Grass Roots to Grand Prix: Wesley Clover Parks’ Canadian Equestrian Pipeline
Ottawa, Ontario – Each July, Wesley Clover Parks in Ottawa, ON, welcomes the highest caliber of grand prix horses and riders to the heart of Canada’s national capital for the Ottawa Equestrian Tournaments, including the Ottawa National Horse Show, running now through July 15, and the CSI3* Ottawa International Horse Show from July 18-22.
World-class athletes are not the only equestrians in the spotlight at the Ottawa facility however. Wesley Clover Parks is also home to the Ian Millar School of Horsemanship, dedicated to instructing riders of all levels and creating a true pipeline from grass roots to the grand prix ring.
Sir Terry Matthews, Founder of the Wesley Clover Foundation; ten-time Canadian Olympian Ian Millar, for whom the School of Horsemanship is named; Karen Sparks, the Executive Director of Wesley Clover Parks; and Mark Taylor, the City of Ottawa Deputy Mayor, all spoke on the positive impact of Wesley Clover Parks’ equestrian programs at a press conference held Friday, July 13.
“With the Ottawa Equestrian Tournaments, we’re highlighting the top level of the sport, people like Ian Millar and the international competitors, but there’s a grass roots element to this as well,” said Sparks, whose family’s Wesley Clover Foundation took over the management of what is now Wesley Clover Parks in 2013. “Up top here you see the heritage building that the City of Ottawa built; there are 50 stalls, and they’re filled with riding school ponies and horses. There’s summer camp going on right now with about 25 seven- and eight-year-olds enjoying the ponies, enjoying the horses. The riding school teaches about 1,200 lessons a month. We’re talking about people learning to ride for the first time. That grass roots part of our facility is really important to this vision, and we’re really proud of the riding school.”
“This is really a special spot for this city,” said Sir Terry Matthews of the Wesley Clover Parks facility. “I can’t tell you what it does for me when I come out here and meet a young person and hear them say, ‘Mr. Matthews, this has been the best day of my life!’ because they’ve had their first equestrian lesson. This the next generation that we’re talking about.”
The riding school shaping the next generation bears Millar’s name. The Perth, ON, resident has been a longtime advocate for the facility and represents the same high standards and characteristics that the Ian Millar School of Horsemanship hopes to instill in its students.
“We take what Ian does at the top level and reiterate it here,” said Sparks, whose three young children are also riding school participants. “It’s about protocol, and it’s about determination; we teach those principles from the very first riding lesson that these kids and adults enjoy here.”
Like Sparks, Millar is a vocal advocate for grass roots riding programs, and he believes strongly in the Ian Millar School of Horsemanship’s ability to act as a pipeline to the country’s highest level of show jumping sport.
“You talk about the riding school and the 1,200 lessons a month; guess what’s happening up there?” said Millar. “That’s the next Canadian show jumping team getting made right up there. How good is that? You can go up there and watch what’s going on, and I promise you that there will be Canadian show jumping team riders that come out of that riding school.”
Ian Millar School of Horsemanship riders are among those competing throughout the Ottawa Equestrian Tournaments, which, coupled with the year-round riding program, have had an incredible positive impact on the Ottawa community.
“The City of Ottawa is incredibly proud of the work that Karen and the team have done here,” said Deputy Mayor Mark Taylor. “We could talk about the recreation side; we could talk about the fun that gets to be had here at the Park, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t talk from a city perspective about the tremendous economic benefit that the Parks bring to the community. Last year’s tournaments represented over $10 million in economic activity that took place as a result of Wesley Clover Parks. That would not have been generated had it not been for the parks activity. The entire city benefits from having Wesley Clover Parks here.”
Sparks added, “This is NCC (National Capital Commission) land, and they’ve been a great partner right from the beginning of this vision. We consider ourselves stewards of this land.”
Spectators are invited to experience Wesley Clover Parks for themselves throughout the Ottawa Equestrian Tournaments, with featured weekend events including Saturday’s $50,000 Grand Prix, presented by Brookstreet Hotel, beginning at 2:30 p.m., and Sunday’s $7,500 Speed Derby, presented by Millar Brooke Farm, beginning at 1 p.m. immediately followed by the $2,500 Canine Equine Relay, presented by Royal LePage TEAM Realty.
Competition begins daily at 8 a.m. and admission and parking are by donation. For more information on the Ian Millar School of Horsemanship click hereor visit www.wesleycloverparks.com/ian-millar-school-of-horsemanship/lessons.
For more information on the Ottawa National and CSI3* Ottawa International Horse Shows, visit www.OttawaEquestrianTournaments.com. Find the latest updates, photos, and information by following Ottawa Equestrian Tournaments on Facebook here.