Bob and Kay Willmarth, organizers of the Richland Park Horse Trials in Richland, Mich., announced on Sept. 6 that the 2017 event, held Aug. 24-27, marked its last running.
“Saying goodbye to Richland Park is the hardest thing we have ever done as we both loved doing it and took great pride in what we created,” stated a release from the Willmarths. “We were honored to open our home and our farm to the eventing community once a year and share with them the magnificence of Richland Park.”
In the fall of 2000, the Willmarths enlisted course designer Mike Etherington-Smith to develop a track on their nearly 400-acre farm in Michigan, and they ran novice through preliminary the following year. Intermediate was added in 2003 and advanced followed in 2004. Richland started holding Fédération Equestre Internationale competitions in 2007, and Ian Stark became the course designer in 2009.
The Willmarths cited difficulties in getting approval to run additional levels and scheduling conflicts with the USEA American Eventing Championship as reasons for canceling the event.
They initially dropped the intermediate division after hosting both a CCI** and a CIC**. When competitors requested that the intermediate return, they applied to hold it again. But Richland was denied that addition unless they moved their date. The U.S. Equestrian Federation denied their request to hold a CCI***.
“Previously we had already moved our date from the end of September to the end of August because USEA wanted to run the AECs on our date at the end of September,” stated the release. “In 2016, the USEA moved the AECs to the week immediately following our event, forcing the riders to choose which event to support. Unfortunately we were unaware of the date change and took a huge hit on our entries. For us it was never about the money, and almost every year we were in the red, and we expected it and were prepared for it. We just took it in stride, sucked it up and dealt with it.”
Though the Willmarths spent a year exploring options for the future of Richland Park, they ultimately decided it made the most sense to end the event.
“A long-time mentor of ours said, ‘When you stop being challenged and stop growing, you are dying,’ ” the couple stated in their release.
“When our builders arrived in August, we told them that 2017 was going to be our final Richland Park, and that we wanted to produce the best show we could, the best show we ever had,” the press release continued. “From our perspective, the 2017 RPHT was the best.”