(first appeared in the April 2013 issue of The Equiery)
The U.S. Eventing Association Area II calendar, which includes Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania, is one of the busiest regional calendars in the country with 53 events this year. And Maryland is right at the heart of it all with 17 events within its borders and more than 40 events within just a few hours’ drive. Maryland plays host to all the USEA levels (Beginner Novice through Advanced) and holds the National Fall CCI** and CCI*** championships at Fair Hill International each year.
And with the addition of increasingly popular unrecognized schooling events at even more facilities within the state, eventers could compete every weekend between March and November right here in Maryland. The options seem endless, and at first glace, that seems to be a great thing. But is it?
The Equiery asked its readers a series of questions related to the current Maryland eventing calendar. Specifically, we wanted to know: Is the Maryland calendar too full or do we need more events? What is the benefit of so many events to choose from? Are there any negative effects of the volume of events in Maryland? How can the USEA manage its calendar better, or is the current calendar fine the way it is?
We received a variety of responses from a variety of Marylanders within the eventing community. Read on to see what they had to say. Care to comment? Please feel free to send your own thoughts to email@example.com and we will add them to this article when it is archived on equiery.com.
The Natural Life of a Horse Trial
Whether you are new to the sport or have been involved for years, you have heard of such events as Waredaca, Redland and MCTA. Each has been hosting events for more than 30 years. But whatever happened to Menfelt, Middletown or even Ship’s Quarters and Weave-A-Dream? Times change, property owners change, volunteer bases dry up, the falling economy causes drops in entries, new rules drive costs up, and the list can go on and on. The reality of the matter is that a horse trial at any given location has a life span. And some, for one reason or another, have a longer life span than others.
But never fear! Some events simply have adapted through the years and changed locations, such as MCTA Inc., Horse Trials, which had been held at Jackson’s Hole Farm in Upperco before finding its current home at Shawan Downs in Cockeysville. And new events spring up all the time. Loch Moy Farm in Adamstown is still relatively new, having hosted events for only the past seven of years. And this year, Full Moon Farm in Finksburg has joined the recognized calendar, holding a new November event.
There seems to be a natural flow in the way the calendar has developed in terms of recognized event facilities and locations, but what really drives this flow?
It’s a Buyers Market
The bottom line when you think about 17 events on the Maryland USEA calendar is that there are 17 events for riders to choose from. Thus, the eventing calendar has become a buyer’s market for sure. Ashley Noble, a competitor from Virginia, wrote “That is what a free market is for. If the events are scheduled, and bring in enough entries to be successful, then there is obviously a demand for that many events.”
Karen Fulton, owner of Full Moon Farm and organizer for their recognized and unrecognized events, stated, “The number of quality recognized and unrecognized horse trials in our area only benefits the competitor in picking and choosing the ones that will be best for their horses [and] students.” Katie Carr, competitor and trainer at Quantum Leap Eventing in Sharpsburg, agrees, saying, “I treasure having an event available March through October within a two-hour drive. Having a choice is a luxury.”
The fact that the consumer, in this case the competitor, has so many choices should be driving events to make their facilities even better in order to attract more competitors and keep their entries full. Noble pointed out, “If there really are too many [events] for the market to bear, then people will pick and choose the best ones and those will be the ones to succeed and the others will die out naturally from lack of entries.”
Carr added, “Organizers may be frustrated by the number of competing venues, but it is to the competitors’ advantage. Organizers make their venue better, improve footing, design better cross-country courses, offer prize incentives and charity benefits… all make it safer and more fun for competitors.”
More Events in Maryland = More Money for Maryland
One other benefit of having so many events in Maryland is that it brings money not only into the host facility, but also to the region in general. Trucks have to be filled with gas, people need to eat, competitors from out of state often need a place to spend the night. Thus, the Maryland economy benefits as a whole.
“Maryland gets the benefit of commerce tied to folks getting out and doing activities. The more well-run and popular the events are, the more folks it will draw and the more disposable income will be spent in Maryland,” Noble said. Fellow competitor Nancy Seybold from Washington, DC added that the large volume of events in Maryland “attracts more professionals and general industry activity to the area—more barns focusing on eventing, more trainers turning out event prospects, and the like.”
