Stampede to Spruce

TODD SAELHOF -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:24 AM ET

Equestrian fans refused to horse around in kicking off a new season of show-jumping at Spruce Meadows, as more than 80,000 people took in the park's first event.

Over the past five days of the National tournament, equestrian lovers came in droves to the world-class facility in south Calgary, setting up a strong start to what could become another record season for attendance, said Spruce Meadows spokesman Ian Allison.

"It was a really encouraging way to start the season," Allison said.

"June is always difficult because it's a really busy time for people, but it helped that we had good weather throughout the tournament.

"We're really satisfied with the wonderful support here."

Last year, Spruce Meadows packed the park with 444,475 spectators for the 2006 season over the course of the five tournaments that make up the summer schedule.

That crowd was more than 50,000 over the previous record of 392,166 set in 2003 and that included a slow start of just 67,000 fans attending the National, said spokeswoman Meghan Chevrette-McIvor.

"It was a strong week -- a lot better than last year," Chevrette-McIvor said.

The 32nd season looked like it might get off to a shaky start with rain wreaking havoc on the city.

"But the big storm that hit Calgary really didn't affect us," Allison said.

"We got 15 millimetres and then it rained most of the next day, but nothing that the course couldn't take.

"It still keeps people from coming, but having said that, the fans were a pretty brave lot," Allison said.

The Continental is next up from June 14-17.

"There's about 1,000 horses on the ground now for the next four weeks here," Allison said.

"And we know that the folks around Calgary like what these athletes bring out, and we hope they continue to support them by coming out."


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