Young Kara Chad rides to first International Ring win at Spruce Meadows

As Kara Chad stood outside the International Ring signing autographs for a group of young fans, you could remember a time she was just like them.

But the 19-year-old isn’t star-struck anymore when she’s in the presence of the equestrian world’s biggest stars. No, the shoe is very much on the other foot these days, especially after the Calgarian won her first ever International Ring competition Saturday morning.

Chad beat out a field that was packed with some of international show-jumping’s most experienced athletes, riding Star la Tuiliere to victory in the 1.50-metre TD Cup and taking home $28,050 for her efforts.

“Oh my God, first win in the International Ring … it’s surreal,” said Chad, before admitting that she was having trouble processing the win. “Right now, not so much, but for sure later I’ll realize what I did and be like ‘wow, that did happen.”

While any rider’s first win in the International Ring is a big deal, Chad’s victory was met with an uncommon roar from the Spruce Meadows crowd.

She and her older sister, Bretton, effectively grew up at the Calgary equestrian facility and only two years ago Chad was making her International Ring debut. She was inundated with hugs and congratulations from around the grounds as soon as her victory was confirmed, and there was a sense that her victory was shared with the wider Spruce Meadows family.

“It’s pretty incredible, from the riders it’s amazing, but also from the people who work at Spruce Meadows,” said Chad, who edged out Brazilian Rodrigo Lambre in the jump-off with a time of 45.55 seconds. “For example, (competition manager) John Garner and (senior vice-president) Ian Allison were so ecstatic to see me out there. I got a big hug from both of them.

“It’s really nice to have a community to celebrate with.”

Chad’s career has been on an upward trajectory for the past couple years — by all accounts, she was in consideration for Canada’s Pan-American Games team — but Saturday’s win still represents a major jump for the Calgarian.

Some of the credit likely belongs to Eric Lamaze, who the Chad sisters decided to train with in the spring after years spent working with Meadow Grove Stables in California.

“We were training with (Susie Schroer and Dick Carvin) for about 12 years and they’ve been absolutely incredible, they brought us up from ponies to where we are today,” Chad said. “We switched over to Eric and he’s Eric Lamaze … He’s nothing but the best and he puts more of a competitive edge on everything and he’s an incredible trainer.”

When she’s not riding around the International Ring, Chad studies full-time at Claremont-McKenna College in California, but in the time between the Summer Series and back-to-school time both sisters will be heading to Europe, where they’ll compete in three competitions on the Longines Global Tour.

It’s another new experience for Chad, but after winning on Saturday she’ll no longer just be happy to be there.

“For sure this changes your perspective a little bit,” Chad said. “When you see that you’re able to do this, you become more competitive and you come out of the ring wanting more, so going into Europe that’s exactly what I want to do.”

Black & White