Varied and Victorious, Equestrian Sports are Riding High
1 Nov, 2019By: Tracey Schelmetic
At its highest levels, equestrian sports have seen the U.S. make an excellent showing, with the national teams having won 44 Olympic Games medals, 99 Pan American Games medals and 100 World Championship medals.
Around the U.S., at the local, state and regional levels, the sport maintains a large, devoted group of youth riders, who enjoy competing. The Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA) has approximately 14,000 members nationwide. The association offers more than 900 regular-season horse shows throughout the nation.
“We have enjoyed a steady increase in participation over the past 18 years and anticipate growth again this season,” said Kimber Whanger, Communications Coordinator for the IEA. “This is the first season we’ve added fourth- and fifth-grade riders, and we are seeing a growing trend of new riders in this age category.”
Equestrian events have some unique venue needs compared to other sports. The IEA looks for large venues that are affordable and can accommodate at least 2,000 spectators, proximity to highways and airports for traveling teams or individuals, adequate hotel accommodations and sufficient stalls for horses.
“Another noteworthy need is the availability of horses in a specific demographic area – how far will the horses have to travel – and who in that area is willing to provide horses for that event,” said Whanger.
Following is an overview of equestrian event venues across the U.S.
Horse Country in the PNW
Snohomish County, Washington, is an equine kind of place: it has more horses per capita than any other county in the U.S. The region hosts many equestrian events each year, primarily at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds Equestrian Park in Monroe. The venue is highly suited to equestrian events, according to Tammy Dunn, sports development director for the Snohomish County Sports Commission.
“The majority of the events held at the Evergreen Equestrian Park happen each year around the same time,” said Dunn. “The Equestrian Park is one of the largest in the state of Washington. The venue is busy with equestrian events almost every weekend.”
The Evergreen Equestrian Park is comprised of a 60,000-square-foot indoor arena with a dirt show ring and 2,700 permanent bleacher seats; one covered outdoor arena, three uncovered arenas, lunging areas, 402 box stalls in four barns, areas for portable stalls and trailer and RV parking.
Additionally, there is Meadow Wood Equestrian Center, which hosts the Evergreen Classic, a Washington State Hunter and Jumper Association event. This year’s event attracted 80 horses/riders and about 2,000 spectators. Meadow Wood, which is 30 minutes north of downtown Seattle, offers large outdoor rings with blended manufactured sand footing and acres of laser-leveled grass fields.
Events, which can attract thousands of spectators, include the Western Games Horse Show, the Washington State Quarter Horse Show, the Arabian Heritage Horse Show, the Washington State Spring Hunter Show, the Key Classic Morgan Horse Show, PNW Hunter & Jumper Horse Show, the Region 5 Arabian Horse Show and AQHA Region One Championships.
For the off-hours, the Evergreen Fairgrounds feature a Western Heritage Center. There is also downtown Snohomish with shopping and restaurants, the Snohomish Ale Trail and the City of Everett’s Aviation District.
Upgrades in Cecil County
Cecil County, Maryland, is centrally located between Philadelphia and Baltimore, and it’s home to many equestrian businesses. Each year, the Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area hosts the Fair Hill Races, the only steeplechase in the USA with pari-mutuel betting, as well as The Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International CCI 3-star-level and CCI 4-star-L eventing competitions. Fair Hill Races attract between 12,000 and 15,000 attendees, while the Fair Hill International brings in between 10,000 and 15,000 people.
Because eventing involves three separate disciplines, venues that host it must have facilities suited to dressage, cross-country and show jumping. As of next year, Fair Hill will add another level of complexity.
“The Fair Hill International is about to greatly expand into being a five-star event, which will be named the Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill,” said Sandy Turner, manager of the Cecil County Tourism office. “Currently, there is only one other five-star event in the country, in Kentucky. Fair Hill will be the second.”
The event provides competitions for all age groups as well as crafters, vendors, canine demonstrations, food, Kid’s Corner and more. At other times of the year, Fair Hill also hosts 4-H events, horse shows and trials. For the off-hours, the region features harbors and historic towns, specialty and antique shops, dining and the Plumpton Park Zoo. Cecil County Tourism is available to help event planners with marketing support, volunteers, committee service, booth display and sponsorship.
