Field of Play: Ian Millar time at Spruce Meadows | Sports | CBC Sports

Show JumpingField of Play: Ian Millar time at Spruce Meadows

Posted: Thursday, June 5, 2014 | 09:25 AM

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Ian Millar, 67, is the most decorated equestrian rider in Canadian history and a 10-time Olympian. (Scott Russell) Ian Millar, 67, is the most decorated equestrian rider in Canadian history and a 10-time Olympian. (Scott Russell)

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The beautiful Spruce Meadows show jumping venue is an oasis of a playground that appears resolved to be here forever. Much like the man they call "Captain Canada," Ian Millar.
I've been coming to this place for 22 years now.

It is arguably the sport of show jumping's most spectacular venue, and that is by any international standard one could possibly imagine.

Spruce Meadows basks glowingly in the shadow of the awesome Rocky Mountains. The emerald-green grass and myriad stadia unfold comfortably on the outskirts of a sprawling, suburban landscape. The picture it all paints, in my mind's eye, is something like the threshold to the vast Canadian west and the way things were meant to be.

It takes me to a time when we humans not only co-existed with the animals but also to the revelation that it is still a marvelous thing to be so close to a majestic beast.   

While on the surface Calgary threatens to consume it, you get the feeling the incessant city will be forced to detour its prolific construction around "The Spruce" because this oasis of a playground has resolved to be here forever.

Just like the man they call "Captain Canada."

Ageless wonder

In the more than two decades since I've become familiar with all that a season at Spruce Meadows represents, Ian Millar has been a constant and leading light. He is the most decorated equestrian in Canadian history and a 10-time Olympian, which makes him the global record holder in that regard.

Millar has won just about everything there is to win -- medals, money, ribbons -- enough to fill several barns.

And yet, at age 67, he still walks briskly and sits tall in the saddle. It's anticipated that Millar will be a lock when the next Olympic gathering arrives in Rio de Janeiro two years down the line in 2016.

By the time that rolls around, "Captain Canada" will be just shy of his 70th birthday.

"You find something you really love to do and you'll never work a day in your life," he says, with his jaw stuck forward and an ever-present, challenging smile. "I have so much passion for what I do every day."

There's that and the fact that he despises losing.

All business

When it comes to his sport, Millar is many things. He loves the game and the chase but he also treats it like a business where his livelihood depends on the rigours that ensure prosperity, not to mention longevity.

"It's about discipline. It's about following instructions. It's about the execution of the plan. That's what sport is," he emphasizes. "When we train a horse to do a certain job we're training the horse to be like a soldier and, yes, he still has a spirit and he still has his ideas, but he is a disciplined soldier and in the end he will follow the rider's instruction to do what needs to be done.

"So if you apply all those principles to your life, not to mention the hard work and perseverance, you can't help but be successful."

But the key to Millar is in the understanding that he is a reluctant pensioner. Age is of little consequence to this grandfather while the allure of his personal child's play is overwhelmingly consuming.

"In sport all my fellow riders and trainers and the people I meet and deal with have just accepted the fact that I'm here forever," he shrugs. 

"The competition makes the juices really flow, and when you get pounded around a little bit and you lose... the stimulation is so good for the soul and the mind. Just the absolute challenge of it and the knowledge that you're going to climb onto this 14- or 15-hundred pound horse and take on another 40 or 50 riders who want it just as bad as you do... well, you better be on the job. That feeling, I believe, is so good for you."

Chasing a dream

So what is left to be done? 

Why wouldn't "Captain Canada" ride graciously into the proverbial sunset, secure in the knowledge that he's done everything and then some? He has, after all, relished so many great victories and discovered that one-in-a-million horse in the glorious "Big Ben."

What more could he want from the vanishing moments left to him at Spruce Meadows?

"I'm very happy being a sportsman to this day," he responds, without hesitating. "I want to compete and I just love being a sportsman and if somebody offers me a lot of money for one of my horses that I need to keep for the sport, I say 'no.'"

The man, like the place, is one of a kind.

In the dizzying and sweeping wind that is change, he leans into the trusted and familiar ways that have always marked success on any field of play. Millar is still chasing an ancient and persistent dream.

"A surgeon wouldn't sell his tools. A lawyer doesn't sell his law books," he explains. "I'm not going to sell my horse. I'm a sportsman."

It's Millar time yet again at Spruce Meadows. 

And it's been that way for as long as I can remember.

CBC's Spruce coverage

Championship Show Jumping on CBC begins another season with the Spruce Meadows "National" this weekend. Ian Millar and 2008 Olympic gold medallist Eric Lamaze lead the emerging Canadian team against a strong international field that includes outstanding riders from the United States such as Olympic gold medallists, Beezie Madden, McLain Ward and Leslie Howard.

CBC-TV Broadcast Schedule

Saturday, June 7 -- RBC Grand Prix Presented by Rolex, live from 4-6 p.m. ET.
Sunday, June 8 -- ATCO Structures and Logistics Cup, live from 3-4:30 p.m. ET.
Sunday, June 8 -- CNOOC Nexen Cup Derby, live from 4:30-6 p.m. ET.

All events are also streamed live on CBCSports.ca

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