September is finally here, and we’re back! What an incredible 19 months it has been since COVID-19 forced the closure of Spruce Meadows and changed the world. It has been 24 months since we last marvelled at the best horses and riders in the world. Now, athletes from 13 nations have converged on Spruce Meadows to launch our 45th season of international sport. What a journey it has been since Beezie Madden (USA) was the last to hoist a championship trophy at Spruce Meadows in September 2019. The multiple Olympic medalist, and Spruce Meadows legend, returns looking to add to her Spruce Meadows Story.
There's an energy in the air that usually avails itself each spring. But now, with September upon us, and Spruce Meadows having been granted a National Interest Exemption, the venue is ready for top international sport. There will be differences with no fans, no bands, no parades, and no exhibits. But the horses are here. One hundred and seventy-five of the very best were presented to the Vet Commission on Tuesday. Today, they are ready to start competition on both the International and North American rings. After a summer that refused to release its hot dry grip until just days ago, the fresh late summer air is welcome. There’s a hustle in the stables and a high-headed attitude among the horses. It's the opening day of the Spruce Meadows outdoor tournament season, and with it, the Spruce Meadows ‘National’ Tournament, presented by Rolex.
This decades-old institution on the international sport calendar, now about to launch (finally) our 45th edition, acts as the starting gate of the Spruce Meadows FEI season of international sport. Horses and riders from Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Central and South America and overseas have arrived to vie for the opportunity to be a Spruce Meadows champion, and all that comes with that. A championship at Spruce Meadows, whether earned on Wednesday or on Sunday is always hard-fought and can often be career-changing.
Whoever thought that would have been possible in the mid 1970’s when Spruce Meadows hosted its first tournament? Whoever thought it possible 10 months ago when spruce Meadows started down the road, in these unprecedented times, to possibly organize events in 2021? In fact, since that first Spruce Meadows Tournament in June of 1976, athletes representing more than 60 nations have competed at Spruce Meadows. The anthems of dozens of those nations have been played to honour those champions. We are delighted that those traditions and new champions can again be honoured.
This year, Spruce Meadows will once again open its doors to the world, welcoming Olympians, Continental, World Cup and World Champions. Riders come to Spruce Meadows with championship aspirations and dreams of victory, no matter at what level they compete. Sport federation and team officials have moved on from the Tokyo Games. Many now have their sights set on victory at Spruce Meadows. There are, of course, new names, new mounts and a new season all about to take their respective places in the Spruce Meadows story.
The 2021 Spruce Meadows season, and specifically the September Series, will feature a distinctive flavour both in and out of the tournament ring. COVID-19 and its related restrictions have dictated this. Those restrictions will not dilute what it takes to compete and win at Spruce Meadows, and the Organizing Committee and our amazing sponsors are committed to delivering the brand and experience that Spruce Meadows is famous for.
Athletes to watch this year as we start the season include a blend of the established stars and those on the rise. Leading the charge will be the likes of former world #1 Kent Farrington (USA), as well as the aforementioned Beezie Madden. Australia’s Rowan Willis has had his sights set on Spruce Meadows for months, as has Eduardo Menezes of Brazil.
The overall strength of the American roster is- as always- impressive with the likes of rising star Bliss Heers, and veterans Charlie Jacobs and Kyle King.
Veteran Canadian favourites Tiffany Foster, Ben Asselin and Erin Ballard will also, no doubt, seize their opportunities for victory, as they invariably have through the decades here at Spruce Meadows.
While there is plenty for the athletes on the field of play, the fans will be missed. But they need not miss a round. Spruce Meadows will be producing and distributing every round from every ring once competition starts. Fans across Canada can enjoy the sport on a number of platforms, including sprucemeadows.com, cbcsports.ca and ClipMyHorse. Spruce Meadows also continues to improve and refine its facilities and media platforms to improve the Spruce Meadows experience for the athletes, fans, media and sponsors.
This season will offer a new and improved Spruce Meadows website with full mobility capabilities. Expanded TELUS WIFI will be offered to all that come to Spruce Meadows.
The 2021 season, albeit long in arriving, promises to provide a memorable, and unique year, for fans, media, athletes and its corporate partners. Our thanks to all that have made it happen. It’s good to be back.