Ocala: Home to Two Triple-Crown Winners
Home to over 900 horse farms, Ocala in Marion County, Florida, has the nickname of “Horse Capital of the World.” 1978 Triple-Crown winner Affirmed was Ocala-bred, and the area was the training ground for 2015 Triple-Crown winner American Pharoah. The region plays host to elite and international as well as youth and local equestrian events, including the HITS Ocala Winter Circuit, which has attracted 33,000 attendees in the past; Live Oak International; Ocala Jockey Club International Three-Day Event; and the Grandview Invitational, Florida’s draft horse show. The region also hosts the CONFEPASO Youth Mundial.
Marion County has several venues for equestrian events such as combined driving, dressage, eventing, foxhunting and hunter/jumper. Florida Horse Park is situated on 500 acres in Central Florida, and the facility is becoming the centerpiece of Florida’s equestrian community. In early 2006, it was named an official training site for the U.S. Equestrian Team.
Additionally, there is the Southeastern Livestock Pavilion, which plays host to numerous events throughout the year. An Ocala landmark since 1945, the pavilion features a covered arena grandstand with seating for over 4,200. Newly built in 2017 is an additional 92,000-square-foot covered arena. The pavilion also features an indoor air-conditioned auditorium with theater-style seating for 800 and 226 stalls.
The newest venue, scheduled to open in January 2021, is the World Equestrian Center Ocala facility, which will feature four climate-controlled multi-purpose indoors arenas, an open-air stadium under lights with grandstand seating, 15 outdoor arenas and stabling for more than 2,000 horses on 300 acres.
For the off-hours, Ocala is close to Florida’s first-ever tourist attraction, Silver Springs, for swimming, paddling, tubing and boating. The local CVB assists event planners with all manner of services.
“We can provide event funding, research coordination, visitor impact studies, and promotion via website and social media,” said Corry Locke, group sales coordinator for the Ocala/Marion CVB.
Pennsylvania’s Crown Jewel of Equestrian
Less than an hour from Philadelphia, Chester County, Pennsylvania’s Brandywine Valley is ideally suited for equestrian events, and has traditions going 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 equestrian was a major part of their sports and leisure pursuits.
Chester County features various equestrian facilities, including The Willowdale Steeplechase, a world-class steeplechase course designed like an amphitheater that has been home to the annual Willowdale Steeplechase for 28 years. It’s a 1.2-mile course featuring the only water jump in North America.
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.
Additionally, equestrian events are hosted at the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair facility, which each May is home to one of the oldest and largest outdoor multi-breed competitions in the U.S., the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair. The fairgrounds also host the Brandywine Summer Series, the Devon Fall Classic and the Dressage at Devon event. Also, there is 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.
Chester County has plenty of activities to offer visitors, including picturesque enclaves, shopping and dining, family-friendly activities and a variety of exhibitions and special events.
“We work closely with our equine venues to help them put on a one-of-a-kind visitor experience,” said Travis Geiser, Sports and Events Sales Manager for the Chester County CVB. “Having those strong partnerships allows us to provide a seamless connection and event services from event organizer to host venue.”
Equestrian in the High Desert
The Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center is a 132-acre site located in Redmond, Oregon. Designed as a circular plot, the fairgrounds feature a center court for outdoor events as well as the First Interstate Bank Center, a multi-purpose indoor arena with 279,000 square feet of space under one roof, making it ideal for equestrian events. There are also five barns that comprise an extensive equestrian and livestock complex. Barns are equipped with electricity and water and can accommodate a total of 400 10x10 stalls: 75 are permanent and 325 portables can be set up in the barns.
The facility hosts equestrian events in a variety of disciplines, including the Cascade Futurity & Aged Event for Cutting Horses, Oregon Reining Horse Association, and several open horse shows. For youth events, the fairgrounds host Central Oregon High School Equestrian Team meets, Oregon High School Equestrian Team Championships, and the Pacific Northwest High School Championships.
