The world is coming to Thunderbird Show Park.
One of North America’s premier equestrian centres, Thunderbird is hosting Canada’s only FEI Nations Cup league event next Friday, June 2, starting at 3 p.m.
Teams of riders and horses from the U.S., Mexico (which is sending two squads), Ireland, and Canada will vie for top spot during this elite competition.
What makes the Nations Cup special is that show jumping (a.k.a. horse jumping) is typically an individual competition — however, the Nations Cup is a rare opportunity to see it as a team competition and cheer on Team Canada.
It is a team event, where countries choose four riders to represent them. There is only one qualifying event in each country and Canada’s is held at Thunderbird.
The teams will come together to compete for their country’s chance to compete at the international equestrian championship in Barcelona, Spain this October.
“It’s the only team-format jumping event,” explained Thunderbird chief operating officer Chris Pack. “You have four riders, and three scores count. So you have a drop score in both rounds. It’s great because anything can happen. Unlike normal show jumping where, once your round is finished, that is (your score), with the team event (the scores) are all accumulated, so that makes for a real nail biting finish.”
Leading Canada into the competition is 10-time Canadian Olympian Ian Millar as well as 2016 Rio Olympian Tiffany Foster.
Foster, 32, whose hometown is North Vancouver, has strong ties to Thunderbird. She spent her formative years learning her craft in Langley under the guidance of Brent and Laura Balisky.
Meanwhile, Pack noted that Millar hasn’t competed at Thunderbird since the 2003 Pan Am Trials.
However, Millar has been to Thunderbird since. In fact, he was at the show park last year with his daughter Amy, who competed with the Canadian contingent at the Nations Cup.
“He wanted to make a point of coming back,” Pack said.
As this is a non-Olympic year, countries are taking the opportunity to bring up some of their up-and-coming talent.
“I know the Americans are spending time to have three different teams,” Pack said. “No one rider is going to be on the same team. I think their plan is, they’re sending two very experienced riders and two ‘junior-ish’ riders with not a lot of international experience, just to kind of bring them up.”
Last year’s event was a huge success and judging from the quality of horse-and-rider teams flying in from all over the world, Pack anticipates an incredibly exciting day.
“It was awesome,” Pack said, about the 2016 competition. “We would have wished that Canada had won because then they would have qualified for Barcelona, which is the Nations Cup finals.”
Mexico came out on top, and the team members were elated.
“They were so jubilant,” Pack recalled, adding “It was awesome. We’re thankful that we have the opportunity to host this two years in a row.”
Ireland will field a quality team led by Cian O’Connor and Conor Swail.
“They’ve won all in Florida, they’ve won in Europe… they’re very strong,” Pack said, about the Irish riders.
As well, Team USA anchor Margie Goldstein Engle is a former Olympian and 10-time American Grandprix Association Rider of the Year.
Parking to the event is $10 per car, but admission is free.
Last year’s Nations Cup was so popular, parking spaces were at a premium.
“We have another five acres of parking, just for the event,” Pack said.
What: FEI Nations Cup
Where: Thunderbird Show Park Location: 6975 248th St.
When: June 2 from 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
• Horse jumping is the only Olympic sport where men and women compete equally
• Horses jump 1.50 to 1.60 metres high
• Stadium seating available
• Live music by a local band
• Pony rides and face painting for the kids
• Beer garden for the adults
• Enjoy dinner from the concession or food trucks on site or bring a picnic dinner
• Limited availability VIP tickets include sit down dinner, course tour, and meet-and-greet with riders
• Event Hashtags: Use #SupportYourNation #thunderbirdshowpark #FEINationsCup
About show jumping
Equestrian show jumping is where horse and rider pairings compete through a series of twelve to sixteen obstacles in heights ranging from 1.50-1.60 metres.
Riders must complete the course within a time allowed and leave all the obstacles untouched to have a “clear” round. The team with the most clear rounds wins. Show jumping competitions are unique in the professional sporting realm because men and women compete as equals. It is also rare for a sport that has competitors ranging in ages of over 50 years, but in show jumping, it’s a test of skill and whether you’re 20 or 70, it doesn’t matter.
About Thunderbird Show Park
Thunderbird Show Park was started by George and Diane Tidball, who were inducted into the BC Hall of Fame in 2017 for their contributions, not only to the equestrian community and building B.C.’s top equestrian facility but also for their business contributions.
George Tidball was the first Canadian to open a McDonald’s outside of the U.S., back in 1967.
– Files from Thunderbird Show Park, thunderbirdshowpark.com