Amateur athletes look to Skyliner

TODD SAELHOF, CALGARY SUN

, Last Updated: 12:05 PM ET

Mika Buckwold knows the newest tournament at Spruce Meadows is tailor-made just for her.

As an amateur rider, the Calgarian's always been in tough against the world's top professionals during the major events, but with the equine park introducing to its summer schedule the Skyliner later this month, there is hope for future successes in the big ring.

The Skyliner tournament, the newly dubbed sixth major of Spruce Meadows, is open only to amateur and junior-aged equestrians and their horses.

"It's the perfect division for us amateurs and juniors," said the 27-year-old Buckwold, who's been riding for 15 years.

"It's perfect because we're not riding with the pros and it gets us ready with its world championship format."

Officials at the show-jumping facility wanted to add the Skyliner to help the juniors -- those riders 18 years old and younger -- and amateurs -- those who don't make a living from equestrian --to trim the number of participants in the other five major tournaments and help the less experienced competitors develop their skills.

The Skyliner is slated to debut June 22-25 with more than $140,000 in prize money.

"It's an event to take advantage of -- it gives us insight to what it's going to be like to compete at world championships," said Buckwold, who has two horses -- Huxley and London Beat -- among the best Alberta has to offer.

"I know some of the pros are jealous because they never got the practice like this coming up through the ranks, but it's hard riding against these international riders thinking you never have a chance."

The Skyliner is the brainchild of newly appointed president Linda Southern-Heathcott, who recalled the success of a previous junior tournament hosted by Spruce Meadows.

And competitions manager Jon Garner is already hailing it a success based on response from riders.

Officials anticipated 200 entries and hoped for 300 but got around 500.

"The juniors are really neat because they are the next stars, and the amateurs are doing it for the love of the sport," Garner said.

"And the big thing is this event is for just them, because they're in the limelight rather than sharing it with the pros.

"People will come out to watch them."

That's appealing to amateurs such as Allen Kruger of Leduc, who doesn't spend a ton of time in the International Ring -- the feature field of Spruce Meadows -- even though he spends as many as 10 weeks a year honing his horsemanship down here.

"It's a tougher ball game against the professionals, so maybe if you finish fourth or fifth riding against professionals, you'll be finishing first in a tournament like the Skyliner," said Kruger, a heavy-duty mechanic by day and a show-jumper by night.


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