This sky-themed jump was suggested by a member of the public in a recent contest. Markus Wieland is Tbird’s jump expert. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance)

This sky-themed jump was suggested by a member of the public in a recent contest. Markus Wieland is Tbird’s jump expert. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance)

Former rider building jumps for Thunderbird Show Park

Chef hangs up hat only to take up design, construction.

Markus Wieland was a chef in his own restaurant before he came to Langley to cook up some special jumps at Thunderbird Show Park (tbird).

“I had just sold my restaurant on Vancouver Island,” he said, referring to Markus’ Wharfside Restaurant in Sooke – his second venture as chef and restaurateur, which he’d had for 12 years, following a four-year run with a restaurant in Vancouver.

He wanted to find something to keep him busy “for one year – for the summer – for something to do here.”

But it hasn’t worked out that way. When he joined tbird, he said, “I liked it so much that I’ve stayed.”

“I build the jumps,” he said, explaining his current position.

“I also build courses, and I am in charge of the crew that is in charge of all the jumps.”

Born in Mexico of German parents, Wieland ascribes his penchant for building things to his father: “My dad is a really good architect, so I’ve been always involved in building, and he’s also a very good carpenter, so I knew a bunch before I came here.”

Designing and building jumps for show horses comprises both industry and art.

The basic rules are straightforward, Wieland explained. “They have to be safe and light – as light as possible –and good looking.”

The rails have to be 12 feet long for outdoor jumps, and 10 feet for indoors.

From there, the design depends on who will be jumping over them.

“For the beginners,” he explained, “you would definitely not do anything spooky. The higher up you go, you try to do more difficult jumps.”

The position of the jumps in the course will also have an impact on the difficulty, he explained.

Jumps are created so their heights can be varied. “We start at a metre, more or less, for show jumping, and it goes to a metre 60 [1.6 metres].”

Other variables that can make jumps more interesting – or more challenging – include colours and shapes.

Horses don’t see the same colours their riders do.

“Yellow is a very hard colour to see,” Wieland noted, “so in bigger rings we do more yellow and brighter colours. And you can paint so it’s kind of 3D-ish.”

“I just made one that looks like sky… painted the clouds on and the whole works,” he said.

“That’s kind of cool.”

That design came out of the winning idea submitted in a recent contest held by tbird.

Another idea out of that contest inspired a jump in which the rails are held by two chess pieces – knights, of course.

Other design concepts – more than a hundred over the past four years, he calculates – have come from Wieland’s co-workers and colleagues, and also from himself, naturally.

Most of the jumps are built over the winter, with the newest usually making a first appearing in the grand prix ring.

“And from there,” Wieland said, “next year they go to a lower ring, and a lower ring, then lower and lower, lower, till they’re dead.”

While his father’s architectural and carpentry experience has helped Wieland, building things for horses – particularly for jumping competitions – also comes naturally from his own experience.

Wieland used to be a competitive show jumper. He started riding in his native Mexico City, and competed at some prestigious venues, including Spruce Meadows in Calgary, and others.

He even competed at tbird in its earlier incarnation on 26 acres off 200th Street and the freeway.

“That one was pretty small and old,” he said of the facility, comparing it to the 85-acre operation enjoyed at 72nd Avenue and 248th Street since 2000.

“This one is big and beautiful.”

He came to Langley with “a pastime kind of thing” in mind. “I wasn’t planning on staying here for four years, but…” you can almost hear the shrug and smile in his voice.

He said the working environment with the people at tbird is “one of the best – otherwise I wouldn’t be here.”