Thunderbird is Ben Asselin’s First Step into the Longines FEI North American League

Thunderbird is Ben Asselin’s First Step into the Longines FEI North American League
Ben Asselin via
Ben Asselin via

Ben Asselin is one of Canada’s hardest working elite riders–which is why you might not see him all the time. When the 23-year-old Calgary native drops off the radar for a couple of months, it’s because he’s set down in Germany, to train at Ludger Beerbaum Stables. And when he pops up again in 1.30m and 1.40 classes, it’s because the young horses he’s been bringing along are ready to carry him back into the spotlight.

The affable, blond-haired rider with close family ties to Spruce Meadows (his grandfather is the late Ron Southern, Spruce Meadows’ founder) has been a partner rider of Hermès Sellier since 2014, and has long been an excellent representative of the sport. This week, he is at the Thunderbird Show Park with his eye aimed optimistically forward at a new goal—moving up the rankings in the Longines FEI Jumping North American League, and perhaps, qualifying for the 2018 FEI World Cup Final in Paris, France. With a busy fall season on the horizon, we caught up with Asselin between competitions in Langley, British Columbia, Canada to find out more:

Noelle Floyd: Why have you made competing at Thunderbird for this week’s CSI4* a priority on your schedule?
Ben Asselin: I’ve been coming to Thunderbird since I was about 8-years-old with ponies. I think Thunderbird does an amazing job with its progression. Every single year I come here and there’s something new, or there’s something better. They’ve got great footing, they take care of their exhibitors, their sponsors, their owners. So everybody that comes here has a good time. It’s a relaxed atmosphere, but they still have world-class sport with the World Cup qualifiers and great prize money. It makes it even better for myself since it’s so close. It’s an international venue that I can come to and I don’t have to travel halfway across the country, or halfway across the globe.

“Every single year I come here and there’s something new, or there’s something better.”

NF: And after you leave Thunderbird, what does the next few months look like for you?
BA: I’ve got a pretty busy fall and winter planned. I’ll have four or five horses in Europe for the fall and then also four horses on the West Coast to do the World Cup qualifiers. I just got the ride on a few nice horses from Spruce Meadows, Chalacorada and Cavarolla, so I’ll leave those guys on the West Coast and do the qualifiers with them, and take my other horses and compete on the European circuit. I’m a little bit low on the rankings right now—I’ve been developing a lot of young horses, so it’s nice that some of those young horses are at the age that I can go and compete at a higher level.

I bought two or three really top 1.45m/1.50s ranking horses, so hopefully throughout the fall and winter I can climb my way up. I’ve never tried to qualify for the World Cup Finals before, so this is a first for me.

At this point, I’m really lucky and fortunate to have such great support behind me with so many horses that I can spread them out. That way, I can keep going to the shows and don’t have to take too much of a break in between the shows. Even though it’s a lot of traveling, I’ll be flying from show to show, but I can keep being in the ring being competitive and try to be a contender in the ranking process.

NF: And what are your expectations at this facility, going into your first World Cup Qualifier of the season?
BA: I’ve grown up showing on grass so I really like it, it’s a bit more traditional. Although I like competing on sand, and we have such great sand footing now, it’s kind of nice for the horses to have a bit of a change, I think it lightens up their mind.

There’s something that feels a little bit more natural about being on the grass footing. Thunderbird has had a fantastic grass ring from as long as I can remember and I think that has a lot to do with the management and the team behind Thunderbird, they really make sure it’s top footing for the competitors. But you also have such a beautiful climate in British Columbia, it makes it a little simpler to grow and see that kind of grass and get that kind of footing.

NF: With your background at Spruce Meadows, do you see a camaraderie between these two, leading Canadian equestrian venues?
BA: For sure, I think that both facilities recognize each other as a top showjumping venue and I think that’s really important. Spruce Meadows and Thunderbird, being ranked the top two venues in North America, ranked by the North American Riders Group for the last three years, or so, and that’s evident when you come to the shows. Every stone is turned over, and every detail is thought of. I know that Spruce Meadows is very supportive of a venue like Thunderbird because they create sport. For myself, as a competitor, I come to Thunderbird before the Masters or come here in May before going to the Summer Series. It’s the perfect venue to go to because I can jump on grass, amazing footing, great competition, super price money, ranking points, everything. We don’t have so many competitions at this level in Western Canada, but the two that are here are really top facilities, so we’re really lucky in that way.

“I wouldn’t want to go [to the World Cup Final] unless I thought I would be a contender there, so that’s definitely a goal for next April.”

NF: Let’s talk about Paris next year. Or is too early to talk about Paris next year?!
BA: First of all, I don’t expect to be there, not right now anyway, there are a lot of steps I have to go through to qualify. In a perfect world, I’d like to go there with my guns ready and loading, ready to compete.

I feel like I have the right string of horses at the moment. That’s why I haven’t really tried to go in the past when I young and a bit inexperienced. I wouldn’t want to go [to the World Cup Final] unless I thought I would be a contender there, so that’s definitely a goal for next April.

Right now, I’m trying to take it step by step and focus on the qualifiers. So, this week, Thunderbird is a big deal, then Sacramento, Del Mar, Las Vegas, then maybe a couple in Wellington. The shows in Europe for the World Cup are a little bit harder for me to discuss because my rankings isn’t quite high enough so it’s a bit harder for me to get in to those shows. With the horses I’m leaving on the West Coast, those are the ones I’m thinking of bringing to the World Cup Finals with, so I’ll try to focus more on the qualifiers on the West Coast. The ones sending to Europe I think I can be competitive with. I’ll be back at Ludger’s to train at the end of September. That’s the nice thing about European competitions, the sport is so evolved in Europe and you have such a big fan base which is improving a lot in Canada and North America. But for sure, having the World Cup Finals hosted in France will be a big deal. There’s going to be a lot of horse-interested people there and it’s going to be a great atmosphere, no doubt.