For John Anderson, the passion for equestrian sport began on his family farm. That passion initially didn’t become his career, Anderson returned to the sport after getting the bug again, which later developed into what is now Rocky Mountain Show Jumping (RMSJ) — an equestrian facility focused on providing opportunity and support for developing athletes.
Anderson credits his involvement with the equestrian world to his neighbors. As a child, the Anderson family lived next door to the Krausert family, many of whom were involved with horses.
After his mother was invited to the stable with the Krausert’s, she soon developed a keen interest in the animals. She encouraged 5-year-old John and his siblings to begin riding.
But Anderson says he didn’t really like it at first. “Anytime something went wrong, oh God I was crying and everything.”
He persevered, riding and showing ponies, later moving up to bigger horses. “Even up to the age of about 12 or 13, I was a bit wimpy if you will,” Anderson says, “I was scared and I didn’t like it.”
That negative attitude all changed once Anderson started riding a quarter-horse dubbed Superu. The horse was Anderson’s biggest source of confidence as he moved up in the sport.
“He was keen, he was a competitor and he wanted to play, he went to the jumps,” says Anderson. “I just really dove into the sport.”
The facility that became Rocky Mountain Show Jumping began as the family farm. All of Anderson’s immediate family members rode, and the kids really took hold in the sport.
Anderson and his siblings competed on the bigger circuits, working to develop their skills as riders and were encouraged by their parents.
“They had aspirations of us and we did too, of achieving a much higher level in the sport,” Anderson explains.
That dream of attaining a higher level of the sport became a reality for Anderson in 1986, when he was ranked eighth in the world, at only age 19. In 1988, Anderson competed in Seoul, South Korea as a member of Canada’s Olympic equestrian team.
Following these major career highlights, Anderson shifted focus to his education, finishing with a banking and financing degree out of a university in New York.
Anderson admits that following his degree, he didn’t even ride. It wasn’t until after almost four years without the sport that Anderson made his return.
“I took an old retired horse out of the field and kinda got him all fit one year, and after a four year absence in the sport, marched into to Spruce Meadows / and ended up being second in the North American Championship, winning the Chrysler Classic Derby, and of course now I'm hooked again,” Anderson says.
With his background in investment banking, Anderson raised enough money to begin running some of his own horse shows under the name Tyrrell Farms. At first, Anderson began small.
“He started off with just one show a year in June, and that was sort of in the middle of the Spruce Meadows summer series circuit, and he did one show in June, and I think he just got the bug and decided he wanted to run more horse shows,” explains Caroline Jones, operations and tournament manager at RMSJ.
It wasn’t until 2005 that Anderson decided to really fire it up again.
Today, RMSJ is a popular venue in Alberta, attracting hundreds of riders over the course of the year.
Anderson and some of RMSJ’s top riders boost this reputation by spending eight weeks in California, competing at HITS Thermal, one of the largest competitions on the North American West Coast.
Anderson describes the circuit as being “a bit of a vacation”, saying “my horses, they come down, and my wife.”
The move to the winter circuit may seem like a vacation, but there is plenty of work involved. However, Anderson knows it’s worth the effort.
“There is a carrot at the end of the stick, if you will, and that’s the million dollar grand prix ... and we’re all aspiring to have a good result in that class because that would be a big payday,” Anderson continues, explaining the prize money as being a good motivator for many riders.
But the benefits of the winter circuit don’t stop there.
“There’s eight weeks of competition here, so you know, you bring some of your young horses, you help develop them, and bring them to higher levels and stuff, and it’s a good sort of prep for the outdoor season that’s coming at home,” Anderson says.
Jones describes Anderson as a force of nature, that he is a man of visions, big ideas and a tremendous amount of energy. So it’s no wonder that in 2014, Anderson sought yet another way to add to Alberta’s equestrian sport.
The Royal West is one of the largest indoor show jumping events in Canada, modeled after similar, well established events, like the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, hosted in Toronto for the past 95 years.
The Royal West, coming into its fifth year, is held in the Agrium Western Event Center Anderson hopes it will be another addition to the Canadian circuit, saying that, “We can use it; Canada unfortunately is a huge country, so there’s lot of travel involved.”
While the Royal West attracts top level international riders, RMSJ continually runs numerous shows and tournaments in the year catered to every level of rider. The facility has based its reputation on being rider and viewer friendly, with Jones describing it as being a platform for future high performance athletes.
She adds, “It gives them a great environment to develop their horses and riders for the future.”
“Rocky Mountain does play an important role for the development of these young riders because they need to have these places to compete cause there's so few of them in the country anymore.” -John Anderson
Anderson agrees, “Our venue is a stepping stone. Okay, we have some international events too, but not the same caliber right? But we do have some international events and I'm not trying to compete with Spruce Meadows, I'm trying to compliment Spruce Meadows. Give people that stage.”
The importance of having a venue like RMSJ to young riders is paramount.
“There’s maybe seven major venues [in Canada] that run three or four horse shows a year,” Anderson explains. “Rocky Mountain does play an important role for the development of these young riders because they need to have these places to compete cause there's so few of them in the country anymore.”
As Rocky Mountain Show Jumping looks to the future, Anderson makes it clear that the venue will, “stay committed to developing sport and helping to provide a venue that develops the career.”
Two new programs have also been organized by the province, both of which will play a big role for RMSJ.
The first is the JC Anderson Medal, named for Anderson’s late father. The second is the Rocky Mountain Show Jumping 1.30 North American Championship for riders under the age of 25. Both of these programs are aimed at bettering the youth of the sport.
“There’s funding available for travel assistance and expenses available for all these kids under 25 to compete in these programs, which again helps develop sport,” Anderson says.
Anderson is still an active competitor, explaining, “[I tend] to stay home and compete, and I come to California every year, do the circuit, and then I’m home again doing all my stuff.”
However, his ambitions remain the same. “My goals are to provide good quality horse shows and show jumping tournaments and support the sport and help build it from the grassroots level.”
- By Chloe MacEachern