Everyone participates at Spruce Meadows

The Globe and Mail   Saturday, September 17, 1989.

Thirteen years ago, millionaire Ronald Southern, deputy chairman of ATCO Ltd., and his wife Marg, dreamed of creating the Wimbledon of show jumping in Calgary. As with most dreams, it seemed impossible. The sport was virtually unheard of in Calgary. The venue was impractical and the cost enormous.

That didn’t daunt the Southerns. Today they own and are caretakers of Spruce Meadows, an international show jumping centre in the foothills of the Rockies.

Lat Saturday, A. Roy Megarry, publisher of The Globe and Mail, and his wife Barbara were hosts with the Southerns at a dinner attended by several notable Canadians. It was a glittering affair, but at Mr. Southern’s request, the guest list won’t be published.

Mr. Southern obviously does not place reading social columns high on his list of priorities. “Suzanne,” he said to me, “I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t single out any of my guests for publication. They’re all important.”

So if you want to know whether former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed and his wife Jeanne, Sir Ronald Trotter, head of New Zealand’s Fletcher Challenge, or Bank of Montreal chairman William Mulholland mingled with such eminent riders as Canada’s Ian Millar, three-time European champion Paul Schockemohle or former Olympic champion from Great Britain David Broome, you won’t find it here.

One of the attractions of show jumping for Mr. and Mrs. Southern was that it was a sport for everyone, including farmhands, cowboys and plain country folk. Mr. Southern feels strongly that it should remain a sport for everyone and that philosophy spills over to the annual dinner where volunteers, trainers and ranch hands are welcome as guests.

“Show jumping has been bastardized,” says Mr. Southern. “It has become a sport of tuxedos, long dresses and rich girls going around in figure eights.”

But not at Spruce Meadows. Here everyone involved in the grand equestrian complex is considered crucial. There are no boxes at Spruce Meadows, since large corporations are not singled out for recognition. Benefactors and spectators mix with townspeople. tourists and horse lovers of all pocketbook sizes.

Mr. Southern has built Spruce Meadows into the third-ranked international show jumping tournament in the world after Aachen in West Germany and Hickstead in Great Britain. The year equestrian teams from nine nations- Great Britain, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, the United States, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Finland and Canada competed in Calgary on the way to the Seoul Olympics.

Thirty-six of the world’s best show horses were flown in by chartered plane for the event. The plane also carried four tons of freshly cut flowers donated by the Government of Holland. They were accompanied by two Dutch floral decorators who spent the week of the tournament concocting huge bouquets to beautify the courses, grounds and lounges at the complex.

The dinner was in the old Hotel Wainwrigh tin Heritage Park, a turn-of-the-century town in the city of Calgary, which 120 years ago was a gtrading post in which no white man had set foot. Out the windows, one could see the Rockies looming in the background over the Glenmore Reservoi, Calgary’s only large body of water.

Rich and poor, elegant and humble joined the Southerns and the Megarrys. It was the 13th annual gala, the second sponsored by The Globe and Mail.

Like Spruce Meadows, where 39,000 people watched the tournament on its final day, The Globe and Mail dinner has been accepted by the people of Calgary as an event that includes a range of people from CEOs of major corporations to riders, trainers and volunteers, ll of whom worked to make Spruce Meadows a success

“Do the grooms come to the party too?’ I asked Ian Allison, the general manager of Team Spruce Meadows. “They don’t like to leave their horses,” came the rejoinder.