Maintaining a firm grip on soggy grounds

MICHELLE MARK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:11 AM ET

Putting its best foot forward is a horse's most daunting task at Spruce Meadows.

That's why designers and staff have been working tirelessly to combat the effects of Mother Nature on the facility's award-winning courses.

Course designer Peter Holmes said the severe rains and flooding of the past week put Spruce Meadows' new drainage system to the test -- and it passed with flying colours.

"The footing is the most important consideration of the tournament," said Holmes.

"The concern when the course is wet is that the horses start to sink as they try to jump."

More than six inches of rain have fallen on the tournament site since Sunday.

And with unique jumps specially designed at 1 1/2 times the width of a standard jump, horses and riders have a little leeway around well-trampled areas to ensure solid footing.

"We try to incorporate a more optional type of route," Holmes said.

But with more horses and riders than ever before at this year's tournament -- 750 to be exact -- Holmes said that makes his job of maintaining firm ground that much more challenging.

"It really tightened the screws to be able to make the courses the best they can possibly be to stand up to such volume," he said.

The number of horses competing at Spruce Meadows per season has increased to about 750 since the facility opened 30 years ago.


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