Growing up, Samantha Buirs had a built-in role model and teacher to help her learn the ins and outs of show jumping.
Her mom, Judy Wise, has been training and showing horses professionally since she was in her late 20s, and rode for the Canadian team at a 1980 competition in Washington, D.C.
Buirs' family runs Fairway Farms, a horse training, breeding, and veterinarian facility located next to Thunderbird Show Park, where she hopes to rake in some prize money during the Aug. 15-26 Summer Festival.
With six grand prix victories to her credit, including five wins at Thunderbird, 25-year-old Buirs is no stranger to success.
Arguably her biggest success to date came in 2010, when she topped the field at the $50,000 Thunderbird Legacy Grand Prix.
Buirs rode her Dutch warmblood mare Total Touch to victory.
"It was tough because I just started to do the bigger grand prix's," Buirs recalled. "It was fun because I made it back to the jump-off but I was the only clear round - no one else went clear. It was pretty cool. I was just hoping to go clear because that's what you want to do all the time."
For Buirs, winning this grand prix meant a great deal.
"I grew up playing in the dirt at the old Thunderbird grounds," she remarked, right after the 2010 victory.
Buirs started riding when she was three, and began show jumping at six years of age.
In 2010, she and Total Touch were part of the Canadian team that competed at the Nation's Cup in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The foursome comprising of Buirs, Lisa Carlsen, Angela CovertLawrence and Lauren Hunkin finished second overall.
"It was amazing," Buirs said. "It was fun. I think it was the first Canadian team with four girls."
In recent years, Total Touch has had company in Buirs' stable in the form of Coppola Mercedes Benz, a Holsteiner stallion.
"He's sort of my up-and-coming new star," Buirs said.
For Buirs, a full time horse trainer, show jumping is a part time gig.
"The last World Cup I was third in, I took home about $6,000," Buirs said.
Not a bad day's work.
Netting prize money and titles boils down to desire, a common trait amongst riders, Buirs noted.
"You have to want to win," she said. "You have to have that kind of fire burning inside of you. You can still be a good horse person, a good rider, but that competitor, the people that win, like Richard Spooner and Eric Lamaze, they have that drive."
Having a strong relationship with your equine partner doesn't hurt, either. Buirs has had Coppola Mercedes Benz (or Coop) for four years and Total Touch (or Nancy) for five.
"I've had a long relationship with them," Buirs said. "I started them both from very small to move them both up."
Buirs said the two horses are "night and day."
"One is a stallion; he's a man. You can't tell him what to do, right?" she said, laughing. "You have to sort of persuade. With a mare, you have to ask them, and usually, they answer."
Buirs has a special spot for "Nancy."
"It's because I've been with her a little longer," Buirs said.
During the festival, Buirs plans on entering two grand prix events: the $53,000 Keg Steakhouse & Bar Grand Prix on Aug. 19 and the following Sunday (Aug. 26), the $100,000 Canaccord Genuity World Cup.
And she says she and her horses will be ready to go once the competition gets underway.
"We have a lot of preparation at home that we do," Buirs said. "We do a lot of schooling. We definitely have to keep [the horses] fit. My last show with the horses was Spruce Meadows [in July]. So they have to have their down time a little bit, but we have to get them up and running, get them fit, get them jumping, get them ready."
In her mid-20s, Buirs knows she has a long career ahead of her, because there isn't an age limit for show jumping riders.
Case in point: the ageless Canadian Olympian Ian Millar, who continues to blaze a trail for other riders to follow.
At the ripe age of 65, Millar finished ninth in individual competition at the London 2012 Games.
"Show jumping is learned a lot by experience," Buirs said. "It's physical, but it's very mental. Ian is 65-years-old and he's the best in the sport because he has so much experience. He knows how the horses work. He's had different horse partners, but he gets them. Ian takes care of his body, his mind, and his horses are always fit, always working and ready."
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