Virginia Horse Trials Parts Ways With The Virginia Horse Center

Sep 27, 2022 - 10:22 AM

The Virginia Horse Trials organizer Andy Bowles has announced he will be hosting the last of his events at the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington, Virginia, this November.

Bowles and the Virginia Horse Center were unable to reach an agreement for a new three-year contract.

Brian and Penny Ross founded the Virginia Horse Trials in 1989. When they retired in 2014, they sold the company to Bowles, who began organizing the horse trials in 2015.

He organizes two U.S. Eventing Association-recognized events each year, as well as three unrecognized events. The recognized events host levels from beginner novice through CCI3*-L and have hosted the USEA Young Event Horse Championships and USEA Intercollegiate Championships.

“The Horse Center decided not to renew our contracts,” said Bowles. “They wished to take eventing in a different direction [including focusing on the upper levels], and they are trying to take over running the horse trials, which is a very dangerous precedent to happen, because we have about a quarter million dollars worth of investment in all the jumps. We purchased all that from Brian and Penny eight years ago. We invested about another $100,000 into water jumps and everything else.”

Bowles has applied with his dates, on the last weekend in May and the last weekend of October or first weekend in November, at another “world class” venue with jumps and the infrastructure to run all the levels Virginia Horse Trials currently runs, but he didn’t want to disclose where until his request went through the U.S. Equestrian Federation calendaring and licensing process.

“We have applied for a venue change because we are the license holder, and we own all the jumps, and that is currently going through USEF and USEA approval processes,” he said. “The Horse Center has applied to run on our dates themselves. The dilemma we have is if this is how the sport goes, then why would any organizer invest in any property or horse trial that’s not on their property? If you look at the makeup of horse trials throughout the country, at least 50-60 percent of horse trials are not run on properties owned by the organizer.”

Bowles and his wife, five-star rider Angela Bowles, moved from Texas to Lexington this year and bought a farm.

“This has been difficult for Angela and I,” he said. “We’ve tried our hardest. We put on a great event for the last eight years. Numbers have proven it. We run the largest event in Area 2. We think we have the focus of it spot-on, and they want to change the focus.”

Roxanne Booth, president of the board of the Virginia Horse Center, confirmed they are pursuing the same dates to host events and are seeking a new organizer.

“Back in June, we were working with Andy to extend the contract, and we were not able to reach an agreement, so [the November event] will be the last horse trials he runs here,” she said. “We are moving forward with both the USEF and USEA to secure dates and working independently to secure organizers for horse trials in the future. We are committed to hosting horse trials at all levels, both national and international, as well as starter horse trials, and are working towards doing that. We have not completed that process yet, so we don’t have dates, and we don’t have contracts with organizers, but we are fervently working to do that and hope to have news shortly on all of that.”

Booth said they originally negotiated to buy Virginia Horse Trials, including jumps, from Andy, after they couldn’t reach an agreement for him to continue organizing at the facility.

“We wanted to be more involved in the process of producing the horse trials, and that wasn’t the agreement that he had with us. He wanted full control,” she said.

Once they realized they would be parting ways with Andy, they moved to secure dates and chose a name, Shenandoah Horse Trials (unrelated to a proposed horse park site in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, called Shenandoah Horse Park).

Booth said they may change the name in the future to avoid confusion.

“We’ve applied for the same dates that Andy ran because they fit in our calendar,” she said. “Lots of our contracts with horse shows are two or three years long, so we don’t have a lot of flexibility to move a horse trial to a different date at the Horse Center. They take up the whole venue when they’re 600-and-change horses.”

Like Andy, the Horse Center is awaiting approval of dates from USEF.

“We’ve gotten some feedback on the May date and have gone back and forth,” said Booth. “We were actually denied initially and appealed, so we’re well into that process. The November date we’re just starting. We’d like to know as soon as possible because we have a fair bit of work to do to get the horse trials up and running again.”

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