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Ian Miller and Teddy Du Bosquetiau compete at the national equestrian event at Spruce Meadows in Calgary on Thursday.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

There have been a lot of memorable moments in 41 years of competition at the world-famous Spruce Meadows equestrian centre, and even a couple that happened outside the ring.

There was the time, a few years back, when the father of one of the competitors fell ill on a rainy, dreary day and was invited inside the Congress Hall by staff members so he could rest.

Dad promptly fell asleep on the couch just as the catering department was setting up a buffet in that precise spot for a new corporate sponsor that Marg Southern, co-founder of the Spruce Meadows, had just recruited but never met.

Southern gently nudged the sleeping dad awake and asked him to move to a different corner of the room.

"He didn't to want to go, but I was very direct," said Southern, picking up the story. "I said, 'I want you up now.' I told him, 'you can sit wherever you want, but not here.'"

Grudgingly, Jessica Springsteen's father, Bruce, rubbed the sleep from his eyes and moved to another corner of the building – presumably, one of the few times in his recent life that the Boss was actually bossed around.

"As it turned out, this couple – half my age – they adored Springsteen," Southern continued. "They would have given anything if he'd just sat there and they could just look at him. They couldn't believe he was in the same room, let alone the same place.

"I actually haven't seen him since, but I have seen his wife Patty and I apologized to her for being so firm, but I did get their attention and they did get up and they did move."

Spruce Meadows – the equestrian house that Ron and Marg Southern built – has been attracting world-class talent of all stripes for more than four decades now. The crème de la crème of the show-jumping world annually shows up, beginning in early June, when the Spruce Meadows National – under way this weekend – kicks off the summer tournament season.

The Southerns tend to play down the celebrity element of the riders who pass through, but on Thursday, it was hard to miss the fact that the chief executive officer of the Boston Bruins, Charlie Jacobs, riding Calanta, won the Trimac Junior Jumper in the all-Canadian ring, the same event in which Jennifer Gates, daughter of Bill and Melinda, finished eighth.

Qualifying for Canada's 2016 Olympic equestrian team, which began more than a year ago, is also going on this week, with the selection process set to be completed in early July, after the final three trial events are completed at Spruce Meadows between now and the end of the month.

This year's event is the first since the death back in January of founder Ron Southern and the facility's popular riding master Albert Kley, both of whom passed away within two weeks of one another. Their collective legacy is being honoured during this summer's busy event schedule.

Outside of Calgary, Spruce Meadows may be one of Canada's best-kept secrets. According to the Fédération Equestre Internationale, the world governing body for horse sports, it is the No. 1-ranked venue in the world. In all, athletes from 61 nations have competed at Spruce Meadows since 1976, winning more than $115-million in prize money. Attendance routinely surpasses 50,000 for any of the six major tournaments the facility holds every year, with a record 89,632 fans attending the 2011 Masters.

According to 10-time Olympian Ian Millar, Spruce Meadows helped make Canada's national equestrian team internationally competitive.

"Way back in the day, before Spruce Meadows, if we wanted proper competition, we had to go to the United States; and if we wanted world-class competition, we had to go to Europe," said Millar, a member of Canada's 2008 silver-medal-winning team in Beijing.

"Now, we can come to Calgary and have world-class competition. We can prepare here to go to world equestrian games, World Cup finals, Olympics, any top of the line international competition, you can prepare right here. And what an advantage to us, because the expense and logistics of taking a group to Europe for an extended period of time, it's prohibitive.

"When you track Canada's international success, it absolutely coincides with what's gone on at Spruce Meadows."

Tiffany Foster represented Canada at the 2012 Olympics in London and is a strong candidate to qualify for the team again this summer. Foster, who started riding when she was eight at the North Shore Equestrian Centre in Vancouver, remembers being glued to the television set as a youngster, watching Spruce Meadows telecasts on the CBC.

"When I was a little kid, I wouldn't know how to watch on the live stream from Aachen," Foster said. "But I could turn on my TV and see Spruce Meadows and what I wanted to do down the road. I made my mom tape them and I watched them over and over.

"Honestly, there's nothing like this anywhere else in the world and certainly not in Canada. Obviously, for the people who are competing and honing their skills and getting ready to compete in a championship, it's something available in your backyard that's comparable to a course you'd jump anywhere in the world. And for the young generation that's watching at home, it's inspirational."

Rich Fellers was a member of that younger generation, back when he first started coming to Spruce Meadows as a 16-year-old in 1976.

"It's raised the bar for all of us North American riders," said Fellers, a much decorated U.S. rider, who competed in the major events at Spruce Meadows since its inception. "You come here and you just can't help but feel like 'this is it. I've got to put on the best show of my life.' I've been coming here for 40 years and every time I do, it's the same feeling. You know everybody has their best horses and is going to give it their all.

"It's the pinnacle of the show season for everyone in North America."