Seventeen years into coordinating the monumental logistical puzzle that is hosting one of the world’s largest equestrian triathlons, Sarah Broussard and her team are better now than ever at pulling off the annual July weekend they call simply The Event.
But that doesn’t mean they’re making it any simpler for themselves.
“Certain aspects I think have gotten easier,” Broussard mused. “But as we add more horses and we add more competition, there are parts of it that become more difficult.”
“The Event at Rebecca Farm, fortunately, is a very popular event and people want to come here, so we try to accept as many of them as we can,” she continued. “That’s why we end up getting bigger, is we try to figure out ways we can accommodate more competitors.”
The field, Broussard believes, has finally maxed out in recent years. She expects around 650 competitive teams to again be on hand July 18-22, each consisting of at the very least a horse, rider, gear and trailer, and most residing for about a week on Rebecca Farm. There is so much interest in The Event, in fact, that some aspiring entrants are turned away because the space is not available.
And then there are the nearly 10,000 spectators from Kalispell and beyond who will take advantage of the free admission and typically sun-splashed surroundings to watch a little eventing, browse through the offerings of nearly 100 on-site vendors, send the little ones off to a free kids play area, and grab a drink and a bite to eat from the food truck village. In total, The Event generated approximately $5.5 million in local economic impact last year, according a study completed by the University of Montana Institute for Tourism and Recreational Research.
So the weekend has, somewhat remarkably, become a circle-on-the-calendar-worthy happening despite its roots in an obscure sport. And the answer why may lie in Broussard’s own passion — for the sport she once competed in, the community she was raised in and the animals who star in the show.
Broussard’s late mother, Rebecca, is the family farm’s namesake and the driving force behind The Event, which she spearheaded in its early years, and the family’s core mission is education. The Broussards have contributed $7.5 million to Flathead Valley Community College in the last 18 years, according to the school, and that commitment to education has spilled over into the equestrian competition.
“It’s education in so many different ways,” Broussard said. “My mother, part of her mission was to educate the Flathead Valley about the sport of eventing … It’s very unique and it’s a great sport, not only for the sport that you’re doing but for the camaraderie with those you’re doing it with. We’re a very supportive group of people.”
The Event’s educational thrust has led to two major additions in recent years, one for competitors and another for attendees.
In 2017, Rebecca Farm became home to the North American Junior/Young Rider Championships, sometimes called the Junior Olympics of eventing. That competition will return this summer and in 2019, and features an elite group of juvenile riders who had to qualify just to be admitted into the field. It’s the same competition a young Broussard once entered and something she says offers invaluable lessons to young riders as they prepare for the highest levels of the sport.
“The Young Riders Championship is something that is important to me,” she said. “It was part of my riding career, and I want to be able to provide that for today’s young riders and give them a chance to have some fun while they’re out there, too.”
As for young spectators, a free play area for kids is once again part of the weekend, featuring face painting, pony rides, a mini-golf course and more, and a popular educational horsemanship class called PonyUp! will be held within that kids area for the second straight summer.
“Not every child here grows up with a horse in the backyard,” Broussard said. “There are those that really know nothing about horses, and to be able to provide a venue for that type of interaction and education is very fulfilling for us.”
Eight total PonyUp! classes will be run Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with each lasting approximately one hour. The interactive courses focus on both how to ride a horse and, just as importantly, how to behave near horses to ensure safe, fulfilling interactions.
As for the competition itself, eventing is contested in three stages — dressage, cross country and show jumping — and judging will be done at a number of different classifications based on the skill level of the horse and rider. Spectators will find dressage contested in the competition’s early days and show jumping in the final days, but the main attraction is the cross-country course, once again created by world-renowned designer and equestrian champion Ian Stark.
In cross country, horses navigate obstacles strategically placed over a sprawling 4-mile course that includes sharp corners, brief treks through water and impediments shaped like ducks, moose, dinosaurs and more, each custom-built for this competition. Viewers should head for so-called Spectator Hill to get the best view of the course as a whole, but those in attendance can also venture down near their favorite obstacles to get an up-close look at the action.
There is no charge to attend The Event at Rebecca Farm, although a $10 per day (or $25 full week) parking donation is recommended, with proceeds benefitting Halt Cancer at X, a nonprofit that supports cancer research efforts. Organizers are also asking attendees to bring their own water bottle this year in an effort to reduce waste. Filling stations will be located throughout the property, and all spigots on the farm may be used to fill bottles as well.
Those interested in taking part in PonyUp! classes are encouraged to preregister and can do so by calling (406) 261-7665 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Classes are held Friday and Saturday at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., and on Sunday at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Rebecca Farm is located at 1010 West Spring Creek Road in Kalispell. For more information on The Event, visit www.rebeccafarm.org.
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