The third annual MARS Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill, presented by Brown Advisory, took place in Elkton on October 18-22 with Equiery readers reporting noticeable improvements overall! According to The Equiery’s third annual Maryland 5 Star survey, 85.7% of those who took the survey plan on attending again in 2024, which is an increase over both the 2021 and 2022 survey results.

The Equiery and Maryland Horse Council strongly support venues such as Fair Hill here in Maryland, and congratulate MHC member Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill with another successful event. Below are comments and feedback from Equiery readers who attended this year’s event.

Survey Participants
The majority of those who responded to our survey were spectators (71.9%) with volunteers making up 14% of responders and the rest being fairly evenly split between competitors, vendors, owners of competing horses, breeders of competing horses, sponsors, media, guests, grooms and family members of competitors as well as event veterinarians.

Saturday’s cross-country day continues to be the most popular day of attendance (82.5%) and showed an increase in attendance over 2022. Wednesday, which features the first horse inspection, showed an increase in attendance also. Thursday and Friday dressage days, however, showed a decrease, as did Sunday’s show jump finale. Overall, Sunday was the second most popular day of attendance (40.4%) followed by Friday (19.3%). (We asked survey responders to check all days they attended, thus our percentages add up to more than 100%.)

Of those who attended this year, 78.6% had attended previous years, with 61.4% stating they attended in 2021, and 68.4% stating they attended in 2022. Only 21.4% of those who took this year’s survey were first time attendees of the Maryland 5 Star.
Comments on ticket pricing were similar to previous years with 57.7% stating they felt the ticket prices were “just right” while 9.6% stated ticket prices were too high. (The Equiery’s research unearthed the fact that the General Admission tickets for the Maryland 5 Star are the least expensive tickets for any 5 star in the world, with the possible exception of Adelaide.)

Overall Impression
Most people stated that their overall impression of the event was “just right” (54.7%) with 24.5% stating the event “exceeded expectations.” Both these results show an increase over 2022. In addition, only 17% selected “needs improvement” which is a decrease from 2022. The overall facility received an increase in positivity with 59.6% stating it was “great” and only 3.5% stating the facility “needs improvement.”

One of the biggest complaints about the inaugural event was lack of signage, making it hard to find where various parts of the event were located. This improved in 2022 and improved again this year with 54.4% of survey responders stating they found things easy to locate at the venue.

Bathroom reviews saw an increase in positivity this year with 63.2% stating they were “adequate” and only 5.3% stating the bathrooms were “inadequate.”

Our survey also showed improvement in the spectator viewing areas. There was an increase in those who selected they “could see the competition well” and those who selected “just right” for viewing locations. One write in comment specifically said, “glad there were more bleachers around the jumps on cross-county.”

Parking satisfaction also saw an increase in our survey with 66.7% stating the parking options were “just right” and only 12.5% stating parking “needs improvement.” Another 8.3% selected “exceeded expectations.”

This year, no one wrote any comments about delays getting into or out of parking which we see as a huge improvement over previous years! One person wrote in, “the parking attendants did a fantastic job. The 5 Star is heading in the right direction. I saw improvements since its first year.”

One volunteer mentioned that parking for cross-country jump judges was too far a walk to their fences. A competitor also suggested each horse owner should get a stable parking pass and that competitors need more parking passes in general in their packets.

The shuttles are still an issue with survey responders fairly split between “adequate” and “inadequate.” Here our survey showed a decrease over 2022 for those stating the shuttles were adequate and an increase over 2022 for those stating the shuttles were inadequate. One survey responder specifically noted that the venue needs, “better shuttle service from the Saw Mill Field to the Middle Hay Field” while another stated, “The shuttles themselves were good, but clearer signage on location would have been more helpful.”

Food & Shopping
While survey responders felt the food vendors showed improvement this year, they were not as happy with the shopping options. Our survey showed a decrease in those who selected “just right” for shopping vendors and an increase in “not enough options.” Notably, this year several people clicked “other” and reported they did not have time to go shopping.

