It’s difficult to nail down what it is about horses that draws humans in. Equines are tremendous athletes and powerful warriors; they are dedicated workers and fierce friends. A nuzzle and huff from a big, soft nose can change a day or a perspective, and watching horses run – truly run, without fear or fences – is what freedom looks like.
They are magnetic and majestic animals, and their hoof prints run through much of Montana’s history.
With such a relationship between humans and horses, it’s little wonder that The Event at Rebecca Farm has grown from a hobby weekend at Herron Park to one of the preeminent equestrian events in the nation. This year, The Event, which runs from July 25 through July 28, boasts its largest participant roster to date, and shows no signs of pulling back the reins.
An occasional breeze wandered through Rebecca Farm last week, alleviating some of the mid-July heat. Sprinklers worked full time to green up the grass, and workers buzzed around in carts and trucks putting finishing touches on the landscape.
Sarah Broussard sat on the front porch of the two-story event office, which sits near the center of the 200 acres dedicated to equestrian sport on the farm, discussing dominoes.
The dominoes, she said, started to fall around the farm when she decided to shift The Event schedule to accommodate an extra 80 to 100 riders. It seemed simple at first – a new schedule and more riders – but it quickly began to ripple throughout the farm. They would need to add to the 500 stables they had already planned on. There would need to be more water. And, oh, don’t forget about manure removal.
“Eighty horses create a lot of manure, as you might imagine,” Broussard, The Event’s organizer, said with a laugh.
And then there are the extra gift bags, the work schedules for the officials, the programs. But despite the changes, Broussard was confident in the decision to make The Event bigger than ever.
“I knew that I had a phenomenal staff and a great group of volunteers here at the farm and in the valley who could help make it work,” she said.
The Event has been a highlight of the Flathead’s summers for more than a decade. It showcases the sport of eventing, in which horse and rider compete in a triathlon of horsemanship: dressage, cross country and show jumping. (For a rundown of these events, see the sidebar.)
Each year, The Event hosts about 450 to 480 riders, 350 volunteers and an estimated 20,000 spectators.
Broussard thought it had hit its limit at 480 riders, but this year the roster lists about 570 participants.
“It’s a big deal for sure,” James Wolf, executive director of sport programs for the United States Equestrian Federation, said. “It’s definitely an important fixture on the annual calendar.”
The Event is often on the path to the Olympics for many riders, and can serve as recruiting grounds for the U.S. Equestrian Team. The U.S. Equestrian Federation is responsible for training, selecting and funding the national team.
“It’s a significant event in terms of developing horses and riders,” Wolf said. “We’ve used it as an observation trial for our selectors to watch horses and riders.”
Even though it has a significant national and international reputation, The Event began humbly, with its roots in Herron Park outside of Kalispell. A small group of local women in the Flathead Dressage and Hunt Club began showing their skills in the early 1980s, Broussard said.
She got involved in the late 1980s as a competitor. By then, the show was run by the Flathead Combined Training Association, and the group wanted to take the event national.
All they needed was a member of the U.S. Combined Training Association to sign up for the event, Broussard said, and her mom, Rebecca Broussard, agreed to do it. But like many things Rebecca did, the participation went much further than just a signature.
By 2001, the weekend show had outgrown Herron Park, so Rebecca and her husband Jerome started looking for property. The goal, Sarah Broussard said, was to create a prestigious event in the northwest for western-based riders.
Her father bought 640 acres west of Kalispell from several different landowners to create what is now Rebecca Farm. But the work was just starting, Broussard remembered, with the first few months on the land dedicated to ripping it up, adding six miles of irrigation and relaying the ground for solid, even footing, safe for hooves.
Two-thirds of the property remains cropland, with cross-country courses weaving through it. The first year The Event was held at Rebecca Farm was, in a word, dusty.
“That first year there was a lot of dirt,” Broussard said. “We just kept telling (the participants) ‘I promise it’s not going to be like this forever.’”
Twelve years of sustained growth is all the proof Broussard needs of the loyalty and cohesiveness that exists in the eventing community, and it mirrors the experience she’s had living in the Flathead.
“The eventing community is an absolutely wonderful, sharing, giving, caring community,” she said. “I feel like the Flathead Valley is the same way.”
Last year, The Event added a new facet to the weekend with Halt Cancer at X. Her mother, Rebecca, succumbed to breast cancer in 2010 at age 68, and Broussard wanted a way to connect the deeply personal issues of cancer research and eventing.
