The Great Meadow Foundation, located in The Plains, Va., is taking the first official step toward its goal of becoming a platform for world-class eventing.
U.S. eventing chef d’equipe David O’Connor made an announcement on Dec. 6 at the annual U.S. Eventing Association Convention in Cincinnati: “The preparatory event for the [U.S. eventing team for the 2014 Alltech FEI] World Equestrian Games will take place [on two days to be decided between] June 26 and 30 at Great Meadow,” said O’Connor. “There will be dressage in the morning, and show jumping in the evening. We may do a fundraiser that night. Cross-country will be the next day.”
O’Connor has selected Olympic course designer Michael Etherington-Smith to design a suitable three-star level course on the 370-acre property. “He wants to come see the property, but the intent is yes,” said O’Connor. “He’s said he’d be interested in the project.
“It won’t be a very hard event,” O’Connor continued. “We’re not really talking about testing the horses, just preparing them at that point.” O’Connor announced that the U.S. eventing team for the 2014 Alltech FEI WEG will be named on June 20.
On Oct. 2, Banner, O’Connor and Jim Wolf met with Equestrian Events, Inc. to discuss them coming on board as event managers. EEI president Darren Ripley and executive director Lee Carter, along with others on its board of directors, agreed to join the venture.
Great Meadow was founded in 1983 by Arthur “Nick” Arundel to preserve farmland and provide a home for the Virginia Gold Cup. Today, Great Meadow is host to the Virginia Gold Cup and International Gold Cup steeplechases in addition to cross-country running meets, polo matches, rocketry exhibitions, symphonies, Fourth of July celebrations, the Scottish Games, car shows and astronomy club star-gazing.
In keeping with Arundel’s vision of preserving open space, Great Meadow seeks to expand and is in a contract to buy the adjacent Fleming Farm, adding an additional 175 acres to the original 194.
“We’re here for anyone who has an event that is facilitated by open space,” said Rob Banner, president of the Great Meadow Foundation. “We currently host steeplechasing, polo, we’ve started a jumper venue, and now we’re bringing eventing into the picture so we’ll have four horse sport disciplines.” Banner said that only upper level competitions will be hosted at Great Meadow and there are not currently plans for a yearly USEA-recognized event. He envisions Great Meadow as a resource for the USEF eventing chef d’equipe.
The long-term goal is for Great Meadow to host the selection trials for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and possibly future events. “The real goal is to host the first FEI-sanctioned Nation’s Cup of eventing [at Great Meadow]. That, for a good reason, is really the prize because it would bring European competition here, rather than us having to go to Europe to find that level of competition,” said Banner.
Banner explained, “Great Meadow is ideal in its ability to host this level of event because one, you’re near Washington D.C. and the Dulles [International] Airport. Most international horses would fly into New York, which is only a four- to five-hour drive from [Great Meadow]. Two, you’re near the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center [in Leesburg], so if you have an injured or sick horse it would be a good, close place to go. Three, Great Meadow is within 20 miles of many riders and horses the chef d’equipe would like to train.”
Banner foresees a spectator-based, rather than exhibitor-based, model to facilitate future upper level events. Funding from spectators, patrons and vendors would be essential, and entries would be limited.
“Having a course developed for 250 horses can be expensive,” he said. “Repair on a rainy day, for instance, would be expensive. If we could keep competitions at a high performance level, then we could keep it a spectator-based model that would drive the revenue necessary to make money for the competition and the landlord, which would be Great Meadow.”
Though donations are still needed to reach the estimated cost of the project, enough has been done to confirm the venue will be ready next summer for WEG competitors. O’Connor expects the USEF High Performance Committee to approve the plans.
“The [Alltech FEI WEG] preparation event will happen,” O’Connor said. “I think the whole idea is to have a destination event back in the Middleburg area.”