Competitor and trainer Steuart Pittman of Dodon Farm in Davidsonville adds, “Of course it’s a good thing to have lots of events. The pessimists who have been whining about the sport going down the drain because of changes in the format, higher costs, and more technical courses can now wake up and acknowledge that in fact the sport of eventing is growing. We have magnificent venues. Maryland is second to none as a place to train event horses.”
Share the Wealth
One issue that was brought up by readers is the actual location of the current venues on the USEA calendar. Some feel that the events are too centrally located around the DC corridor. Others worry that specific venues hosting several events a year are pushing out the one-timers who only host one event a season.
Chris Donovan, Maryland Combined Training Association president and Area II Young Rider Advancement Program Coordinator feels that the number of events in Maryland is good, however, “we also don’t really need more between Frederick and Baltimore.” She adds that spreading events throughout the state needs more looking into. “We need to encourage and grow recognized events on our sandy shores to replace events that were great like Middletown, which was once a selection trial. I would also love to see an event held in the hills of Hagerstown or Cumberland,” she said.
Fulton says that the USEA does a good job of managing its calendar, pointing out that they try “not to have competitions share the same weekends in close geographical areas. Also to make sure that one competition [venue] doesn’t dominate too many dates.” Fulton also brought up a point about the woes of one venue holding too many dates, “What happens if the dominating venue goes belly-up? That would leave huge holes in the calendar.”
This is already taken into consideration when approving the calendar, according to Donovan, who stated, “For Area II, I have attempted to introduce zones based on membership concentrations as a means of approving new events onto the calendar. This has just started being formally socialized with mixed reviews within Area II as we struggle with who should be allowed to have more recognized dates and the impact of places like Loch Moy or less developed sites like Redland or Marlborough.”
The Schooling Event Craze
It used to be that schooling events were considered “backyard” events—small, local events geared towards clients of the host facility and sometimes open to outsiders. These events are not governed by any national or regional body and thus, anything goes. Trainers used to steer clear of these events and first-time eventers flocked to them. The entry fees were much less than a recognized event, you did not have to become a USEA member or register your horse with the USEA or USEF. Often you did not even have to own the correct gear as there was a time when cross-country vests and approved helmets were not required.
However, all that has changed drastically over the last few years. The unrecognized events here in Maryland have steadily improved and the number of them has increased greatly, often allowing competitors and trainers to compete over USEA-quality courses for half the costs. Pittman points out, “We have options. We have recognized and unrecognized events to choose from every weekend.”
The unrecognized calendar is just as full as the recognized one, and according to Fulton, who has run unrecognized events at Full Moon Farm since 1997, “Schedules get a bit trickier for the unrecognized competitions as there is no governing body to regulate them. We all try not to step on dates where a facility has run the year or two before, but it can be tough and the unrecognized horse trials can hurt each other for entries if they are not careful. Everyone tries to play nice, and we need to!”
But do the current unrecognized events serve a purpose for the sport as a whole? Donovan explains, “The purpose of an unrecognized event is to teach the sport at a less stressful environment. Sadly, this point is not always taken into consideration.”
One thing these events do for the sport is give competitors even more options. In many cases, one can compete all the way through Training level without joining the USEA or competing in a USEA-recognized event. Competitors who are not riding year-round and traveling south for the winter can ease back into eventing each season with schooling events.
However, by following this path, competitors do not qualify for year-end national awards, if that is a goal of the rider. And potential buyers of event horses have no way of looking into a horse’s record as there is no national database for unrecognized event results. There is also a risk factor involved with competing at unrecognized events since course designers can basically do what they want and there is no requirement to use qualified professionally trained designers.
But then again, these events do solve one shortcoming with the current USEA calendar that Seybold is worried about. “My main concern with the [USEA] calendar is that it needs to be reviewed with an eye towards the bulk of competitors, amateurs competing at Training and below, and not just to support FEI competitors prepping for qualifying competitions,” she said.
So, what is next for Maryland eventing? No one can predict for sure but it looks like the sport is continuing to grow within Maryland’s borders making Maryland an epicenter for eventing. The calendar will forever be changing with new events springing up and others either switching to unrecognized or folding completely. In general, according to Equiery readers, this continuous evolution of the calendar seems to be a good thing.