Halt Cancer at X was a way to do that, she said. Event participants raised money through pledges, there were community donations and the farm asked for a $5 parking donation for spectators.
The result was $65,000, which went to breast cancer research and local organizations that work with those battling breast cancer. This year, Halt Cancer at X has already received an anonymous $10,000 donation, and Broussard hopes to surpass last year’s total.
“Breast cancer is something that we can rally around here,” she said. “The response has been great.”
Broussard stressed that the $5 donation is exactly that, and there is still no mandatory charge for spectators who want to see world-class athletes in action. Despite incredible growth in the last decade and significant standing in the equestrian world, The Event, at its foundation, is about community and relationships.
It’s a place where locals and visitors can watch the unique bond between a rider and horse as they showcase their talent, and the added growth only sustains the experience.
“Here we are in this crazy year,” Broussard said, “and it’s going to be fantastic.”
For more information on The Event, including a full schedule of events, visit www.rebeccafarm.org.
A guide to this week’s 12th annual equestrian triathlon
?This week’s 12th annual equestrian triathlon at Rebecca Farm promises to be the largest in the remarkable history of The Event.
A total of 570 riders from across the nation are entered in this week’s competition, making it the largest event in the U.S. this year. The previous record for entries at the local competition was 480.
Over the last two decades, some of the best riders on the globe, including several Olympians, have traveled to Kalispell to compete in three classic elements of equestrianism — dressage, show jumping and cross country. Called eventing, the sport tests both horse and rider through a series of challenges, disciplines and courses.
Admission for spectators is free. Rebecca Farm also features an ever-growing trade fair tent and a variety of concessions that are open all four days. A $5 parking donation is requested to support “Halt Cancer at X,” an initiative to raise money for breast cancer research in memory of The Event’s founder, Rebecca Broussard. Last year’s inaugural campaign raised $65,000 for both local and national organizations.
To access Rebecca Farm from the junction of highways 93 and 2, travel two miles north on 93 to West Reserve Drive and go west two miles to Springcreek Road, then south on Springcreek. The entrance is three quarters of a mile on the right.
Schedule of Events
Wednesday, July 24, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
USEA Young and Future Event Horse Series
Thursday, July 25, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Dressage, all FEI levels. Dressage, National Horse Trial levels. Novice cross-country.
Friday, July 26, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Dressage, all FEI Levels. National Horse Trial levels dressage continues. Cross-country phase for Training, Training 3-Day, Novice 3-Day.
Saturday, July 27, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Cross-Country phase all day. All FEI levels. National Horse Trial Levels continue. Show jumping for Training 3-Day, Novice, Novice 3-Day.
Sunday, July 28, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Show Jumping phase, all remaining levels. Awards ceremony at end of each division.
Here’s a breakdown of the three elements of eventing:
The first competition at The Event is also one of the most meticulous in the sport. In dressage, judges keep a close eye on the obedience and harmony between horse and rider as the duo slowly maneuvers in the spotlight of a small arena. It’s often called “horse ballet,” and spectators can quickly see why. Riders will lead their horses through a series of predetermined movements, or “tests,” that display the level of partnership and cohesiveness between both. Judges will rate each test and movement with points that tally an overall score.
Saturday’s cross-country competition is certainly the most spectacular and action-packed aspect of The Event. In cross country, horses ride at full gallop across an arduous course of obstacles. Rooted in military history, the competition tests speed, endurance, courage and skillfulness through difficult terrain and challenges. For the second consecutive year the Rebecca Farm course was designed by Ian Stark, one of the leading designers in the world, a multiple Olympic medalist and member of the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame. Stark has yet again created an exceptional four-mile course that features over 150 obstacles and four water complexes. One popular obstacle that remains a must-see is a “key hole” that horses must jump through. Competitors are timed and docked points for failing to complete obstacles. The Event is also one of the few places where riders can experience a long-format competition, which is one of the original equestrian contests and incorporates roads and tracks, steeplechase and cross-country.
The grand finale of The Event showcases the abilities of horse and rider to leap tall obstacles in an exciting display of physicality. Judges will examine precision, agility and technique as riders attempt to bound over impressive jumps situated inside a colorful arena. The object of the competition is to maneuver several jumps in a smooth, fluid manner. Last year, Kristi Nunnink used an impressive round in Sunday’s show jumping to edge runner-up Katherine Groesbeck to win the CIC*** division, the highest level of competition at The Event. Jolie Wentworth jumped through the only clean and fault-free round of show jumping and finished third.
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