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Horse Power

A Broadening Array of Events is Attracting a New Generation of Riders
Nov 01, 2021 | By: Judy Leand
Cecil County, MD | Photo by Amy Dragoo Photography

At present, there are approximately 9.2 million horses in the U.S. and 2 million horse owners, and the U.S. horse industry is worth about $40 billion per year, according to Quarter Horse News. The average show horse owner attends six or more events annually, and the riders tend to be younger and female, notes Equivont, an online resource for equestrians. 

In fact, American equestrian athletes have had great success in international competitions including the Olympics, Pan American Games and World Championships, and this has helped to boost participation and interest in local, state, regional and national competitions. Here, we trot out some of the top equestrian event venues in the U.S.

Chester County, Pennsylvania

In the lush countryside of Philadelphia, Chester County’s Brandywine Valley has a rich history of equestrian traditions dating back to the nineteenth century. The region is part of the Main Line, a collection of affluent towns along the main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad, where wealthy families summered and a legacy of equine celebrations originated. 

Chester County is home to a variety of equestrian facilities. The Willowdale Steeplechase, a world-class amphitheater-style 1.2-mile steeplechase course, features the only water jump in North America and has hosted the annual Willowdale Steeplechase for 29 years. The Devon Horse Show and Country Fair facility hosts a variety of events, including the fair itself, which is one of the oldest and largest outdoor multi-breed competitions in the United States. 

Ludwig’s Corner Horse Show Grounds combines a country fair atmosphere with games, vendors and equine competitions at the annual Ludwig’s Corner Horse Show & Country Fair, while Plantation Field in Unionville hosts the Plantation Field International Horse Trials each September. Brandywine Polo Club, a 122-acre wooded property, is home to one of the oldest polo clubs on the East Coast. 

“Our diverse and historic equestrian venues provide a unique experience for both spectators and athletes,” said Travis Geiser, Sports and Events Sales Manager for the Chester County CVB. “There is an amazing collaboration between the venues, local hotels, shops, attractions, and restaurants that support each other.”

Edmond, Oklahoma

When it comes to hosting equestrian competitions, Edmond makes it easy to saddle up. The premier venue is the Lazy E Arena that hosts 21 to 24 equestrian events in a typical year, most of which take place from March through November. The venue features a climate controlled Main Arena with a floor measuring 160' x 440', and the adjoining Reliance covered arena measures 150'x 300'. The Main Arena provides one of the largest competition floor spaces in the nation and can seat 7,400. The Reliance Arena patio provides casual style seating and has hosted parties of up to 600. The property also boasts 584 permanent stalls, 770 RV hookups and the Roper’s Cantina.

“Edmond is a natural hub for equestrian events because of its proximity to Arcadia Lake, and we welcome all horse lovers,” says Jessica Johnson, Lazy E Arena’s director of events. “Most of the equestrian events held at the Lazy E are in the Western riding disciplines but it does host some English dressage and hunter-jumper events. The variety includes roping, versatility ranch horse, working cowhorse, trail inside and in the adjoining paddocks, penning, sorting, Western dressage, pleasure, barrel racing, mounted shooting, and more.” 

Johnson also notes that the facility can adapt the arena size to meet specific needs, allowing the promoter to determine the ideal size to host a particular discipline, and the staff is always open to including new events where the schedule permits. 

Cecil County, Maryland 

The sport of equestrian eventing is showcased at the Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill, one of only seven locales in the world eligible to host this type of internationally recognized professional competition. In addition to the Maryland 5 Star, Fair Hill International runs six equestrian events each year and there are plans to add others to the roster. Fair Hill International’s recognized and unrecognized events welcome athletes of all ages – elementary school, middle school, high school, college and professional – to compete, and the facility has hosted interscholastic and intercollegiate-specific events. 

 The recently constructed Fair Hill Special Event Zone features a new Ian Stark-designed cross-country course as well as new dressage and show jumping arenas within the historic turf track’s infield. The riding arenas are equipped with Attwood Equestrian Surfaces 5 Star Footing for competition riding. The Special Event Zone is equipped to host multiple equestrian disciplines, including steeplechase and flat racing. 

