By Jackie McFarland
As a Canadian who spent most of his summer working with clients in Canada, we wanted to get an ‘Up North’ Report from a good source.
EqSol: Where are you from in Canada?
MA: I am from Edmonton, the capital of Alberta, just three hours north of Calgary.
EqSol: How many years have you been competing at Spruce Meadows?
MA: My family competed at the first show 33 years ago (1976). I competed in the Rocky Mountain Hunter Ring on Junior Hunters when I was 8 years old. The last time I competed there was in 1996, the year I met Joie (Morley’s wife).
A bit of Spruce Meadows History…
Formerly a cattle feed lot, the Southern family transformed a field into one of the best equestrian facilities in the world. Construction started in 1973 and the first tournament was in 1976. The horse shows attract over 450,000 spectators each year, with 65,000 recorded in attendance on Sunday of the 2008 Masters Tournament. Having strong commitment from a large number of corporate sponsors, the prize money exceeds six million annually.
EqSol: You’ve been to a lot of facilities all over the world – is Spruce one of the best?
MA: Most definitely Spruce is one of the best. They take such good care of the place and make it special for exhibitors.
EqSol: What makes it special and what are your recommendations to spectators and/or exhibitors?
MA: There are so many reasons why Spruce is special but one that comes to mind for me is that they only use the International Ring three times per year, and for the big classes only. So when you say you’ve ridden in the International Ring at Spruce Meadows it means something.
Whether you compete in other arenas or go just to watch great competition, everyone should see Spruce Meadows. It’s a fabulous facility. Horses and riders can do amazing things when a crowd of 20,000 or more is cheering them on. Not to be missed!
And when you go up to Spruce, don’t miss out on the Egg Burger or Grasshopper Beer, both a must!
EqSol: One fond memory of this past summer?
MA: I would have to say the weather. Spruce’s Achilles heel is the weather – it can be miserable. But this year it was dreamy, likely the best year ever. Maybe a sign of years to come…
EqSol: Tell us about Blue Valley Farms.
MA: It’s a very special place. The Smith’s built a destination for local riders to come and train, and they really made it top notch. It is more than a facility – it is the nicest barn I have ever been to. Alex, their daughter, was the catalyst for me returning to Canada. Joie and I opened JG-MA SJ, Inc. – Canada and Chris Starr, a former employee, did a nice job of developing a customer base.
Honestly, although we did well, it was too hard to run another business. The staffing issues, the time away from our California operation as well as time apart from Joie was too much. So now I only work with Alex and we were lucky enough to find Darrin Dlin to move his business and lease the stall the Smiths aren’t using. That means I can focus on training Tara when I’m there and not on having to run a business.
We do plan to have our first Blue Valley Farms horse show next summer at the end of July. We’re going to only have 150 horses, offer special incentives to California riders and more – I’ll give you the details when I have them.
EqSol: How has Sunshine (Morley’s French bulldog) changed your life?
MA: She is a great companion and travels with me everywhere. I’ve had people approach me at shows asking about Sunshine and don’t even know who they are.
When I was in Portugal for the developing riders tour, someone asked me where Sunshine was – she has a huge international fan base! As for her agent, we’re talking to Justin Timberlake’s people.
Thank you Morley for your time and expertise on Spruce.