As the 2022 Spruce Meadows National show jumping tournament returned to its regular spot in the summer schedule along with its usual slate of events – after a couple of anomalous years – there was one thing that wasn’t the same. And that was the emergence of young and perhaps even unexpected riders into the limelight.

While everyone waited with baited breath all week long to see which riders would be announced for Canada’s World Equestrian Games squad on the final day of the tournament, there were individuals who proved that surprises were alive and well on the circuit.

Look no further than Britain’s Matthew Sampson, who may be 32 years of age but was making only his second appearance at the famous grounds. He put an exclamation mark on his visit, winning the prestigious 1.60m RBC Grand Prix on Saturday aboard Fabrice DN – his first five-star victory ever.

It was an emotional win for Matthew Sampson of Great Britain, and a dream come true. (Spruce Meadows Media/Dave Chidley)

His emotions getting the better of him, he fell to the ground in the warm-up area and cried tears of joy.

“It’s just like a dream come true, to be honest,” he grinned. “It’s my first five-star grand prix win and for it to be at such an event like Spruce Meadows … I’ve grown up watching Spruce Meadows on TV. We made a really big effort to come here last year and being able to come back again, it’s the best in my show jumping life.”

His initial thoughts upon winning involved his parents. “We don’t come from a wealthy background so we’ve worked all together at it for a number of years, always striving for a day like today,” Sampson, who runs Maplepark Farms in England together with his partner, Canadian show jumper Kara Chad, explained. “They’re the first people I called; they were crying and I was crying my eyes out. I’ve got amazing people around me.”

Fabrice came into the competition with probably more expertise in the International Ring than his rider, as the 12-year-old was previously ridden by Mexico’s Nicolas Pizarro.
“I knew he liked the arena,” said Sampson. “With the experience that Nico gave him that was a huge benefit for me to be able to go straight into the class and keep the horse fresh and feeling good.”

Sure, there were the inevitable winners. Canada’s Mario Deslauriers came through with Uris de la Roque in the ATCO Cup and American Kent Farrington – the eighth-ranked rider in the world – and Orafina won the RBC Capital Markets Cup. Fifth-ranked Irishman Conor Swail also put together some dandy finishes.

But few were celebrated by the crowd as much as young Eric Krawitt from Okotoks, just south of Calgary, who captured the final day’s ATB Cup on Cactus de Cosniere, his first five-star win in his first ever visit to Spruce Meadows.

He is, after all, just a tender 17.

Krawitt had begun the week auspiciously, finishing fourth in the 1.50m Bantrel Cup. Sunday’s victory came after a thunderstorm halted proceedings for a good hour and prompted a number of competitors to opt out. Full marks to Krawitt, however, who defeated the veteran Deslauriers and Emerson in the jump-off.

“That helped us tremendously, getting some good rounds under your belt,” suggested Krawitt, the son of former Canadian team member Sandra Anderson who will soon graduate from Laurel Springs online school. “It gives you a lot of confidence, it gives the horse a lot of confidence. My horse was incredible today. I couldn’t have asked for more out of him.”

“On the team, I used to ride two rounds. Now I feel like I’m riding eight rounds.” ~ Eric Lamaze

And 20-year-old Ontario rider Sam Walker clinched not one but a pair of classes at this tournament – the AON Wining Round with Evita, and the Recon Metal Jumper aboard Hermelien vd Hooghoeve.

On Sunday, the announcement of Canada’s squad to WEG in August in Herning, Denmark, was a highly anticipated moment. There was little surprise when chef d’equipe Eric Lamaze introduced the veteran group: Beth Underhill, Tiffany Foster, Erynn Ballard, Amy Millar and reserve rider Mario Deslauriers.

Four young ladies and one young man, as Lamaze referred to them.“For me, it was very important that the riders that were going to be on this team had previous experience and had been to this type of competition before,” said the man who was such an integral and successful part of the national contingents for many years. “We want to aim for the top of the podium and I needed experience behind me and experience we have.”

Lamaze took on this role late last year and relishes the pressure of being the chef, in the same way as he did as a competitor.

“On the team, I used to ride two rounds,” he noted. “Now I feel like I’m riding eight rounds. I still give it all I have; I live the moment as they do. It’s unfortunate that I can’t be sitting there with them. But if I can’t be sitting there with them, being at this position here is something I’m very grateful for and I’ll give 100 percent of myself to make sure that these young ladies and young man come back with a medal around their neck.”

His riders, too, are primed for that pressure. “I think at the moment Canadian show jumping has a very good vibe to it and that’s coming from Eric,” said Ballard. “He has passion for us that he used to have for himself. What he did as an individual he’s now doing for us as a team. He’s thinking about how we’re making number one in the world and so far his results speak for themselves.

“We’re making a comeback and we’re going to be strong.”

Underhill was understandably still preoccupied with her mount Chacco Kid, who stumbled after a jump in the ATB Cup and had to be taken off the grounds in the horse ambulance. The 16-year-old had previously enjoyed numerous successes with Lamaze.
“He’s at the clinic here,” said Underhill after the event. “We don’t have all the answers yet but he is in the best of care.”

The facility and its diligent crew will enjoy a week off before hosting the Pan American tournament, June 30-July 3.

Complete results from the National here.