Finally, it’s fall in the Northern Hemisphere. The spring five-stars are long behind us, and we are already deep into the fall championships. The Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials CCI5*-L (England) was, as usual, a competition won on cross-country prowess, and a most fitting win it was for Piggy French and her amazing mare, Vanir Kamira. The FEI Eventing World Championship in Italy has concluded, and now we’re ready, for the second year, for the Mars Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill! It’s not yet as steeped in tradition as some of the other international events, but I believe it’s on its way to becoming one of the best in the world.
The grounds at Fair Hill in Elkton, Maryland, are a splendor of natural beauty, begging to have horses on them. The weather can be a bit wet and cold—although they squeaked by last year with some brilliant schedule adjustments. But the thing with cold and wet is that horses are designed for that and often rise to greater heights athletically in those conditions. That’s not to say that all of them love the mud that can come along with it, but those that do can find hero status on those days. It’s always best to prepare accordingly for competition here, because it can really be anyone’s guess as to what you will have.
That guessing is what makes a designer’s job so much more difficult, and Ian Stark was pretty on point last year. So what can we expect to see here this time? Well one thing is certain: He will be asking for big efforts with bold striding questions. It’s the hallmark of his designs wherever he is laying out tracks, and it’s important to know this when entering. There is no easy five-star, but some suit some types better than others. This one will require—I’m almost certain—as big of a stride and jump as we see at the top.
I’m excited to see how the builders integrate Ian’s concepts because how it’s built is as important as what is built. The level demands much of the riders but maybe as much of the builders. The preparation is a daunting proposition but one that the team in Maryland will be up for.
With the FEI Eventing World Championship having run in September, there will be a reduction in the number of horses competing here in Maryland. Plus some of the American riders crossed the pond to contend fall events over there, which is a great opportunity and a life experience that will probably stick with them forever, but unfortunately that too will draw away entries. The caliber of riders and horses needed to compete here is so high that there simply isn’t an overabundance of contenders worldwide, and as we saw with Burghley it will be a smaller field than last year, which is a shame for all the efforts put in. But the horses that do well here will be worthy of the successes.
For the spectators we have the three-star running with the five-star, and much like Land Rover Kentucky’s four-star short running alongside the five-star, it will make the day full of sport. Also not to be overlooked is the Dutta Corp. USEA Young Event Horse East Coast Championships held on site during the week. All of this is showing how the organizers in Maryland value the product they are selling—and the horses coming on for the future. The overwhelming benefits for the spectators will start to make this week in Maryland one to put on the calendar for all eventing enthusiasts and hopefully bring more fans into our sport.
The focus of everyone involved with the event should be this question: How will the improvements become part of making this the premier five-star in the future?
Make no mistake, the first run last year was fantastic, and the whole crew needs to be commended for what they put together. But being forward thinking is the most important part of success. Many once-great events have been slowly left behind as other venues pushed the envelope of what could be offered, and as that happened the lack of interest made them a memory—unfortunately not part of the sport anymore.
There were complaints from the foreign riders last year that the time was not influential enough; remember these top jockeys are used to riding at courses where often no one makes the time. They want it to be virtually unachievable to be considered the right balance. I can understand their point, but last year was not typical footing, and with the mud we are used to seeing here I would think that those complaints would be laid to rest. But I suspect Ian will heed those voices, and we probably will see fewer if any inside the time. We will see.
Prize money is key to draw in the foreign contingent as well, and there is a good deal of that here: $325,000 between the three- and five-star, with $300,000 allotted for the five-star. An expensive trip for anyone deserves a large reward, and if the potential return is better here than at a European five-star they will be a lot more likely to make that trip. Everyone, riders and spectators, loves winning a car. It’s an awesome opportunity, and it is usually a lease that the riders buy out at the end, so for advertising for everyone it’s a no-brainer. Pushing those limits will make the riders’ choices easier and the public excitement greater.
But more than a show, it’s got to be a production to capture the imagination of the young and the attention of the audience in more ways than just watching the sport. Follow the example of the successes of show jumping’s Spruce Meadows (Alberta) on how to make it bigger than the sport; few do it as well. There should be something going on around the grounds besides the competition. I, like most fans, don’t require that, but the general public does. Making it a sustainable product is imperative and should be a priority going forward. Trade fairs that offer lots of different shopping options—and plenty of coffee huts—is part of it as well. Look at the number of vendors at Kentucky and how many people wander through even while the competition is going on. We need more of that to stabilize and pump up what is a fantastic five-star, and our fall calendar in the United States deserves it.
I’m looking forward to setting foot on the grounds this year and getting an opportunity to compete at Maryland. Although I won’t be in the feature class, it still makes my heart quicken thinking about it because it’s a special place, and time spent in places like Fair Hill is good for the soul. There’s enough country to lose yourself in and to get centered. That isn’t something that can happen everywhere.
I hope to see you all making the journey here this year, and in the future, because you really don’t want to miss it. There are few places where your heart can gallop along with the horses, even if you only watch them go by.
And as always, pat your horse. They are the greatest animal to gallop on earth and should be appreciated for bringing all of us to better places. I know they do for me.
An Olympic veteran for Canada, Kyle Carter also earned team silver at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (Kentucky) and the 2007 Pan American Games (Brazil), as well as placing second in the 1999 Rolex Kentucky CCI4*-L. Carter currently holds the record for coaching the most gold medalists at the FEI North American Youth Championships, and he served as the coach for the Guatemalan and Venezuelan eventing teams. He is a co-founder and coach for Ride iQ, and he and his wife, Jennifer Carter, run Five Ring Stable in Citra, Florida.
This article ran in The Chronicle of the Horse in our Oct. 10 & 17, 2022, issue. Subscribers may choose online access to a digital version or a print subscription or both, and they will also receive our lifestyle publication, Untacked.
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