SPORTS

Spruce Meadows covered in wet snow

09/10/2014 07:22 EDT | Updated 11/10/2014 05:59 EST
Spruce Meadows, Calgary's world-class equestrian venue, has seen its share of the weather spectrum since opening its gates in 1975 - beautiful blue skies, blazing heat, torrential rain and even hail. It's seen its fair share of snow, too.

But Wednesday morning, organizers couldn't believe what Mother Nature whipped up this time. 

Twenty to 30 centimetres of wet, heavy snow blanketed the outdoor grass venue, site of this weekend's prestigious Masters Tournament, knocked out power and damaged hundreds of trees on the 553-acre property.

It left one to wonder: Would the world's top show jumpers, like Americans Kent Farrington and Beezie Madden, Christian Ahlmann of defending Nations Cup champion Germany, Swiss Olympic champion Steve Guerdet and Canadian stars Ian Millar and Eric Lamaze, be jumping over snowbanks instead of oxers in the International Ring? 

Not a chance, according to Linda Southern-Heathcott, president and CEO of Spruce Meadows. 

"Our team is doing a fantastic job," she said. "They're clearing the snow in the ring by hand. 

"The Lord Strathconas' [Royal Canadian] Horse Regiment is coming in to help out. We expect to have close to 200 workers focused on getting the ring ready."

Competition was scheduled to begin Wednesday, but was postponed. Instead, the schedule will double up Thursday with extra bonus money added to the pot for the riders. 

Crews will inspect the International Ring once the snow is completely removed to make sure the footing is safe for the horses and riders. (If you were curious what the horses were up to today, they were snuggled under blankets in their barns). 

Weather pending, there may be more adjustments, but the main events of the weekend - Saturday's eight-team BMO Nations Cup (CBCSports.ca, 4 p.m. ET, CBC-TV, 8 p.m. ET) and Sunday's $1.5-million CP International Grand Prix (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 3 p.m. ET) - are expected to run under sunny skies. 

"As a native Calgarian, I am very hopeful that the weather forecast is right and we'll have sunshine the rest of the week," Southern-Heathcott said.

She knows how Calgary's weather can shift first-hand. About 20 years ago, when she was still competing, snow fell during the Sunday morning Grand Prix on Masters weekend. So much so that her husband, Tom, had to go home and get goggles for the riders to see. The horses' hooves were coated with Vaseline so the snow wouldn't ball up.

By the afternoon portion of the competition, the snow had been cleared from the International Ring and the sun was out. 

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Despite this unexpected winter in September, the spirit remained high at Spruce ahead of Masters weekend.

A couple of employees even strapped on skis and coasted down the bank in the International Ring. There were jokes about setting a new world record for snow angels. 

Photo Gallery: 5 riders to watch

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