Plantation Field, in Unionville, Pennsylvania, will no longer host eventing competitions after the property owner, Cuyler Walker, terminated the lease with the Plantation Field Horse Trials. Walker subsequently resigned from the board of the Plantation Field International, which is being held this weekend. The property has hosted eventing for nearly 20 years, and most recently has been holding four annual U.S. Equestrian Federation-recognized events, including the International, as well as numerous schooling shows.
In June, writers from eventing blog EventingNation.com approached the U.S. Eventing Association and Jenni Autry, the USEF managing director of eventing, about concerns over the connotations of the name due to the word plantation and its association with slavery. USEA leadership began looking into the issue, though the organization does not license or approve events; the USEF does.
“While the purest definition of ‘plantation’ may simply be a piece of property that has been farmed for a long piece of time,” stated an EN post on Sept. 16, “part of the definition mentions that those who worked the land were usually resident laborers. Colonization all over the world meant that while sometimes the plantation labor was through indentured servitude (often a cruel endeavor in and of itself), primarily plantations were worked by enslaved people, and most Americans associate the term with slavery. We have heard from BIPOC equestrians that the name is problematic for them.”
On Aug. 19, Eventing Nation editor Leslie Wylie took the topic to Denis Glaccum, organizer and owner of Plantation Field Equestrian Events.
Glaccum and Walker did not agree to change the name of the 300-acre site, which has been in the Walker family for generations.
The 2019 Plantation Field International program explains, “The Plantation Field, also known as Logan’s Field, received its names from two sources. A Mr. Logan built the large foundation—long in ruin—with stone from a quarry on the property. Failing to persuade his wife to move so far out in the country, he never finished building a house. Fifty years ago a group of Boy Scouts received permission from Mr. Stewart to plant bushes over in the woods thus the name Plantation Field.”
“Plantation Field will not change its name,” Glaccum said a day before the lease was terminated. “The owner has said that and considers it an insult to his grandfather and a lot of people who don’t know what they’re talking about. [Eventing Nation] believes ‘plantation’ should be never used again. That’s an extreme view, and it’s nonsense. I never even thought of the word in that context. I’ve explained all this to [Wylie] and others, and said, you really don’t know your history because this is an abolitionist area, part of the Underground Railroad. This property was never farmed until the 20th century when it was nothing more than grass and hay. There was no slavery involved, I can assure you that.”
Glaccum added, “It’s like tearing a statue down. What good is tearing down for ending racial division? Absolutely nothing, it creates more. So no, there’s not going to be a name change.”
Walker did not respond to requests for comment.
“We understand the innocent and well-intentioned origins of Plantation Field’s name, and we never thought any part of the name of the venue was intended to be offensive,” said Wylie. “But unfortunately, there are times when a word takes on more baggage than its original meaning. Strict definitions of words do not always acknowledge the baggage that a word may take on. And the meaning of this word is undoubtedly tied tightly to the memory of brutal, generational slavery.”
Wylie said they tried to go through official channels and pursue the most diplomatic route. “EN’s actions and communications in this situation were consistently chosen with the goal of minimizing negative escalation and maximizing the potential for a positive change,” she said. “We, like many in our community, are extremely disappointed in the end result. If the event’s stakeholders feel attacked, I think that is more a testament to the divisive and polarizing culture we live in than to our specific communications with them.”
When Wylie informed Glaccum that the website’s writers would no longer refer to the event as Plantation Field, they were asked not to attend or cover the competition. USEA and USEF officials have made no formal announcements about how they will refer to the event, but the USEF sent out a press release on Sept. 3 initially using the word Unionville, then later correcting it to say Plantation Field.
On Sept. 17, the USEA issued a statement, which read, “Having this historic competition close isn’t the right result for the sport, and the USEA is working hard to find a solution. The organizer and landowners operate exceptional events on a beautiful piece of land. We are deeply sensitive to the history of the word ‘plantation’ and its connection to slavery; however, this property has no known connections to slavery and was instead named after ‘plantings’ on the property. We understand that neither the organizer nor the landowners have ever intended to cause any discomfort related to the name of the event and to imply otherwise is a disservice to our organizers, landowners, and our sport. The USEA does not have the ability to require an event to change its name as we are required to carry the USEF licensed name of the competition on our calendar of events. However, we are hopeful that an acceptable solution to this issue can be reached.”
USEF CEO Bill Moroney sent the Chronicle this statement: “As a nation, we are working to address our past failures and injustices and—as part of that reconciliation—we must acknowledge that words and language can have a hurtful and divisive impact. U.S. Equestrian has no authority over event or venue names, but we understand and agree with the serious concerns given the history associated with the word plantation. USEF is examining our existing licensing policies with respect to events and names which could be offensive. Separately, USEF and the U.S. Eventing Association are working together on ways to address the implications of the loss of this venue and how we can best serve the interests of eventing going forward.”
Rider Amy Ruth Borun sits on the committee of the International and the board of PFEE. She described a meeting with the board this summer in which members were “blindsided.”
“I think this event is so much a part of not just this community, but this sport, and it’s been well-respected. [Eventing Nation] had no problem with the name as of April,” she said. “And the fact that the [Sept. 16 blog post] is coming out right now, right before the event, I think the timing is just wrong, and it does vilify something that really is a pretty special event. I do know Cuyler is incredibly offended. Since no one took the time to actually think it through, we’re now losing an event and a big supporter of the whole sport.
“The term ‘Redskins’ has always had a racial connotation, and therefore yes, that is something different,” she added, referencing the years-long battle about the football team’s name that was mentioned in the EN article explaining their position. “This has not had that connotation. It is not that word, so I do not see it as a barrier [to people of color]. I’ve never heard of anyone before the last couple of weeks even mention it.”
Wylie said they’ve heard from several people of color who are uncomfortable with the word.
“It is important that these conversations take place, and it is equally important that all participants come to the table with a view of genuine good intentions on the parts of all parties,” said Wylie. “We all must be adults and have rational, calm, thoughtful discussions with one another on these topics; we must be willing to listen to each other’s perspective and not discount the experiences of others.”
As they proceeded, Wylie and EN owner John Thier knew the loss of the event might be the outcome. In an email shared with the Chronicle, dated Aug. 28, Olympic rider and PFEE board member Boyd Martin wrote, “The worst case outcome for us in the Eventing world is that if the landowner gets so offended with this issue that he decides to kick the event off his land and we lose the venue for the sport we love and need.” Thier responded, “There are many worse outcomes for Eventing in the US than losing the PFI venue, such as the sport not standing up for what is right.”
PFEE board members also said EN invoked the threat of mainstream media coverage if the event did not change its name.
Olympian Phillip Dutton, who’s based in nearby West Grove, serves on the PFEE board of directors, along with his wife Evie Dutton and Martin.
Speaking from the competition grounds, Dutton said, “From my point of view, I think it’s extremely disappointing. Obviously everybody’s sympathetic to the wording and naming and making sure we’re current and not feeling that anybody’s slighted by the name, but I think there should have been a better way to go about it and have a meeting with the landowners and explain it all.
“It’s just a shame it was forced on, to a degree, to Cuyler Walker,” he continued. “He’s just a private landowner and basically giving us this land for virtually no return on his behalf. I just wish that it could have been handled better because it is an important venue for our sport and also our community. He’s a very community-minded person and family-minded person, and I don’t think he ever expected this would be something he would have to go through because of the name of the field we’re using.”