The 2022 North American show jumping tournament was Spruce Meadows’ version of a debutante ball. First-time competitors nabbed the two biggest prizes of the week ‒interestingly, riders at different junctures of their careers.

Paul O’Shea. (SM Media)

Paul O’Shea, a soft-spoken 45-year-old, kept his best performance for last as he captured the $500,000 Queen Elizabeth II Cup grand prix on Saturday, besting 11 other horse-rider combinations, many of the highly-ranked variety. O’Shea and Imerald Van’T Voorhof, an adept 14-year-old Belgian warmblood, made it through the two rounds on a single time fault, just .54 seconds over the time allowed.

“It’s incredible,” the Irishman conveyed. “The first two weeks I did not ride well. It really took me a while to get used to the jumps and atmosphere and it just didn’t go my way at all. Then last week and this week, I’ve been knocking on the door. Today, everything went good.”

O’Shea was effusive in his praise of his mount. “Imerald is a fantastic partner,” he said. “He’s incredibly scopey. The jumps feel very small when you’re on him, no matter how big they are. He’s a great water jumper. I had a feeling he’d like it here because he’s very brave.”

Paul O’Shea (IRL) and Imerald van’t Voorhof. (Spruce Meadows Media/Mike Sturk)


A pair of Mexican riders – Eugenio Garza Perez on Contago and Patricio Pasquel with Babel – took second and third, respectively.

Some riders of note included Kent Farrington with Gazelle, a pair that has won the competition twice; they finished with 12 faults. Fellow American Beezie Madden and her long-time partner Breitling LS had some issues and did not finish, and defending champion Mario Deslauriers and Bardolina 2 had four faults in the first round and did not qualify for the second.

On the final day of the event, it was 20-year-old Sam Walker of Caledon, ON, who ingratiated himself into the hearts and minds of the audience when he and his mare Evita bravely took on the Sun Life Derby and he put his name on the trophy with just a rail down. He was, not surprisingly, the youngest winner of the event.

“It’s incredible,” a calm Walker said afterward. “It’s like a fairy-tale ending to the summer series for me. We purchased Evita three years ago with our owners MarBill Hill Farm with this derby in mind. Covid happened and we got quite set back. So I’m really excited that I’ve bonded with her so well and we could come out and deliver on this day.

“She has the biggest heart,” he said of the 13-year-old. “She just goes from point A to point B – knock on wood – every single time. She really has all the qualities you need for a derby horse, with the stamina and how careful she is as well as that bravery.”

In true young person’s fashion, Walker took to the internet to try to prepare for the arduous course, which in 730 attempts has yielded just 24 clears. This year’s course was slightly altered, nixing the steep bank at the one end in favour of a smaller bank at the other.

Vanessa Mannix (CAN) and Kitting Des Haussers were 2nd in the Derby. (Spruce Meadows Media/Dave Chidley)

“I spent the last few nights, up late at night on my computer watching the derby courses from the past years, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, all the way through to today,” he explained, “and I watched the different horses and riders how they rode certain elements.

“I’m definitely going to be coming back here for years to come.”

His performance belied his youth, displaying a rare acumen for the sport. “Managing my expectations I think has been the biggest challenge for me,” he admitted. “Today, obviously my horse jumped really, really great. All I thought was, okay, I had a pole down, I have to recover. I know that she doesn’t want to have another one down. I just have to do my part as a rider to complete the course with only one pole.”

Calgary’s Vanessa Mannix and Kitting Des Hausseurs, who last year finished seventh in the same event, were second with one rail down and two time faults. O’Shea, meanwhile, capped off his extraordinary weekend with a third place finish aboard Hellcat with eight faults.

“I’m delighted to come third,” O’Shea said. “I’m in great company. I’m delighted for Sam. Sam was telling me at the beginning of the show how happy and proud he was to be here and it’s fantastic to win something like this at his age.”

The tournament also saw the continuation of Matthew Sampson’s brilliance at this facility, in just his second visit. A victory in the AKITA Drilling Cup winning round on Saturday was the Englishman’s 10th of the summer series and 19th top-free finish. Suffice to say, Calgary will be on his calendar for years to come.

(All results from the Spruce Meadows North American here.)