Fewer horses, smoother ride

TODD SAELHOF -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:26 AM ET

Sometimes less is more.

Just ask officials of Spruce Meadows, who will jump into the 31st season of equestrian events with fewer horses than last year -- and not by accident.

The show-jumping facility's president, Linda Southern-Heathcott, said her charges have purposely cut the number of entries for the summer's six tournaments by almost 200 to ensure a smooth ride -- for fans and athletes.

"In sunny conditions, we're willing to try as many as the 850 horses we had last year, but I'm happy with 660 this year," said Southern-Heathcott.

"It's just a preferred number of horses for us."

The daughter of Spruce Meadows co-owners Ron and Marg Southern admitted the monsoon-like conditions during last year's soggy summer made it hard to keep the athletes happy -- and with the highest-ever horse count, it didn't make managing a season marred by Mother Nature's wrath any easier for officials.

"Certainly we were at our limit last year, especially with the wet weather," Southern-Heathcott said. "So we felt this year we wanted to produce top quality events, and the fact that we're not bursting at the seams with horses helps that a lot."

Besides, there's not as much of a demand by the planet's top equestrians these days to spend time at the spectacular show-jumping site.

That's because of the 2006 World Equestrian Championships slated for Aachen, Germany, running Aug. 20 through Sept. 3.

Meanwhile, officials at Spruce Meadows have improved living conditions for the horses in attendance by providing an eighth permanent stable on the grounds.

It pushes the amount of stalls on site for the four-legged athletes by 140 up to 830, Southern-Heathcott said.


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