Handicapper Kyle Carter reflects on what it means for North America to have a fall event at the highest level. To read his horse-by-horse predictions for the entries in this year’s inaugural Maryland 5 Star, pick up a copy of the Oct. 4. & 11, 2021, issue of The Chronicle of The Horse or subscribe on a mobile device through our app The Chronicle of the Horse LLC. Subscribers may choose online access to a digital version, a print subscription or both, and they will also receive our lifestyle publication, Untacked.
The event at Fair Hill has always marked a change of season, an opportunity to prove you have a top- level horse, and the chance to dream of what’s to come. It could be muddy, rainy and sometimes even freezing, but by the end of the week at what was the Fair Hill International, you truly knew if you had a championship horse, as any horse that performed well there was considered legitimate enough to contend at the five-star level.
So it’s fitting that the new Maryland 5 Star At Fair Hill will be the site to test our horses at the highest levels, providing the fall five-star championship America deserves.
There were questions about whether there are enough riders to put a fall five-star on the U.S. calendar. But you have to look at it from a different angle: It should be considered necessary to have a five-star so that we can develop a stronger group of riders and horses to become better contenders internationally.
An additional five-star will allow horses to get valuable experience on home turf before seeking to compete against the best overseas. Better yet, it will draw more top riders to compete on this side of the pond, raising the bar for our own riders. All you have to do is look at the quality of the competitors coming here this year for us to realize the implications of how it will raise our standards.
It was always difficult to have a blip in the spring on the build-up to the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event or at Kentucky and have to wait until the following year to put it behind you. We get a short period of time at the level, and now it’s possible to make the most of that time.
A fall five-star also affords up-and-coming riders more variety at the level, so making a team can be based upon multiple experiences at the level before heading overseas. It’s always harder to give up-and-coming riders a shot when they’ve only had the one five-star within their own country to practice over.
After all, success once does not give enough information about how someone might handle different questions at a variety of different sites, so this will broaden the pool for team selection.
A fall five-star will also benefit riders of limited means and time. They’ll have more options and opportunities to showcase their talent and the work they’ve put in without needing to commit as much time away from home, which alongside the financial burden is one of the biggest limiting factors. Preparation for Kentucky without heading south can be very difficult, but if a rider cannot afford to spend the winter in Florida or Aiken, South Carolina, they can prepare through the summer closer to home for the Maryland 5 Star in the fall.
These riders who maybe have a goal of completing a five-star are equally important for our sport, if not more so, for inspiring those around them. After all, when you see a good amateur rider riding and producing to this level while holding down a full-time job it inspires others to pursue that same opportunity. This can create a larger pool of volunteers, officials and potentially lower-level eventers.
It’s very easy for upper-level professional riders to talk amongst ourselves about how much we need a fall five-star, and there’s no doubt that it’s a huge asset to us, however it is probably more of an asset for those who wish to ride at this level but cannot pursue it full time. I believe that is one of the reasons that England has such a large pool of riders to draw from, as they have the highest majority of elite riders in the world as well as thousands of amateurs who pursue riding at the advanced and five- star level. That sport is healthy from top to bottom, which should be our ultimate goal in America.
The Maryland 5 Star also allows riders to bring horses that are maybe past their prime but still able to compete happily at this level. They may not want to put them on a plane overseas but wish to still showcase their partnership without the expense or time of going to Europe.
It’s my hope we’ll see more riders relocating to America, strengthening the competition scene here and improving all the great events we have in this country.
No Small Feat
It was a fantastic move to bring Ian Stark on as the designer for the Maryland 5 Star. He is a highly decorated rider and accomplished course designer who is known for creating tracks that are bold and inspiring with enough questions to test the technical aspect of every horse-and- rider combination. Combine his skill with the terrain that’s offered at Fair Hill, and the turf that you will run over, and it should create a five-star cross-country equal to Kentucky, yet very different in how it is ridden.
Having multiple course designers at the top level is essential to having a well-rounded team of riders and horses. It’s very short-sighted to give course design exclusively to one designer for show jumping or cross- country as they have a certain flavor, and sampling only that flavor will create a weakness. Variety is essential to a well-rounded partnership.
Although we will be in the same location there has been a total revamp of the site layout for this competition. I’m excited to see the changes. We have been waiting for this, and it’s long overdue.
A huge congratulations are in order for all who have made this happen. It’s no small feat, and there’s no one individual responsible, as it’s a massive undertaking years in the works. I remember clearly when Kentucky had its first five-star and all the doubts and concerns about whether an event at that level was needed in America, and it was a resounding yes. Kentucky has done nothing but improve our sport, and I expect no less from the Maryland 5 Star.
So at the end of this weekend riders and owners will load their muddy equipment into trailers and drive to their winter bases, and I’m sure there will be a great sense of satisfaction for many, and the confirmation that Maryland is the newest and one of the best five-stars in the world. In the years to come, many athletes will get to finish their year with a long trip home and a sense of accomplishment for having contested what I’m sure will be a competition that will be mentioned alongside Burghley (England), Badminton (England) and Kentucky, and they will all be spoken with the same reverence in the years to come.
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.