Kara Chad’s Top 10 Survival Tips For Spruce Meadows
Spruce Meadows is a venue steeped in tradition, a place where legends are born. At the heart of the showgrounds is the massive grass arena, the International Ring, which has hosted some of the most inspiring moments in the sport of show jumping.
One of Canada’s rising young talents, Kara Chad, grew up at Spruce, competing there since she was showing in the 1.10m division. Now, a rising five-star competitor, she returns to the show grounds this week for the Spruce Meadows ‘Masters,’ after a successful Spruce summer series and an impressive campaign abroad—trained by none other than Olympic Gold and Bronze medalist, Eric Lamaze—as she continues to prove herself as an asset to Team Canada.
Her selection as Canada’s reserve rider in Rio fulfilled a lifelong ambition to represent her home country at the Olympic Games. Even with the experience from Brazil still fresh in her mind, Chad can still remember the first time she rode out from under the famous clock tower at the show that started it all for her.
So how does one persevere through competing at one of the most difficult and prestigious shows in world? Chad shares with us her top ten survival tips for a show week at Spruce Meadows, in her words:
1. Always be organized. Just take that extra little bit of time, that little extra moment at night, to organize the orders- seeing who goes where and getting the team together and to make sure that everybody is on the same page.
2. Be on time. Since Spruce Meadows is already a very timely show, they don’t like it when you’re late. If you miss a moment and get a little behind that can be very stressful. There are six different rings amidst a huge property. You have to make sure everyone knows where they’re going and, of course, the timing. It goes along with the tradition of Spruce Meadows that the show has it down to the 30 second mark before you’re supposed to be in the ring, which is very efficient not only for the viewers and the sponsors but it’s also for the riders’ benefit.
3. Get here as early as you possibly can. These are some extremely long show days. Sometimes the grooms are here from 5am until 11pm but in the end, it’s all worth it for what you’re striving to accomplish.
4. Check your ego at the door. My worst show experience at Spruce was actually my first week, first round this year. Since I’ve started working for Eric, I’ve been riding and showing some of the sale horses for him. I’m still new to the International Ring, and it was the second show I was doing that. I went into the ring with this new mount, trying to show Eric that I was worthy of the job and that I’m grateful that he’s supporting me so I was a little nervous. I completely messed up. I had to retire and leave the ring. Having that be my first round at Spruce was a little discouraging but I feel at Spruce you’re either heroic or just really bad. So I definitely started 2016 at Spruce not on the best note but it’s been up from there and I couldn’t be happier.
5. Be prepared to get your butt kicked a couple of times. Spruce is a physically and mentally demanding show. You’ll fall and tumble but you know that coming out of Spruce Meadows that you and your horse are going to be better off when you move on to the next show.
6. Roll with the punches. I wasn’t with Eric at the time but he told me that when he had Hickstead, his warm-ups were always extremely interesting. I think Hickstead got up to losing three shoes in one warm-up for one class. That’s a big part of Spruce Meadows—losing shoes due to the quirks of the turf. That kind of captures Spruce Meadows in a way—that whatever is thrown at you, you just have to keep pushing until you get to that in-gate and you have your moment in the ring.
7. Pack for all kinds of weather. I’m fortunate enough to live here so I know what to expect. The weather in Calgary is unpredictable so I tell my friends when they come to Spruce to bring two suitcases with anything and everything you can possibly think of because any weather condition is possible. You come to expect it. Every summer series is different- you can have all four seasons in one day: cold, hot, rain, snow. It adds to the excitement and the atmosphere of the whole show.
8. Respect the tradition. Fortunately it hasn’t happened to me yet, but some friends of mine have fallen off on the far side of the ring, opposite of the in-gate, which is the farthest corner of the ring you possibly could. Since Spruce Meadows likes to run on-time, they ask riders if they could politely jog out of the ring with their horse in-hand. So they don’t get a moment to really feel sorry for themselves; they just have to move on and be efficient. It can be frustrating for the riders but everyone has a chuckle when they’re sometimes not as lenient on some of their rules and traditions.
9. Trust your horse. I’d say that the environment outside the ring can sometimes be more intimidating than the ring itself. But you go through the clock tower—it’s this huge grand entrance. Once you get in the ring, you have to trust your horse and make it happen.
10. Take it all in. My debut in the International Ring was about three years ago now, My whole family was there. It was a huge moment because Spruce Meadows has been such a big part of my life. It’s intimidating in the warm-up with all these world class riders warming-up next to you. It’s intimidating when you go up the ramp but once you’re in the ring in that incredible arena its like nothing else. The approach to the arena is also something special. You walk up this big hill and you’re alone with you, your horse, and your team. You discuss your plan and go along with what you think and what you can predict the course will be. For sure it can be suspenseful but it’s also super exciting and what a lot of people live for in our sport.
Noelle Floyd - Sept 2016