SPORTS

This is the way Canadians ride

Gordon Legge October 5 1981
SPORTS

This is the way Canadians ride

Gordon Legge October 5 1981

This is the way Canadians ride

SPORTS

Gordon Legge

Shelagh Macpherson has show jumping in her blood. Raised by her grandparents at their Joker’s Hill Stables near King City, Ont., her grandfather, Major-General C. C. “Church” Mann rode with the Canadian equestrian team in the 1940s. Riding since she was 4, over the years her grandfather tutored Macpherson and encouraged her through several cracked veterbrae and a broken pelvis. Last weekend the spunky, serious 21-year-

old blonde followed his lead, climbing onto her horse, Something Brewing, to compete for the first time as a member of the Canadian team in international competition. Subduing her obvious nervousness, Macpherson completed an almost flawless tour of the tough Nations Cup course at Spruce Meadows near Calgary, underlining her reputation as one of the best young riders in Canada. But despite her performance the Canadian team stumbled in the early riding and finished fifth in a sixnation field. Before a hushed crowd Saturday afternoon the Netherlands rode through a perfect sudden-death jumpoff with three “clear” rides, defeating a gallant French squad.

In the past, Canadians have enjoyed remarkable success in international show jumping despite their thin ranks. A Canadian team, which included Tom Gayford, now the Canadian Equestrian

Team coach, and Jim Elder, Canada’s most successful and well-known rider internationally, captured the gold at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City over the toughest course ever designed for the games. And last year another Canadian team picked up the gold at the alternate Olympics in Rotterdam.

The most difficult of equestrian sports, show jumping ranks second only to soccer in popularity in Europe. Most international riders travel with at least two horses. Canadians are lucky if they travel with one. “There are lots of good

young riders in Canada,” says Gayford. “But we’re short of Grand Prix horses.” And since horse and rider are a matched pair, what happens to one affects the other. Hence Canada’s team often resembles a pickup squad. “There’s no way we can get our act together, as long as they keep falling out,” says Gayford.

Witness what happened at Spruce Meadows last week, in the first international competition on the fall circuit for the Canadian team. Veteran Canadian rider John Simpson, one of the original selections, retired from the team a few months ago. Barbie Kerr, Simpson’s sister and a team member from 1963 to 1974, dropped off the team a week before the show when her horse gashed his leg kicking out a stall window. Elder was forced out with a separated shoul-

der and torn ligaments suffered in a fall three weeks earlier in Toronto. Ian Millar’s horse was injured. Michel Vaillancourt, an Olympic silver medallist in 1976, doesn’t have a horse to ride. Hence, two newcomers, Macpherson and Nancy Southern, 25, of Calgary, got their first chance to put on the team’s riding jacket. They joined Mark Laskin, 24, of Edmonton, the three-time winner of the Canadian Equestrian of the Year award, and Alan Brand, 38, of Calgary. (By contrast, the British coach has 36 riders and at least double the number of horses to choose from when putting together a four-man team.) “We do come up with almost miracle wins,” says Canadian Equestrian Federation Executive Director Bill Little.

But if there’s an example anywhere in the equestrian world of what can be done to help a sport, it is at Spruce Meadows, located in the green and golden rolling foothills just south of the Calgary city limits. Spruce Meadows now ranks with the best of the show jumping complexes in the world. Built in 1975, it’s a very personal gift from the Southern family to the people of Calgary. Ron Southern, 51, whose rise from “modest means” to form Ateo, a worldwide manufacturing company with sales of $1.2 billion, is now part of the western corporate folklore. Joined by his wife, Marg, 50, he built the European-style facility, comprising stables, three courses, practise rings, a grandstand and a VIP lounge.

The Southerns have gone a long way toward developing the sport in Western Canada where, until recently, it was necessary for riders to go east to gain experience. As well, the Southerns are developing a new line of competitive horse, a cross between a thoroughbred and a German Hanoverian, hoping to eventually give Canadian riders something more than just racetrack rejects. If it hasn’t already, Spruce Meadows will do much to strengthen further Canada’s position internationally. Some of that will spill back onto Spruce Meadows. For instance, Laskin has a good chance of taking the individual gold at the World Cup championships in Dublin next spring. If he does, Canada will be entitled to host the next competition in 1986, and undoubtedly it would be held at Spruce Meadows. “I would get such a kick out of that,” says Laskin. “That alone would give me the motivational factor to win the championships.” &lt£>