Richard Spooner on Apache at last year's LA National. (Photo courtesy LEG Up News file photos / September 21, 2010)

What started as something to do for fun turned into a lifetime passion for Richard Spooner.

Growing up in Fountain Valley, Spooner, 40, enjoyed baseball and other sports, but when relatives came out for riding lessons, it sparked a new interest in Spooner.

"My mother had a jumping saddle, and that is what I ended up taking to," he said.

Now the former Burbank resident rides for major money and will complete this week in the L.A. International Jumping Festival at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center in Burbank. On Thursday, the prize he will be vying for is $30,000, and Saturday's prize is $50,000.

Spooner started competing in the junior jumping competitions when he was 13, but he became more competitive at 16.

"And then it became serious," he said.

At 26, he won his first major jumping competition — the Oaks Grand Prix in San Juan Capistrano.

"I won about $7,500," he said. "I always wanted to do it for a living and be a grand prix rider. A lot of riders win the grad prix earlier, but that encouraged me to keep going."

Spooner lives in Aqua Dulce, where he trains horses for jumping events, and also spent 15 years as a trainer at the Equestrian Center in Burbank.

The best part of the sport for him, though, is spending time with the horses.

"I have quite a few horses, and clients board their horses at my stable," he said. "They pay me to train the horses and ride and show them. I will be showing two in each grand prix Thursday and Saturday night."

The L.A. International Jumping Festival attracts some of the top international show jumping riders as well as equestrians throughout California. A number of local riders will compete at the five-day show opening Wednesday and continuing through Sunday, said Marnye Langer, marketing manager for the festival.

Throughout the week, competitors from age 6 to early 70s will be vying in jumping events from beginning to advanced levels, she said.

Riders are judged in three general categories: The Hunters category is judged on technical ability in how they jump fences and their technique for getting over the fence. In the Equitation category, riders are judged on their skills and form. And Jumpers is the third category, which is the one piece of the sport that feeds all the way to the Olympics.

"It's a great sport in that it's very broad on age, and it's one of the few Olympic sports that men and women compete together," Langer said.

Saturday's event, the Grand Prix, is the highest level of competition, and is a qualifying event for the 2011 World Cup Finals.

Spooner is consistently one of the top riders at this event, Langer said.

"His nickname is the 'Master of Faster,'" Langer said. "When it comes to jump off, he will try to go as fast as he and his horse are capable, and he performs the most daring turns and gallops as fast as he can between the jumps to finish in the shortest time."

In addition to the Grand Prix, local organizations, including St. Finbar School, will receive a portion of the proceeds from ticket sales, with the bulk of the funds going to the John Burroughs High School Marching Band, Langer said.

"The band is heading to the Sugar Bowl in 2011, and some of the proceeds Saturday night will be donated to them," she said.

The Burroughs High band will also be performing during opening ceremonies at 7 p.m. in the Equidome.