“We’re thrilled to welcome spectators and horse enthusiasts from all over to Cecil County and Fair Hill,” says Jeff Newman, President and CEO of Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill. “The new Fair Hill Special Event Zone is spectacular and offers a breath of fresh air for those seeking a scenic outdoor, family-oriented experience while enjoying world-class competition. We are so excited to have so many of eventing’s best athletes from all around the world entered in the Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill.”

Missouri State Fair, Sedalia, Missouri

Situated in the west-central part of the state, Sedalia boasts plenty of midwestern hospitality and a rich rodeo and equestrian tradition. Most equestrian events take place in the historic Coliseum on the Missouri State Fairgrounds. Built in 1906, the three-story venue features a 174' x 118' dirt arena floor with approximately 2,300 seats. It has been the site of many cattle shows and horse shows.

On the national front, the Coliseum hosts the National Finals for the American Horseman Challenge Association (an obstacle course challenge for all classes of horses and riders). Regional shows hosted here include the MO-KAN Border Bonanza held each April, the Central State Fall Classic in October, and the Region 4 Fox Trot Festival in September. The majority of other off-season horse shows are youth-based, such as 4-H clubs.

“We hold a wide variety of equestrian events. Some participants are local and some are from out of state and our busy season is from April to October,” says Steven Sims, Concessions/Off-Season Events Manager, Missouri State Fair. “From top to bottom, we have an amazing staff that works with our customers to provide an enjoyable experience. A lot of them have been doing it a very long time and know what it takes to make these events run smoothly.”

Palm Beach County, Florida

This destination hosts many prestigious equestrian events and boasts several world-class facilities. The International Polo Club Palm Beach hosts the prestigious Gauntlet of Polo, the Lexus International Gay Polo Tournament and Gladiator Polo. It features seven polo fields that can be converted into more than 45 multi-purpose fields. The stadium holds 794 spectators, with an additional 1,028 box seats, and has 7,000 square feet of indoor usable floor space. 

The Palm Beach International Equestrian Center is home to the Winter Equestrian Festival, the largest and longest-running equestrian competition in the world, and also hosts the Holiday & Horses show jumping circuit. The center encompasses 500 acres and its 18 competition arenas have state-of-the-art sand footing. The main international arena provides stadium and box seating as well as hospitality pavilions, and the main grounds include more than 250 permanent equine stalls, horse trails, golf cart tracks and dedicated shopping areas. 

The Jim Brandon Equestrian Center hosts the College Preparatory Invitational. Two permanent barns provide 128 stalls, plus tent pads for additional stabling. The center also has nine miles of equestrian trails, the 37,500-sqare-foot covered and lighted Western Event Arena, and the 27,000-square-foot Flex Fence Arena.

“With the Winter Equestrian Festival, the Gauntlet of Polo and several other prominent equestrian events calling The Palm Beaches home, there are typically hundreds of events held throughout the year. We’re always looking to expand the breadth of existing equestrian events,” says Austin Lee, Marketing, Communications and Public Relations Manager, Palm Beach County Sports Commission. 

Snohomish, Washington

This destination hosts numerous equestrian events each year, the majority of which are held at the indoor Evergreen Equestrian Park at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds, one of the largest such venues in the state. The park is comprised of a 60,000-square-foot indoor arena (with a 26,000-square-foot dirt show ring and 2,700 bleacher seats), one covered outdoor arena, three uncovered arenas, lunging areas, 402 box stalls in four barns, wash racks, an area for placement of portable stalls, restroom facilities, and trailer and RV parking. Previous events held here include the Washington State Quarter Horse Show, Arabian Heritage Horse Show, Washington State Spring Hunter Show, PNW Hunter & Jumper Horse Show, Key Classic Morgan Horse Show, Peruvian Horse Show and Draft Horse Show at the Evergreen State Fair. 

Another key venue is the Meadow Wood Equestrian Center, a world-class show park spread over 900 acres and located just 30 minutes north of downtown Seattle. It offers large outdoor riding rings with state-of-the-art blended manufactured sand footing, as well as acres of laser-leveled grass fields. The marquee event held here is the Evergreen Classic, a Washington State Hunter & Jumper Association competition that this year attracted 80 horses/riders and about 2,000 spectators.

“Snohomish County has a strong culture in supporting rodeo and equestrian,” says Tammy Dunn, Executive Director, Snohomish County Sports Commission. “We have 4-H programs and 28 equestrian events and rodeos which occur at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds. We also have many horse ranches as well as equestrian clubs.” SDM


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