Our survey showed an increase in those who selected “just right” for food options and a decrease in those who selected “not enough options.” One person wrote “long wait time at some, but good to see more than previous years and better locations.” Another comment was, “Well done to provide options around the course but lines still 40 minute wait.”

Several people wrote in that they did not buy food at the venue since they were either in viewing areas that provided food or brought their own food for tailgates. One person suggested some sort of coffee, tea, and hot chocolate vendor or station.

The Maryland 5 Star logo wear is still taking a hit in our survey with an increase of people stating the logo wear “needs improvement.” Several people wrote that they felt prices were too expensive. That said, more people noticed the logo wear booths this year than in previous years.

Reports on hospitality of volunteers and staff continues to stay steady with the majority of survey responders selecting “just right” (61%) or “exceeded expectations” (21.2%). Only 7.7% felt the staff or volunteers they met “needs improvement” while 5.8% reported they did not interact with any staff or volunteers.

One volunteer made a point to comment that the free volunteer food options were great and several media personnel were incredibly pleased with the boxed lunches provided each day.

The following write-in comment basically sums up what our survey responders had to say about hospitality, “Everyone I came in contact with from volunteers to vendors and contractual personnel were very nice, and an improvement over last year.”

Digital Program
Although more people this year stated the digital program exceeded expectations over last year, the majority of survey responders still don’t even know there is a digital program (58%). Some people wrote in that they would prefer a printed program. Others commented that the printed course maps and order of go for cross-country day was a big improvement over previous years.

Although the digital program itself is spectacular to look at and full of great information and photographs, the overall consensus is that the 134 pages is not functional when users at the actual venue are viewing on a cellphone.

Non-Competition Activities
Many survey responders stated they did not know about non-competition activities going on during the event. Those who did stated the VIP Pet Experience and corgi races were their favorite.

New this year was a “hall of champions” stable area where famous top event horses were stabled such as two-time Maryland Hunt Cup winner Twill Do and Olympic event horse Mighty Nice. Sadly, many people did not know they were there.

Other additions you may not have known about were Shetland Pony and Lead Line Races in the main arena and a rescue dog parade. There was also a revamped Kid Zone that was open Thursday through Sunday with a farm petting zoo on Friday through Sunday. Work To Ride also performed a polo demonstration.

Additional Comments
“Had not been [Fair Hill venue] for 10 years and was blown away by the improvements from the spectator perspective!”

“The audio commentary with the earpiece is a great idea.” – Note: Spectators could purchase the use of an earpiece they could walk around with and listen to the commentary that was playing on USEF Network.

“So much fun! Excited to attend next year!”

“Huge improvements this year in every way. Especially the media company hired. They were really on top of things before and during the event and their hospitality for media was fantastic and very much appreciated.”

“I can’t say enough good things about the experience this year. Also saw a lot of people we know spectating so that was great. And even my non-horsie husband had a great time. I don’t think I’ll be missing many of these in the future!”

“Great event! Better every year. The courses were fantastic.”

“It’s clear that the MD 5 Star continues to make improvements and listen to and heed the suggestions/complaints of attendees. This year was the best yet and it was a truly fun day. Can’t wait till next year!”

“Would like to see more coverage of the YEH competition. People work just as hard to be there and it’s a big deal for the young horses. It felt like it was an ‘also ran.’” – Note: The Dutta Corp East Coast Young Event Horse Championships were held on Thursday and Friday near the main arena.

“I could never afford to go to KY for the 5 star but I live in Baltimore and can afford to drive an hour! Just, please, keep your general admission prices down so us plebeians can still come.”

“The Maryland 5 Star is so amazing in my opinion! It is a source of inspiration for me as a young rider and establishes an ideal goal to reach in my eventing journey.”

“Love the whole thing. People, dogs and horses. What’s not to love?”