“We also are a regular stop on the national circuit of top equine clinicians including Clinton Anderson, Buck Brannaman, Chris Cox, Pat Parelli and Lyons Legacy,” said Roxia Thornton Todoroff, director of sales and marketing for Deschutes County Fair & Expo.
The administrative team for Deschutes County Fair & Expo helps event planners with scheduling, catering, set-up and tear-down and more. During the off-hours, Deschutes County offers cycling, golf, snow sports and rock climbing.
A City with a “Horse District”
First-class equine events mingled with traditional Southern hospitality can be found in Aiken, South Carolina. The region became known for equestrian sport in the early twentieth century, when “Winter Colonists” arrived and brought their horses and their passion for equestrian events with them.
“In our ‘horse district,’ our streets remain unpaved,” said Mary Rosbach, recreation program coordinator for the City of Aiken. “There’s an equestrian signal light to allow riders and their horses to safely cross from the horse district to Hitchcock Woods.”
The region is known for the Aiken Triple Crown, which includes three events: the Aiken Trials, the Aiken Steeplechase and the Pacers and Polo match events. There are several facilities available for events in Aiken. Bruce’s Field at the Aiken Horse Park is a premier equestrian facility on 66 acres of grass field. It features five all-weather rings and two schooling arenas, all with GGT footing, 224 permanent stalls, and space for temporary stabling. Nearby is the Powderhouse Polo Field, home to the Pacers and Polo matches.
Aiken Horse Park hosts the Aiken Steeplechase twice a year – attracting about 25,000 spectators in the spring – as well as Tuesdays in the Park, popular jumper schooling rounds, and dressage shows for juniors, adult amateurs and professionals. This year, it hosted the inaugural $50,000 LiftMaster Grand-Prix Eventing at Bruce’s Field, featuring 35 of the top eventing riders in the world.
Another facility is Highfields Event Center, a 60-acre property and RV park with a large open-air pavilion, three all-weather rings, a grass jumper field, a derby field, an announcer’s tower and pavilion, four permanent stabling barns and turn-out paddocks. There is also Whitney Field, a polo destination, and Aiken Training Track, which features a one-mile main track and a 5/8 of a mile training track.
For the off-hours, there is shopping and dining in Aiken, and Hopeland Gardens. SDM
Stable Your Event Here!
The T. Ed Garrison Arena at Clemson University is recognized as one of the premier multi-purpose livestock facilities in the Southeast. The Garrison Arena is South Carolina’s only full-service, public facility designed to promote the state’s billion-dollar livestock industry.
Operated by the Cooperative Extension Service in the division of Public Service and Agriculture, the Garrison Arena provides opportunities for shows, sales, exhibits and educational programs.
The Garrison Arena has recently undergone a series of upgrades to continue supporting South Carolina’s $1.2 billion livestock industry while increasing its adaptability to host a variety of new shows and events. The upgrades include the conversion of a warmup riding arena into an all-weather competition arena, the addition of 25 full-service RV sites, and the renovation of the 10,000-square-foot, concrete-floor cattle sale complex into a fully conditioned space. These projects will not only improve the complex’s ability to host existing events, but also open it up to a wide variety of new events.
Ocala/Marion County: Where Horse Country Begins
Discover where horses are born, trained and developed into champions. Renowned as the Horse Capital of the WorldTM, Ocala/Marion County is a premier location for all things equine. It is home to more than 600 horse farms that have produced 50 national champions, two Triple Crown winners, six Kentucky Derby winners, eight Preakness Stakes winners, seven Belmont Stakes winners, 26 Breeders’ Cup champions, and six Horses of the Year. Beyond its legacy as a top training ground, Ocala/Marion County also hosts national and international horse competitions and countless shows year-round.
The equine industry represents a $2.62 billion annual economic impact. The destination’s newest facility, the World Equestrian Center, will be the largest equestrian and multi-purpose event complex in the United States, boosting over 700,000 square feet of indoor, climate-controlled space in six separate arenas.
To learn more about equestrian attractions in Ocala/Marion County, visit OcalaMarion.com or call 1.888.FL.OCALA.