Currently Essex is looking at a start date of June 24, 2017, at Moorland Farms in Far Hills N.J., which is also the location of the Far Hills Race Meeting steeplechase held every October. The Essex Horse Trials at Moorland Farm will be the first equestrian event to be held there besides the steeplechase.
Essex Horse Trials ran in the spring for 30 years, and its last event took place in 1998. The event originally began at the Haller family farm, Hoopstick Farm, in Bedminster, N.J., later moving to the U.S. Equestrian Team’s headquarters in Gladstone, N.J., at Hamilton Farm. It was host to a CCI* and CCI**, but when golf courses were built on some of the Hamilton Farm land, the event ended. A plan to re-open with a CIC in 2000 proved too expensive.
The new Essex Horse Trials will start with beginner novice through preliminary levels, with hopes for bigger events in later years.
Cross-country course designer Morgan Rowsell and Ralph Jones, an eventing enthusiast from Tewksbury, N.J., had been interested in putting together a new event in the area for some time. Rowsell, who’s involved in the Horse Park of New Jersey as a designer and builder, has lived in the area for 15 years and attended the old Essex event a few times before it ended. He realized the core group of the event had always been in the area, and that piqued his interest earlier this year.
“We just knew it was right to have it again,” Roswell said. “I couldn’t do it alone by any means. My friend Ralph Jones, who’s a member of the Essex Hunt, and Sally Ike, who works for the [U.S. Equestrian Federation], got together and started knocking heads, like, ‘Let’s consider this.’ ”
The group looked at a few sites, including the USET headquarters at Gladstone, but it was too expensive to build a new cross-country course there.
After a conversation with Guy Torsilieri, chairman of the Far Hills Race Meeting committee, the idea that Moorland could host the event was considered.
“He was the original treasurer for Essex and was very involved. He did the water jump, he helped take care of the finances for Essex and was very involved with Jacquie Mars, who supported Essex,” said Rowsell.
From there it was an easy decision, especially considering Moorland already had the infrastructure to host an equestrian event. Rowsell is most excited about the footing at the venue. He and several others will work on the track until the first event to ensure a good quality course and new permanent and portable fences.
“You can climb a hill at Moorland Farm that looks over the racetrack. We’ll go up on top of that hill, and you’ll get a big, full view of the county and the hills on the other side. It’s really pretty,” he said. “Between irrigation and aeration and fertilizing, that’s why we’re going to kick off in 2017, not 2016, because we want to get the footing the best we can possibly get it. We have to be mindful of the track—we can’t ride on the track or run on the track. That’s their focus, and we respect that. Guy is committed to making his best efforts on the footing.”
The new organizing committee will include Rowsell, Sandy Hance and James Brady of the Gladstone Equestrian Association, former Essex Fox Hounds joint master Hank Slack, vice chairman of the race committee Ron Kennedy, Jones, Torsilieri and Ike.
“I think any of these events nowadays or in the past have to do with the community. You really have to have a community, whether it be Red Hills down in Tallahassee [Fla.] or Plantation in Unionville [Pa.], or Millbrook [N.Y.]” Roswell said. “The community has to get behind it, and I think that’s what ultimately makes it special because you can get people to show up, you can get people behind it, you can get sponsorship money, you get towns people can shop in and hotels. New Jersey has had a long history with horse racing and hunting and show jumping and dressage.
“We want to keep it like the old Essex where everybody pitched in and was a part of it,” he added. “We’re getting a lot of interest from people that want to be volunteers or people that want to be on committees and be active. I think we can tap into that and keep the community involved.”