The team at Thunderbird Show Park

International equine spotlight shines on Langley’s Thunderbird Show Park

Elite riders return to this community for the Summer Horse Festival.

When a major project or event is in their rearview mirror, there’s a giant exhalation of relief for many folks in most circumstances.

Not so at Thunderbird Show Park.

If you ask Thunderbird president Jane Tidball and vice president of operations Chris Pack, they’ll tell you that they – along with the rest of the staff at Langley’s premier equestrian centre – are “event junkies.”

Tidball and Pack note that the long, hectic days that lead up to a big event such as this week’s Summer Fort Festival – and the high-profile international show jumping competitions that go hand-in-hand with it – are what the Thunderbird team lives for.

(Read more below)

The festival culminates Sunday Aug. 28, with the $135,600 Longines World Cup Qualifier – presented by Noel Asmar Equestrian.

The action starts at 2 p.m.

The Longines World Cup event is the first in a series of 14 events held in North America, and the only one in B.C.

This event kicks off an international series of prestigious show jumping competitions and brings some of North America’s greatest equestrian athletes to this province.

“We are 120 per cent prepared,” Tidball said. “We are so ready. To us, this is like Christmas morning. Everything that we’ve worked for all year is for these two events, really. We run horse shows all through the year but the big events for us are the Nations Cup and the World Cup, so we live for those events. All of our staff really get geared up for those events, and I don’t think we can be any more prepared.”

Thunderbird is just two-and-a-half months removed from two of the biggest events in the park’s history – the $129,500 Nations Week Finale Grand Prix show jumping competition (won by Egypt’s Nayel Nassar and Lordan), and the Furusiyya FEI (Federation Equestrian International) Nations Cup show jumping series.

Hosting a Nations Cup on June 3 was a first for Thunderbird, and riders and horses representing Mexico combined for the victory. Tidball was thrilled with the turnout and the skill on display at the Nations Cup: “It was unbelievable. [It was the] biggest event we’ve ever had here.”

Pack added, “It was such a high profile event for us, due to the riders that came.”

Three of the four team members who represented Canada at the Nations Cup were on the Canadian team that competed this month at the Rio Olympics.

They included Tiffany Foster, Eric Lamaze, and Amy Millar.

“It was a nice preview of what people were going to see in Rio, locally,” Pack said.

“I felt the spectators just loved seeing Canada’s best riders competing against the other nations,” Tidball said. “From a spectators’ standpoint it was great. We had autograph sessions, and people were really engaged.”

Pack said equestrian show jumping enthusiasts were treated twice that weekend. First, they had an opportunity to see many of the world’s riders competing for their country, as a team, during the Nations Cup, and then individually two days later during the grand prix.

“You got to see both sides of the sport,” Pack said.

The dangling carrot for the riders was a healthy amount of prize money that was up for grabs.

“That’s part of their plan when they come up to the tournament,” Pack said.

Tidball said the Mexican riders who won the Nations Cup were “great champions.”

“They added a whole lot of energy to the event,” she said. “They travelled the farthest and for them to have won the event was pretty awesome.”

Pack added that Team Mexico clearly won the Furusiyya FEI league: “They won in Mexico, as well, about a month before and they did very well in Ocala, [Florida] during the winter, which was the first stop of the Nations Cup for North America.”

Many of the Mexican team members are back for the Summer Fort Classic.

“We’re becoming a stop on their tour,” Tidball said.

With this being an Olympic year, it has a bit of an effect on who’s coming to Thunderbird for the competitions, but it doesn’t take away from the quality of riders and horses.

The Aug. 28 qualifying event will feature top riders from the U.S., Mexico, Ireland, Egypt, Germany, Holland, and New Zealand as they all race for the chance to compete for that final prize.

“The average entry in one of our big FEI events is anywhere between 30 and 50 riders,” Tidball said. “So when you think of it, there’s only four riders on an Olympic team, so we’ll be missing those four Canadian riders but we still have the fifth best, the sixth best, the seventh best riders in Canada and in the United States, so we feel the level of competition will still be top notch.”

The Longines event will include live music by a local band, food trucks, beer garden, and pony rides for kids. There are also VIP tickets that include a sit-down dinner, course tour, and meet-and-greet with riders.

Another notable competition that’s close to Tidball’s heart is the George & Dianne Tidball Legacy Grand Prix that was held Aug. 17.

Sponsored by the Keg Steakhouse and Bar, this competition pays tribute to Tidball’s parents George and Dianne, the founders of the equestrian centre. The couple passed away within three weeks of each other in June 2014.

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