Eventing is a popular and still growing sport in the United States, with new competition venues opening all the time. While the economic downturn has forced some event organizers to scale back and even cancel a few competitions, eventing devotees continue to patronize their favorite events and ensure that the sport goes on.
Events take place around the country, with the concentration changing by region and season. During the winter many East Coast eventers head south to Aiken, SC or Ocala, FL, often returning to the northeast for the spring through fall months. Events like Poplar Place (GA), Pine Top (GA), and Red Hills (FL) offer advanced level competitions that draw top competitors as they prepare their horses for the spring three-day events.
Eventing on the west coast takes place year round thanks to the temperate climate, while the more inland western states are popular summer destination. Galway Downs in Temecula, California hosts an international event at the end of March that serves as preparation for the spring three-day events. With courses designed by Scottish eventing legend Ian Stark, Galway has become a premiere destination and draws large numbers of entries from long distances.
Heading north, Twin Rivers is located near Paso Robles, with wine tasting opportunities in abundance at the many local wineries. The surrounding hills are dotting with vineyards and sightseeing includes an old Spanish mission, just down the road.
Ram Tap is also a popular California event, located in Fresno. Farther north is Woodside, south of San Francisco and inland from the Pacific Ocean. The Horse Park at Woodside has a busy calendar throughout the year, with hunter/jumper and dressage shows, polo, Pony Club rallies, clinics, and a riding for the handicapped program in addition to the spring, summer and fall horse trials.
Rebecca Farm in Montana draws top riders at the height of the competition season, boasting a USEA/Adequan Gold Cup event, part of a series that offers a year-end title and considerable prize money. Rebecca Farm is also a World Cup qualifier, which means that upper-level competitors are more inclined to make the long haul to the event.
The Colorado Horse Park hosts several big events and last year was home to the North American Young Rider Championships, which was previously on a three-year contract at the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington, Virginia and this year moves to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. Located in the rolling, grassy hills south of Denver, this top-notch equestrian center boasts several arenas, cross-country courses, and beautiful views of the Rocky Mountains.
In the Midwest, the Maui Jim horse trials in Illinois, also part of the Adequan/USEA Gold Cup series, attracts some major players as well. Heading north, Richland Park in Michigan offers another USEA Gold Cup event and competition through the advanced level. It’s a popular destination for riders from the east coast and the Midwest, and also draws numerous Canadian riders across the border. Held on property owned Bob and Kay Willmarth, Richland Park has developed over the years with courses built by British course designer Michael Etherington-Smith over lush green rolling fields.
Eventing competition abounds in the northeast, with a dense population of equine enthusiasts. Millbrook, New York and Stuart Horse Trials in Victor, NY both have USEA/Gold Cup events. New England’s cooler weather attracts many riders during summer months.
In the Mid Atlantic states the equestrian lifestyle is steeped in tradition, with foxhunting and steeplechasing also popular activities with horses. Bucks and Chester Counties, Pennsylvania are home to many successful event riders including legendary rider Bruce Davidson, ten-time USEA Rider of the Year Phillip Dutton and his assistant trainer Boyd Martin, Sarah Cousins, and many more.
The Jersey Fresh CCI*** has been around for several years and is ideally located for riders from the Mid Atlantic states and from the northeast. In the fall the Plantation Field CCI*** is an exciting new event held in Unionville, Pennsylvania. Shortly after, the Fair Hill International CCI*** in Elkton, MD is the home of the national eventing championships, and riders from across the country gather for the challenging competition.
Virginia is also a haven for eventers, with the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington and Morven Park in Leesburg home to several major competitions. The Middleburg area attracts many elite eventers including David and Karen O’Connor, Mara Dean, Nina Fout and others.
Some competitions are truly destination events. The highlight of the eventing calendar in the United States is the Rolex Kentucky CCI****, (www.rk3de.com), one of only several four-star events in the world and the only four-star held on US soil (other four-stars include four Badminton and Burghley, both in England, and Pau in France.)
Held every April at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, “Rolex” boasts an annual turnout of over 100,000 spectators, drawn by the exciting action, extensive trade fair, and the chance to see the best of the best over one of the most challenging cross-country courses in the world. This year’s entries include riders from around the world, including England, Germany, Argentina, Italy, Canada, Belgium and Australia, all looking to get a feel for the course, also designed by Etherington-Smith, before the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games take place there next year.
The Kentucky Horse Park is in the heart of horse country, surrounded by Thoroughbred breeding farms where leggy young foals and their dams can be seen grazing in April. Horse farm tours are a popular diversion for visitors to Lexington. The Horse Park itself has much to offer, with a museum, movies, breed show, and pony and trail rides. The grounds are currently undergoing major changes, including the construction of a large coliseum, in preparation for hosting the Games. There are also numerous competitions in every discipline held throughout the year at the Horse Park.
Heading south, The Fork CIC*** and Outdoor Heritage Days in Norwood, NC takes places at The Fork Farm, owned by eventing enthusiast and Irish Draught horse breeder Jim Cogdell. He started the international event, which ran for a couple of years as a World Cup Qualifier, to fill in the gap when the Foxhall Cup in Georgia went out of commission several years ago.
Located at Cogdell’s farm about an hour east of Charlotte, North Carolina, the international event is now an important fixture on the spring calendar and is used by many as preparation or even qualification for Rolex Kentucky; for others it is a destination in itself. Cogdell has created a country fair around the event, drawing outdoor enthusiasts from the neighboring rural areas in hopes of introducing eventing to a broader audience and getting the local community involved. The farm also hosts several smaller horse trials.
A new event in the southeast is held at Chatahoochee Hills in Georgia, about half an hour outside Atlanta. With courses designed by Ritch Temple and rolling terrain with sandy footing, this new event hopes to eventually become the home of a second US four-star competition.
The Bit of Britain/USEA American Eventing Championships, formerly sponsored by Wellpride, is a national championship for horses and riders from beginner novice to advanced level. Originally held in Southern Pines, NC at the Carolina Horse Park, the championships are now on their third year in Wayne, Illinois, at the same venue as Maui Jim. With open and amateur divisions offering thousands of dollars in prize money and armloads of products for winners and top-placing riders, the AEC has attracted large numbers of riders in its short history, and may have around 90 competitors just in the novice championships.
A fun social as well as competitive experience, the AEC has an extensive trade fair and various educational workshops for competitors and spectators, as well as parties throughout the week to encourage people to meet other eventers from around the country. Lower level competitors generally delight in riding at the same championship as the “big name” riders, who more often than not are happy to impart their wisdom to those who ask.
Ultimately there are too many excellent eventing venues across the United States to describe every one in detail. Many competitions have websites, and there is more information in the US Eventing Association’s online omnibus, which is broken down by “Area” and features information about entering and attending events.