John Anderson is smiling for a reason.With the inaugural Royal West (on right now!) John has brought international show jumping back to the heart of Calgary — for the first time in 30 years. Held at the new Agrium Western Event Centre on the Stampede Grounds, the hat of choice for the next week will be black velvet, not white Stetson.
He didn’t create the new show without ruffling some royal feathers.
“The powers that be at the Royal Winter Fair were a bit miffed at me for doing this,” says John. “They thought I was copying them.” Not only does the Royal in Toronto have a rep for being one of the most important shows in the country, with its glamorous black tie events it’s also considered the start of the Canadian social season. “No one’s going to copy the Royal, they do a great job,” he continues. “We’re not a fair. We’re a horseshow. And an entertainment venue, if you will.”After watching Olympian Jill Henselwood effortlessly clear a jump, Ontario rider Erynn Ballard says she’s not surprised the Royal has its hackles up. “You can’t replace the Royal in prestige and history. But I think the Royal West will give them a run for their money in what they’re offering in international competition, prize money and FEI ranking points.” She’s ridden in both. “But if they sat down for a moment and really thought about it, it should work for everybody. It will bring the country together.”Similar to the divot stomp in polo, except without the divots and the stomping, VIP guests tour the ring before the big class. Unfazed, riders manage to duck around drinkers in order to count strides between jumps. Multi-tasking as both show president and competitor, John Anderson takes a minute to socialize. To encourage a broad-ranging audience, the Royal West is trying to get its glam on, although I saw more Stampede-chic than formal wear. In fact, except for the competitors, I didn’t see any formal wear, even though corporate sponsors are hosting parties in suites with cocktails, catering and flat screens. C’mon, Cowtown, let’s take it up a notch!Backstage, the horses were ready to rumble. I was crushing on this cutie, RRC Black Magic, aka Felix. Don’t tell my horse Simon. Although I don’t know if he’s the jealous type.Then, caught in the act! Who do I see with her official checklist? Simon’s vet, Candace Crosby. She was there to administer FEI drug testing and generally make sure the horses are ok. Don’t tell Simon about my little swoon over Black Magic. Although my crush receded when Black Magic refused a jump in the ring later. Btw, nice Royal West jacket, Candace!Back to the man who put this party together. Besides representing Canada at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, he also operates Rocky Mountain Show Jumping, an elite training and horse show facility. If anyone can create a new equestrian tradition in this country, I’d put my loonies on John Anderson… … as he simultaneously pulls off a faultless run over 1.45 meter fences, along with his horse, Terrific.
Besides the big jumps for big money, there are also crowd pleasers, like pony equitation and Jack Russell races. How about some polo, John? You could have a good three-on-three demonstration game in this arena!
“In the coming years I’m going to do more entertainment things for the crowd,” says John, diplomatically non-committal. “Make it more exclusive. Bums in seats are ultimately going to make it successful.”
The Royal West continues at the Stampede Grounds through Saturday, November 1st. Next up — how the horsey set parties, and style files on the youngest competitor in the International Championship. Stay tuned for more Blue Besos coverage on Royal West!