by Bob Groeneveld/Special to the Langley Advance
Thunderbird Show Park is one of North America’s top-rated equestrian parks, regularly hosting national and international events at its world-class facilities.
But it’s still very much a family business, said Jane Tidball, daughter of the late George and Dianne Tidball who started Thunderbird (tbird) 45 years ago.
Jane is president and tournament director for Thunderbird, but the family continues to play important roles in its operations and growth.
“My brother Stephen Tidball is in the construction business, so when we need something, he’ll build something for us on site,” she explained.
“My sister Laura Balisky is a two-time equestrian Olympian, so she’s got really good advice from a show management and scheduling perspective. And then my sister Kathy Robbins is retired, but she oversees – at a higher level – the catering services.”
“So the whole family is involved,” Jane said, adding that and she expects the family will continue to be an important part of the business for generations to come.
“We have a couple more generations that are getting involved. My daughter Laura-Jane (L.J.) Tidball just made the Canadian team and won first place in Ocala and Mexico with the Nations Cup, so she rides in all of our shows and gives us really great feedback from a competitor’s standpoint.”
L.J. and the Canadian team placed second behind Ireland in the third leg of the Nations Cup, held at tbird in June, to qualify for the Nations Cup final in Barcelona this fall.
“And then I have a whole bunch of nieces and nephews,” Jane said. “They contribute to events when I need help with something. They all help me out. They all provide interesting points of view that really help this business grow to the extent that it’s grown now.”
That growth has included hosting prestigious Nations and World Cups, among other world-class events.
“They are hard events to get,” Jane noted. “You have to jump through a lot of hoops and do a lot of things right to be eligible for those events, and the whole family has really helped us get here. It all really works out well as an ongoing family business – totally, a hundred per cent, and more than ever.
“It is very much a family business.”
It’s clearly what George and Dianne Tidball, who both passed away in 2014, were striving for when they founded tbird in Langley in 1973.
George was already a force in the restaurant business. He opened the first McDonald’s Restaurant outside of the United States in the 1960s, and followed that by starting up the Keg restaurants in 1971.
He and Dianne started Thunderbird on 26 acres near 200th Street and the freeway (where the Colussus movie theatre complex now sits), in 1973, then moved it to the current 85-acre site at 72nd Avenue and 248th Street in 2000 – and it has since grown into the world-class facility it is today.
George and Dianne were honoured by the Jump Canada Hall of Fame in 2009 and were posthumously inducted into the BC Sports Hall of fame in 2017.
As tribute to the show park’s founders, the family business created the George and Dianne Tidball Legacy Foundation, which Jane explained “supports local charities such as Langley Animal Protection Society. We support riders that need a step up with their riding. We look forward to supporting local projects. We really want to maintain looking after our local community.”
Fundraising efforts for the foundation emphasize that the Thunderbird family extends beyond the direct Tidball lineage.
Last week’s George and Dianne Tidball Legacy Grand Prix event brought not only competitors from as far as Mexico and Ireland to the Langley show park.
“We had about 150 family and crew members and close friends and people from the old days when my parents were running the business,” said Jane.
“It was very nice, really great to see some of the people of the old world. We had a very competitive event, and all the family came out for the prize-giving and to cheer on the riders. It was fantastic.”