Sports

Young Equestrians Fly, Drive, and Gallop into the Flathead

The ‘Junior Olympics’ of eventing will be hosted concurrently with The Event at Rebecca Farm this year

At 640 acres, Rebecca Farm stretches as far as the eye can see from any vantage point within it. And as its staff sets up for The 2017 Event at Rebecca Farm, the largest equestrian eventing competition in the U.S. that will run from July 19 to 23, there are a lot of moving parts to take in. Giant wooden sculptures, which will serve as jump obstacles, are being carved and placed around the property; horses are being trained and ridden in different corrals; countless dogs are running across the fields; lengthy lines of garbage cans and outhouses are being set up.

Yet Sarah Broussard somehow keeps track of it all, as if she has a constantly updated map of the property imprinted in her mind.

“Someone moved the horse trailer that was over there a minute ago,” she says, pointing to an otherwise unremarkable area of grass in the distance as she drives around the farm in a golf cart.

Broussard has been running The Event since 2011, the year after her mother, Rebecca Broussard, passed away due to breast cancer. The late Broussard, who remains an eventing legend, ran The Event from its inception in 2002. In establishing Rebecca Farm, she aimed to expand the possibilities of eventing, which had been limited by the Flathead’s former eventing venue, Herron Park, and to put Northwest Montana on the map for the international eventing community.

Eventing is an equestrian competition composed of three disciplines: dressage, cross country and show jumping. In dressage, often referred to as the ballet of eventing, a rider takes the horse through a series of graceful, rhythmic movements. Mastering these fundamental movements helps horses to excel in the other areas of eventing. Cross country tests the ability of both horses and riders to complete an obstacle-filled course within an allotted amount of time. In show jumping, the horses must scale a series of rails set at specific heights in an allotted period of time.

Rebecca Farm’s inaugural competition in 2002 featured 150 riders on what was mostly dirt and farmland, Broussard says. The Event now runs 600 horses over four days of competition on courses ranging from novice to Olympic qualifier. This translates to over 10,000 spectators and more than $5.5 million in economic impact to the local community.

“Every year I think, ‘Wow, this is the best; we’ve reached the pinnacle,’” Broussard says. “But I’m continuously amazed. What I think is the maximum level is always getting superseded.”

That statement rings especially true this year, due to the fact that The North American Junior Young Rider Championships, often considered to be the “Junior Olympics” of eventing for riders between ages 14 and 21 and the only one of its kind in North America, will be hosted at Rebecca Farm concurrently with The Event.

This is the first time in history that the NAJYRC will be embedded within another equestrian event. It is also, as noted in a Rebecca Farm press release, “[…] the first time the North American Junior Young Rider Championships will be held in a place as remote as the Flathead Valley.” Prior championships have taken place in larger, more easily accessible locations, such as Lexington, Kentucky and Parker, Colorado.

But this didn’t deter Broussard, a former Young Rider herself. Hosting the NAJYRC has been one of her dreams for a long time, and it’s also a nod to her mother’s legacy. Both women have always sought increased participation from and representation of East Coast and international riders at The Event, and NAJYRC is providing both in spades.

“At first we kept asking ourselves, ‘Will people actually come here?’” Broussard says. “But the number of NAJRYC riders this year is about the same as it has been in the past.”

This isn’t to say that there haven’t been challenges. Moving NAJYRC to Northwest Montana has led to considerable financial and logistical complications for the Young Riders. It will cost each participant around $10,000 to transport themselves, their horses, their coaches, and their families to the Flathead.

But for many Young Riders, the journey is more than worth it.

Sophie Hulme, 21, a dual American-British citizen, is traveling from England, where she studies Equine Science at Hartpury College, to Rebecca Farm with her mare, Annabelle, in order to compete in her first young riders championship. It will also be her last, as she ages out of the competition this year. Hulme has been in conversation with agents and veterinarians in both the U.S. and the U.K. for two months to make this international journey possible.

Because Annabelle is a mare, she has to be placed in quarantine for the duration of the trip and competition to ensure that she doesn’t mate with a stallion. In the past two weeks, Hulme and Annabelle have traveled from England to France to Belgium to Amsterdam to Los Angeles to Seattle in order to meet quarantine requirements. Last week, they were in transit from Seattle to Kalispell.

“It’s been a bit unreal,” Hulme says of all the logistical challenges. “But she [Annabelle] is worth it. Nothing else can deter us at this point; it’s been years in the making.”

Cornelia Dorr, 19, of Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, feels similarly. She is a bit nervous about the 40-hour cross-country drive that her two horses, Hugo and Louis M, are taking to reach Rebecca Farm, but she’s eager to hit the ground running at her second consecutive NAJYRC.

Dorr, who graduated from high school in 2016, has spent the past year riding and working 12-hour days on her trainer Sharon White’s farm in West Virginia. The long hours have paid off, leading to victories like her first-place finish in the two-star 2017 Jersey Fresh International competition.

Dorr planned to enroll at Gettysburg College this fall, but her trajectory has since changed.

“My purpose in taking this first gap year was to see if I had it in me to make this sport my career,” she says. “And this year has reaffirmed that this is what I want to do with the rest of my life.”

Dorr will be taking a second gap year to continue competing in eventing. She hopes to ride for the U.S. Olympic Team one day and have her own barn and string of horses with which she can coach young eventers.

These are aspirations shared by 16-year-old Maddy Temkin of Sonoma, California, who competed on her horse, Kingslee, in the 2015 NAJYRC. However, she couldn’t participate in last year’s championship because Kingslee had to undergo emergency colic surgery.

That was one of the worst nights of Temkin’s life, and she feared Kingslee wouldn’t make it. As she helped him through rehab and physical therapy sessions and slowly began competing him again, she tried not to get her hopes up about qualifying for the 2017 NAJYRC.

When she received a congratulatory email in March informing her that she had indeed qualified, it was a testament to all that she and Kingslee had gone through together.

Temkin leases Kingslee from his owners Debra and Geriann Henderson. Geriann passed away in a skydiving accident in 2015, and although Temkin never met her, she rides Kingslee in Geriann’s memory.

This year’s championship is especially poignant, as Geriann’s mother will be at Rebecca Farm to watch Temkin compete.

“Every day I sit on Kingslee, I think to myself, ‘How did I get so lucky?’” Temkin says.

“The little girl who dreams of having a pony, that’s kind of the American dream,” Dorr says. “There’s nothing like the feeling you get when you gallop across a field on a horse. It’s that feeling that keeps pushing me.”

This shared feeling is what brings together the riders in the NAJYRC and The Event.

“It will be an incredible opportunity for the young riders to see Olympic-qualifying eventers in The Event and to see the magnitude of an event like this,” says Broussard.

And, of course, the more experienced eventers will also have the opportunity to learn from and support the younger riders.

“When we first created Rebecca Farm, people told us, ‘If you build it, they will come,’” Broussard says. “And here we are, with 680 horses entered this year. That in and of itself is a merit badge, that so many people consider this so special. And we hope that it will continue to remain this special for so many people.”

If the mindsets of the Young Riders are any indication, it will.

Young Rider Cornelia Dorr. Courtesy photo

The Event at Rebecca Farm

This year, The Event will feature an expanded Kid Zone and “Pony Up” experience, where children can learn more about horses and horsemanship. Don’t forget to visit the Art & Trade Fair, which offers unparalleled shopping opportunities as well as delicious food from some of Montana’s best vendors.

More information at www.rebeccafarm.org.

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