By Liz Halliday-Sharp
At the beginning of March, we headed off to Aiken, South Carolina, for the Grand Prix Eventing Festival. This was the fifth running of the showcase-style event and my fourth time there, and it’s a competition that I always look forward to. What makes this event so unique is that it’s held in the compact grounds of Bruce’s Field and is run through a mixture of grass and surfaced arenas, making it an ideal venue for spectators to enjoy all three phases of our sport.
This year was no exception, and many of the best riders in the country came to compete. I was thrilled to have three of my best horses there, who all performed well, and it was especially great to take the win with Miks Master C. This was my third time winning the competition on three different horses, which was very exciting!
I find that our sport keeps changing all of the time, and I do believe that these “showcase” style events are a fantastic addition for spectators, riders and horses. I would like to see a few more of them throughout the season, and while I still love the traditional version of eventing, these shorter, more compact competitions could have a real place going forward.
From my standpoint, there are many benefits to shows like the Grand Prix Eventing Festival in Aiken. The venue provides a lot of atmosphere for the horses and it’s a fantastic opportunity to ride through a four-star/five-star test early in the season. The show jumping is also always challenging and up to height, and again provides a lot of atmosphere for the horses thanks to the hospitality tents and the large number of spectators.
The event is run over two days, which keeps things exciting and efficient for everyone, and with the cross-country taking place in such compact space, it gives people a chance to really experience eventing. While the course is still challenging and the time is very tight, the distance is shorter so the wear and tear on the horses is significantly less while the intensity and focus required is still very high.
It’s important to find new avenues to get people excited about eventing, and I know that every person who came to watch the Grand Prix in Aiken was instantly hooked and enjoyed some great days of sport. I also believe that in these more compact venues with live streaming, there are more opportunities for bigger sponsors to get involved where they can get greater coverage than they typically would during a standard eventing competition. It’s necessary to find ways to bring more money into the sport as well, and I think these showcase events are a great way to make that more achievable. For the riders and owners, it’s also important to have competitions available where good prize money can be won. I find that there are so few events that offer much financial gain for top placings, so it provides a real incentive to the best riders to bring top horses and compete for something substantial at the end.
I believe that these shorter showcase events could be an excellent avenue for some of the older horses that still enjoy competing but maybe don’t need the wear and tear of the longer cross-country courses. When Fernhill By Night was reaching the end of his career, I really enjoyed competing at Bruce’s Field and in the Wellington Showcase with him because he was still able to be competitive without needing the heavy fitness work required to run a longer course with more terrain. It was such a wonderful option for a talented, older horse that still loved his job.
I want to be clear that it’s my hope that these competitions become a supplement to our normal eventing season rather than a replacement. There are so many ways that we can use these shows as preparation for bigger events and also generate more money and recognition for riders, owners and the sport as a whole.
We all need to be open to finding new ways to help eventing grow and continue going forward, and I think with competitions like the Grand Prix Eventing Festival at Bruce’s Field we can get more people involved and show the public what a great sport eventing really is.
Photo by Christine Quinn Photography