After packing up her two best horses, Liz Atkins of Benchmark Stables in Hampshire, Illinois navigated her way across the boarder to take in the outstanding competition experience as only the renowned Spruce Meadows Tournaments in Calgary, Alberta Canada can offer.
When a Dream Becomes a Goal
In the past, Spruce Meadows was a dream for Atkins, now it became a goal. The opportunity has motivated her to move up and do more in regards to her riding career.
“Every aspect is so impressive,” said Atkins. “From the riders and the horses to the courses and just the whole atmosphere. It is organized every minute, every day; they compromise on nothing. The stands are full of spectators like any other sporting event – it’s definitely more like a tournament than a show. The presentations are a big deal and the sponsors are treated with respect.”
Atkins explained that both strategy and organization is key in getting through the day there. You really need to pack a bag and be ready for the whole day. You must be on time, if you miss your spot you don’t get to go. You must be present for the awards and pay respect to the sponsors. It’s definitely a different environment than showing in the states.
And that’s all even before you jump a jump! When talking about the courses and the rings, that includes another level of awareness.
Nothing Is A "Give Me" At Spruce Meadows
“Nothing is a ‘give me’ there,” added Atkins. “If you aren’t riding every stride up the hills and down the hills it’s not going to turn out well. You really have to take nothing for granted. The 16 foot rails are different too, you can make it work to your advantage to give your horse more room but you also have to be able to keep your horse right where you want him.”
She found it fascinating to watch the warm up ring and to see how the top riders in the world warm up their horses and when they put the caulks in and watch their systems that have lead them to huge success. Atkins commented that the whole atmosphere really gives you a leg up in riding, management and customers. It makes you aware of what to work on to up your game.
Atkins was pleased with her horses there with Rodeo VDL (inset photo by Cansport Photo) placing fourth in the 1.30m during the Pan American Tournament and finished 6th in the Horseware Ireland Cup in the North American Tournament in the All Canada ring. Her mount, Undine, took home a 7th place ribbon in the 1.35m speed class during the North American Tournament as well.
What did Atkins learn from her amazing opportunity?
First, the logistics of the trip and the paperwork to get back and forth is not a simple as you think! It’s not a simple as a health certificate to go from Illinois to Kentucky – it is helpful to talk to someone who knows how to do it correctly.
Second, is the fitness of the horses. With the size of the rings and the length of the courses in addition to the hills, Atkins says she’d gallop her horses on grass everyday before heading there next time to be sure they were fit.
Third, Atkins explained she got a real understanding of riding leg to hand and concentrating on the balance of the horse. What you can get away with in a flat sand ring is not the same as riding in the field with 16-foot rails.
Atkins finished the two weeks in Calgary motivated rather than exhausted as many of the shows in the states leave you.
“I expected it to be educational but I wasn’t prepared to think I wanted to stay longer and experience more,” said Atkins. “I will definitely try to go again.”