Langley has long been known as ‘The Horse Capital of BC” and for more than forty years few contributed to that designation more than George and Dianne Tidball. Combining astute business acumen, efficient family-run organization, and genuine hands-on care, the Tidballs built two incarnations of Thunderbird Show Park into an internationally recognized equestrian competition facility consistently ranked in the top-three in North America. In the process they helped raise equestrian in Canada to a level never before seen.

George and Dianne met in Penticton. At her high school prom Dianne reserved the first three dances on her dance card for ‘Bud’ (George’s nickname, short for ‘Rosebud’) and they were married in 1952. They raised a family of four children while George parlayed a computer accounting job with Alcan in Kitimat into a scholarship and degree at Harvard and later studied economics under Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago.

Consulting for MacMillan Bloedel in Vancouver brought the Tidballs back to BC. With the help of partners they bought the western Canada rights for McDonald’s, served Canada’s first Big Macs in Richmond in 1967, and built 32 more restaurants before selling. In 1971, they created their own restaurant chain, among the most respected in Canada: The Keg.

One of the earliest Keg and Cleaver restaurants was located at the original 26-acre Thunderbird Equestrian Centre in Langley built in 1973 and run by the Tidballs after moving there. While the Tidball children all rode competitively, Dianne bred, raised, and showed the first BC-bred American Quarter Horse Association champion. The original Thunderbird, located at Highway 1 and 200th Street remained the key equestrian site in BC until 1998 when it outgrew its facilities and was sold for development.

Rather than retire, the Tidballs decided to build their dream show facility from the ground up and within two years under Dianne’s leadership the 85-acre Thunderbird Show Park, located among Langley’s picturesque rolling hills and tall trees at 248th Street and 72nd Avenue, was born. Designed by the firm that planned the 1996 Atlanta Olympics equestrian venue, Thunderbird featured six competition rings, including one of North America’s best Grand Prix fields with permanent grandstands, five warm-up rings, three indoor arenas, five covered stables, a golf course, riding trails, and state-of-the-art footing. Dianne managed the facility until 2005, when daughter Jane took over.

Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) level competitions are regularly held at Thunderbird to this day drawing some of the biggest names in the sport including Canadian Olympic medalists Eric Lamaze, Ian Millar, and Jill Henselwood, as well as international competitors from around the world. Since 2011, the North American Riders Group has ranked the Thunderbird Grand Prix event among the top-three in North America with three straight years at number two from 2013-15.

For their builder contributions to equestrian, George and Dianne were inducted into the Jump Canada Hall of Fame in 2009.

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.