World’s elite at Thunderbird

Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup begins Friday at Langley’s Thunderbird Show Park

Tiffany Foster riding Tripple X III at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto. Foster

Long known as the horse capital of B.C., Langley is quickly earning a reputation as one of the top equestrian centres of the world, as Thunderbird Show Park prepares for their largest international show jumping event yet.

The Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup, a prestigious Olympic calibre event featuring top horses and riders from five different countries, is taking place Friday, June 3 from 4 to 6:30 p.m. at the show park, 24550 72 Ave.

It is an opportunity for the elite in the equestrian industry to test their skills, and for Thunderbird — the first venue in B.C. to host this event — to show the world their hospitality.

“There’s so many shows going on around the world, that the fact that we can get this calibre of rider here, it’s just such a great step forward for us,” said Chris Pack, vice president of operations at Thunderbird.

“It’s just an opportunity to showcase what the Tidballs (owners of the show park) have put into Thunderbird.

“This is a family legacy so it’s nice to be able to show that on FEI TV (International Equestrian Federation), and on TSN, and to have new nations and new people come and experience Thunderbird.”

The Nations Cup is the only team event in equestrian competition. Horses and riders will be competing in teams of four, and the winners will move on to represent their countries at the finals in Barcelona, Spain in September.

Securing this event at Thunderbird has been years in the making, Pack said. Although the show park has been around for more than 40 years, it wasn’t until five years ago that they were truly put on the international map.

While visiting Florida, Pack went to a press conference put on by the North American Riders Group for the announcement of their top 25 show jumping venues in North America.

He was shocked to see that Thunderbird hadn’t made the list.

“I thought for sure, I’ve been to most of these venues, or half of them, and I know that we are at least equal,” he said.

“And so I kept on them saying, ‘Please send some representation up to us. I feel like we are really valid in what we’re doing here.’ And so they did, and the next year we were ranked number two in North America. And from that point, we started getting a flux of more international riders and more publicity.”

Thunderbird now hosts six major hunter and jumper show tournaments a year, and has been ranked number two for the last four years in a row. What sets them apart from other facilities is their attention to detail, Pack said.

“We’re never going to be able to compete with some of these places that can have 3,000 to 4,000 horses, they just set it up and it’s just a well-oiled machine,” he said.

“But then you lose the personal touches with your exhibitors and your sponsors. We cap ours at 1,000 horses because if we put on 1,000 horses, we can still say hi and we still know everybody.

“When people come, they get the Tbird experience with management, staff and our hospitality.

“They always say ‘Wow it’s so different than any other show.’ These are our guests and we’re very thankful that they came out here to show with us, so we want them to come back, and we want them to leave with not only a great competition experience, but just a great experience in general.”

That hospitality extends to the spectators as well. The event is free for the public to attend, with room for 3,500 fans to cheer the Canadian riders on. There will also be food trucks, a band performing, pony rides, face painting and a market for shopping.

“We want (the public) to be able to come and get the full experience and see a few different things,” Pack said.

“We want it to be a fun place where they can bring their kids and bring their family and enjoy show jumping and enjoy all of the other amenities.”

In preparation for the Nations Cup, Thunderbird has constructed a new $600,000 barn to house the 900 horses being flown in from around the world for the 130 athletes.

“It wasn’t necessary, but we wanted to make sure that when this calibre of horses arrive here, they are treated properly,” Pack said.

“These are big, athletic horses and so the stalls that we have brought in are bigger stalls than what we had before and they exceed the minimum requirement of the FEI.”

The Canadian team features Olympic riders Eric Lamaze, who won gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and Tiffany Foster, who lived in Langley as a teenager and worked for the Tidballs at Thunderbird.

“I think it’s a really big deal for many reasons and, you know, it’s not often that area of the world gets exposed to really international competitions,” Foster told the Times from a training facility in Belgium last week.

“I’m excited to compete because it’s also a really fun thing, and really special for me growing up there and learning to ride there, watching everybody in the Nations Cup, and then being able to come back and represent Canada there is really something special for me.

“I am really looking forward to it.”

Foster has already flown four horses by FedEx to the stables, and will be arriving at the venue tomorrow (June 2).

With most of her family living in B.C., including her sister who runs the restaurant at Thunderbird, coming back to Langley to compete is “going to be really, really special.”

“This is a huge step forward, and I have to say, a big, big kudos to Jane (Tidball) and Chris Pack … for really getting behind this and taking this on, because this is a big undertaking to put an event like this on,” she said.

“I just think that everybody out there should be so grateful that they are doing this, and bringing this level of show jumping here in everybody’s back yard … it is really something special and I really hope everyone can take advantage of it and come and watch it, cheer us on and really make it an extra special event.”

For more information on the Nations Cup, click here.

Miranda Gathercole/Langley Times

Chris Pack, vice president of operations at Thunderbird Show Park.