For more than a century, American equestrian athletes have represented the U.S. in international competition, claiming 44 Olympic Games medals, 99 Pan American Games medals and 100 World Championship medals. Equestrian is one of the only Olympic sports in which men and women compete against each other, and Team USA has qualified for the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Games in jumping and dressage, according to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee.
This high-level success is giving a leg up to local, state, regional and national equestrian competitions in a wide variety of disciplines and is inspiring a new generation of young riders. Here is a look at some of the top equestrian event venues in the U.S.
Chester County, Pennsylvania
Situated in the countryside less than an hour outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s Brandywine Valley in Chester County is ideally suited for equestrian events. The area’s top-notch equestrian venues include The Willowdale Steeplechase, a world-class, 1.2-mile course that features the only water jump in North America and has been home to the annual Willowdale Steeplechase for 28 years. There is also the Brandywine Polo Club, a 122-acre wooded property that is home to one of the oldest polo clubs on the East Coast.
Equestrian events are also hosted at the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair facility, which each May is home to the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair, one of the oldest and largest outdoor multi-breed competitions in the nation.
Other events held at the fairgrounds include the Brandywine Summer Series, the Devon Fall Classic and the Dressage at Devon. There is also Ludwig’s Corner Horse Show and Country Fair, which combines a country fair atmosphere with games, vendors and equine competitions, and Plantation Fields in Unionville, which hosts International Horse Trials each September.
“Our diverse and historic equestrian venues provide a unique experience for both spectators and athletes,” says Travis Geiser, sports and events sales manager for the Chester County CVB. “There is an amazing collaboration between the venues, local hotels, shops and restaurants that support each other.”
When it comes to hosting equestrian competitions, Edmond is a go-to destination. 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.
“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,” says Jessica Johnson, Lazy E Arena’s director of 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. Most events are inclusive of all ages within their shows, but a few are restricted to youth, such as 4-H.”
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 include new events where the schedule permits.
When it comes to hosting high-level equestrian events, Kalispell immediately springs to mind. The locale is home to Rebecca Farm, host of The Event at Rebecca Farm, the largest international equestrian eventing competition in the U.S. The nation’s best horses and riders compete alongside horses and riders of all ages and levels from across the continent. The Event draws approximately 700 participants — including some of the world’s top riders — along with 7,000 spectators over four days of competition.
In 2004, The Event became a U.S. Equestrian Federation and U.S. Eventing Association recognized Gold Cup Series, and a Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) World Cup eventing competition.
Also held during The Event are the Shopping Fair & Festival as well as the Kid Zone with pony rides, face painting and more. But the equestrian action doesn’t stop there. Rebecca Farm hosts other hunter and jumper shows and competitions for youth and adults, as well as certification and training programs, typically from May through October.
“Kalispell is interested in proposals for new equestrian-related events, and Discover Kalispell is eager to offer assistance and services to event promoters,” says Diane Medler, executive director, Discover Kalispell, The Kalispell CVB. “There are also opportunities to expand existing events.”
Lake County, Florida
Grand Oaks Resort in Weirsdale is nestled in Florida’s horse country. The 340-plus acre venue features a covered arena, grass and international composite footing, riding and driving dressage arenas, 60-, 80- and 100-meter grass and fiber arenas, and international show jumping.
Grand Oaks is a USEF equestrian elite training facility designee, and events hosted here include reining, dressage, jumping, hunters, roping, polo, barrel racing, clinics and competition. Equestrian events hosted at the resort include Orlando Dressage Under the Oaks, as well as a variety of Hunter/Jumper shows including a Championship event in November.
“We are U.S. Equestrian Federation/Fédération Equestre Internationale approved for multiple disciplines and qualifying for world championship for Paralympic and able-body Olympic selection events,” says Tom Warriner, VP and managing partner of Grand Oaks Resort. “We provide onsite housing, hotel, multiple food and beverage venues, indoor and outdoor competition rings, meeting spaces and hotel resort accommodations such as fly fishing, golf and an RV park.” He adds, “Grand Oaks is one of the few equine destinations that offers housing, training and support to the USEF and FEI.”
Missouri State Fair, Sedalia, Missouri
Sedalia, located in the west-central part of the state, is known for its Midwestern hospitality and its rich rodeo and equestrian tradition. Most of the destination’s equestrian events take place in the historic Coliseum on the Missouri State Fairgrounds. Built in 1906, the three-story Coliseum 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, and has even hosted four U.S. presidents—William Howard Taft (1911), Harry S Truman (1955), Ronald Reagan (1984) and George W. Bush (2004).
On the national front, the Coliseum is home to 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 Fall Festival in September. The majority of other off-season horse shows are youth-based, such as 4-H clubs.
“Most of our equestrian events draw a mix of local and regional participants, mainly from the Midwest, and our key season runs from April through October,” says Courtney Fry, events manager for the Missouri State Fairgrounds. “The Fairgrounds has plenty of historic charm and is one of the oldest in the nation, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.” SDM