder, and lightning passed. Despite that one incident, we were incredibly lucky with the weather this week. It can be very unpredictable. One minute the sun will be shining, the next thing you know it can be down pouring.
Saturday is Grand Prix day already. Dutchie was flying, but, unfortunately hit the tape of the water jump. He ended 10th. Lucky for him, he still got to participate in the prize giving ceremony.
Sunday’s special event is the Derby. We watched the whole class since none of our horses were showing in it. The course is always the same and includes the famous bank, double of liverpools, devil’s dike, and several other obstacles. Leslie Howard and Beezie Madden were tied for the top spot with 4 faults each. Beezie’s horse had stepped on herself in the first round, so Beezie chose not to jump off. Leslie completed the jumpoff course for crowd’s entertainment and was crowned the champion.
Did you know?Wannick, Dutchie, Zerly, and the rest of Chris’s horses are Powered by SmartSupplements?
The horses enjoyed a day off on Monday and light work on Tuesday before CSIO (Nations Cup) week started on Wednesday. The FEI classes for week two were held in the Meadows on the Green instead of the International Ring. I think the horses enjoyed the change of scenery as much as I enjoyed the slightly shorter walk.
After jogging Wednesday morning, there was a 1.45 Welcome class held in the Meadows to let the horses acclimate to the ring. Zerly and Wannick both jumped. Last year, Wannick showed in one 1.45 class in the Meadows and was completely star struck. He really showed his greenness with a score more typical of a football game than a show jumping round. This time he showed us what a difference a year makes, finishing second.
Thursday was Zerly’s Nations Cup debut. Luckily it started at 11AM because the weather forecast was ominous. There were two American teams – USA Stars and USA Stripes. Chris was on the Stars team with Kent Farrington, Reed Kessler, and Charlie Jayne. The first round did not go quite as expected when Zerly lost her front shoe (leaving her without studs in one foot) after the third jump. She had the B and C obstacles of the triple combination down. Unfortunately, the skies opened up during the second round. Zerly did not seem to mind though. She kept all her shoes on and jumped a clear round. While the Irish emerged victorious, our team ended fourth.
After the Nations Cup, the next stop was the North American Ring for the 1.35. Jon finished in the ribbons on both Bagel and Elvis before dashing to the All Canada ring to show Twisther. Before we knew it we were back at the Meadows for the 1.50 with Rocky and Wannick. They both made it to the jump off. Rocky ended 5th and Wannick was 2nd (cementing his “most improved” award).
After a late night Thursday, Wannick and I found ourselves back at the ring Friday morning for the 1.45 jump off class. With an early draw out of the 77-horse start list, having one rail down wasn’t the end of the world. Chris was free to head to the North American ring to show Ronaldo and then the All Canada to show Winnie. Unlike the other days, we finished everything by 5:00 and now found ourselves waiting around for Dutchie’s class to start at 7:30. While the chilly air and intermittent rain showers did not help our motivation level, it was in fact worth the wait. In an effort to avoid an incoming storm, the 1.50 was changed from a jump off class to a one round speed class. Dutchie loved this and zipped right around to victory. The worst of the rain even held off for the prize giving ceremony.
Saturday morning started off well with ribbons for Chris (with Ronaldo) and Jon (with Elvis) in the 1.40. Wannick had to make one more trip to the Meadows for the 1.50. This week was all about getting confident mileage on him before the week off. Finally, Jon wrapped the day up with a third place finish with Bagel in the 1.35.
Sunday morning really started off well with Ronaldo winning the 1.40 and Elvis finishing second. It is very rewarding to watch the young horses grow up right before your eyes. Spruce Meadows provides such a great learning environment for them with all the different rings they get to show in. Not to mention that any of the rings could be grand prix rings anywhere in the world.
Another thing Spruce Meadows knows how to do is attract a crowd. While it is easy to attract horse enthusiasts with fantastic competition, this week also had life-size chess, mini golf, pony rides, and a bounce house to entertain the kids. Spectators are free to roam the entire facility (with the exception of the FEI stabling area). They can enjoy the competition on whatever level they choose – be it in a VIP box or on the grass along the fence-line or anything in between.
Sunday provided two exciting classes to watch. The morning started with a $60,000 1.50 jump off class. Zerly was clear in the first round and ended 8th after two rails in the jump off. Then it was time for the $200,000 World Cup Qualifier. Rocky and Jon had the famous bicycle jump down but ended 11th. Dutchie looked in his element until he uncharacteristically spooked at the double of liverpools, having the oxer down and then the bicycle jump after it. While it was not his day, it certainly was Kent Farrington and Uceko’s. They won the grand prix for the second week in a row – pretty impressive.
And with that, week two was in the books. I can confidently say horses, riders, and grooms are all looking forward to the week off coming up. Everyone’s batteries need to be recharged!