Except for the low hum of sprinklers and the distant growl of a chainsaw, Rebecca Farm lay silent in a blanket of rolling green hills last week. It was the calm before a storm of stomping hooves, the clamor of horse trailers and the din of thousands of spectators who will flock to The Event this weekend toting coolers and the family dog.
On a Thursday morning, one week prior to the annual world-class equestrian triathlon, the seeming repose of the 640-acre private estate in West Kalispell masked an enormous effort by hundreds of employees and volunteers to pull off the only HSBC/Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) World Cup Qualifier in the nation.
Clad in breeches and boots, Sarah Broussard Kelly, co-manager and secretary of The Event, buzzed around the homey, two-story office created specially for the three-day affair, hanging corkboard, shuffling papers and directing her staff.
She said coordinating competitors’ entries every year is by far what gives her the biggest headache. Half the time, they aren’t complete when they come in, and later she has to field constant phone calls with riders and trainers changing and rearranging their forms.
When it comes to stabling these riders, Kelly pointed to a sheet of paper with numerous neon-colored Post-it tabs.
“It’s kinda like a jigsaw puzzle,” she said, and explained that some competitors prefer to be stabled with their school, others with friends and some even request not to be put next to a particular person or group. Kelly works hard to meet all of these requests, and will eventually cover the office with maps of barns in order to solve any quandaries.
This year, Kelly has more entries than stalls, with 490 riders and only 462 stalls, but she isn’t worried because she knows from her seven years of experience helping to organize the event that a few will end up scratching.
“It’s amazing how it all kinda comes together,” she said.
To prepare for an event of this proportion and esteem, Kelly said she starts doing paperwork sometimes as early as 18 months prior. She has her own team of four to five employees, while her husband Drew, the farm manager, has one full-time employee and five college students that help him out. The Event requires a crew of roughly 115 staff and 400 volunteers to organize, judge, coordinate, announce, score, market, design, video, cater, manage, and decorate.
Just before noon on July 16, with wood chips tangled in his long, curly beard, Matt Langeliers wielded his chainsaw over the nose of his latest handmade jump, a 40-inch-thick wooden moose. Langeliers is in charge of The Event’s chainsaw carving, and in the past has created 48-inch thick ducks, three 12-foot-long rainbow trout and a serpent he calls Yogo Pogo just for the annual occasion.
Langeliers said since the nine courses all have different level jumps, the biggest challenge he’s had to meet is making the carvings jumpable. He started working on the moose two weeks ago, and said it usually takes him 10 days to finish a carving.
Cross country course builder Bert Wood has the task of taking Langeliers’ creations, along with the other 200 or so jumps, and making sure they meet with height and width restrictions from the course designer, Mark Phillips. He said all jumps must follow the United States Eventing Association and FEI rules and regulations.
Wood’s wife, Chris, is in charge of decorating each jump with about 20 to 30 silk flowers, which she said improves the aesthetics of some of the jumps while providing a ground line for riders to see. It takes her about a week to disperse over 5,000 flowers.
The Event has grown tremendously since its beginnings as the Herron Park Horse Trials in the early 1980s, and it didn’t always require such an assemblage of workers and volunteers. Sarah said the first year her mother, Rebecca Broussard, was secretary of the three-day event at Herron Park, she did everything out of a spiral notebook.
When the Horse Trials began to grow from 35 competitors in 1985 to 260 in 2001, the Broussard family decided it was time to create an equestrian facility to accommodate this growth.
“The property was built for this event,” Drew Kelly said about Rebecca Farm, and added that the family wanted to keep the sport of eventing growing.
Eventing usually lasts three days, and riders compete with his or her horse in dressage, cross country and show jumping.
Sarah said this year she has entries from Texas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Canada, Washington, Montana, Massachusetts, South Africa and Sweden. She said riders are drawn to the event because the course is very well designed, well built and offers excellent, controlled footing both in the ring and on the cross-country courses. While the courses have turf, her husband said the arenas’ footing is made from the soles of crushed up tennis shoes, the same material used in the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing.
Sarah said The Event also attracts equestrian families looking for some vacation time, since the Flathead Valley has a variety of outdoor attractions.
“People enjoy coming here,” she said. “This is a destination event. We’re not on the way anywhere.”
The Event begins on Wednesday, July 22, with the 2009 Spalding Labs USEA Young Event Horse Series. Dressage tests arenas open Thursday and cross country tests are Friday and Saturday. Show jumping and the awards ceremony will be on Sunday. All events are free to spectators and visitors may walk the cross-country course along flagged alleys or watch the overall course from an elevated large grassy area. A trade fair with arts and crafts, food and concessions is also offered throughout The Event.
To get to Rebecca Farm: From the junction of Highways 93 and 2, travel 2 miles north on Highway 93 to West Reserve Drive and go west 2 miles to Springcreek Road, then south on Springcreek. The Event entrance is 3/4 of a mile on the right.
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