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Tradition still matters at Spruce Meadows

Forty years and counting, the tradition at Spruce Meadows continues.

As Wednesday brought the beginning of the venue’s 40th Masters, one can’t help noticing something else among the regal prance of the horses and immaculately kept grounds of the show rings.

It’s tradition — the product of four decades of hard work, sweat and toil that turned a small plot of south Calgary farmland into a world-class showjumping venue.

“This place really has come of age,” said Spruce Meadows senior vicepresident Ian Allison.

“There are a few athletes and officials that haven’t been here in a couple of years who are really overwhelmed by the changes that’ve happened here each and every year."

The downhome familiarity of the facility is what’s kept the world returning every year, making Spruce Meadows a tradition both within and beyond the tight-knit community of international show jumping.

“Whether it’s the athletes from 60 nations that come here, the fact you can go anywhere in the world and mention Spruce Meadows and people know of it, even if they aren’t showjumping fans,” he said.

“Hopefully it’s become somewhat akin to what Augusta is to golf, or what Wimbledon is to tennis — it’s become somewhat iconic, it’s really maintained its basic family values.”

In any Spruce Meadows event, families are conspicuous among the throngs of fans — evidence of the special place the venue holds in the heart of the people of Calgary. “You can see the generations sitting out on the lawn, grandparents, parents and children, you can see two, three or four generations of people watching here — it’s really been embraced, and that’s really what Mr. and Mrs. Southern had in mind when they first envisioned the place.” For many competitors, Spruce Meadows is part of a family legacy of showjumping excellence. “One of the hopes of Spruce Meadows when it first started was that Canada could compete against the world’s best on its own soil, something that it hadn’t been able to do prior to this venue being created,” he said. “If you see the name Whittaker out here today ... starting with brothers John and Michael Whittaker, the next generation that represents siblings, nieces and nephews, William, Robert and Ellen, that’s five Whittakers all in the International Ring through the history of this place.” The stables are another place where one can find several generations of Spruce Meadows champions. “A man named Ludo Philippaerts had tremendous success here at Spruce Meadows on a great stallion named Darco,” he said. “Now, two of his sons are on the Belgian team competing here, riding offspring of that horse.” Tradition isn’t engineered, Allison said — it comes from years of hard work, determination and, most importantly, patience. “You have to be patient for tradition,” he said. “To say you’re full of traditions after five years is a little silly ... after 40 years we’re just getting there, and now we’re seeing the next generation of horses, of riders and of volunteers — that’s what makes us distinctive and unique.”

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