Sports

The Mane Event Returns

After a subdued event last summer, The Event returns in full swing for the 20th anniversary celebration of the equestrian triathlon

By Micah Drew
Samantha Hollow-Bist and her horse Scout compete in Show Jumping at The Event at Rebecca Farm on July 27, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Unlike last year, when the days leading up to The Event at Rebecca Farm were subdued and without pomp, this year the 640-acre property is bustling with competitors and horses arriving early, vendors are preparing for a shopping fair and staff is ensuring the arenas, cross country course and stables are in mint condition. 

“Last year was unique and special and lovely, and I say that because it was very reminiscent of that first Event,” said Sarah Broussard, owner of Rebecca Farm and event manager for the largest equestrian triathlon in the west. “Obviously we had COVID and had to deal with all of that, but it reminded me of the good old days and I got to spend more time with the competitors because we only had about 300.”

By July 21, nearly 600 competitors and horses will descend upon the farm just west of Kalispell to take part in the 20th anniversary of The Event, a Flathead summer staple that electrifies diehard fans and introduces new ones to the equestrian triathlon known as eventing. 

“It’s a unique sport in that men and women, amateurs and professionals, everyone plays in the same sandbox,” Broussard said, noting that some Olympians were trying to finagle their schedules to compete in The Event before heading to Toyko for the 2020 Olympic Games. “It’s just nice to be back.”

The Event originated in the mid 1980s as the Herron Park Horse Trials, a small competition with mostly local riders. Sarah Broussard first discovered the sport as a 10-year-old, but there were few competitions in the region to travel to, so her mother, Rebecca Broussard, got involved with the Horse Trials in order to grow the local opportunities. 

“My mother was very big on education, educating this valley about the sport,” Broussard said. “This is a sport that I fell in love with, and then she fell in love with it and wanted to share that passion and expose other people to it.”

In 2002, the Broussards found the current property and created their own course in order to host a competition that had outgrown the Herron Park grounds. Rebecca served as the event manager for The Event at Rebecca Farm for eight years until she passed away, and Sarah has been in charge ever since. 

From the first iteration, which had around 240 competitors, The Event has grown into one of the largest eventing competitions west of the Mississippi and garnered an international reputation. 

“People dream of coming to Rebecca Farm,” Broussard said. “And it’s special to know that we hold that place with people.”

Madison Chisholm rides Beechcraft through a Cross Country course at The Event at Rebecca Farm on July 27, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Eventing began as a way to test military horses, showcasing the skills and style it took to be considered a great horse on and off the battlefield. Eventually, “militaire” evolved into modern day eventing competitions. 

Competitors take part in three disciplines: dressage, cross country and show jumping. Dressage is a demonstration of communication between horse and rider, where the duo performs a series of movements at various horse speeds — walk, trot, canter — and is akin to a ballet. Judges look for balance, rhythm, obedience and harmony throughout the sequences with top pairs effortlessly controlling each movement. 

Show jumping tests the ultimate stamina of a horse that has competed for several days straight. Horse and rider move through a course and jump a series of obstacles at set heights, and Rebecca Farm is known for having a challenging arena with the maximum amount of difficult jumps allowed.

Broussard’s favorite of the three disciplines also happens to be the most exciting and dangerous: cross country. Considered the highlight of an eventing competition, cross country mimics battlefield conditions cavalry would encounter, forcing horses to ride long distances, negotiate countryside hazards and jump natural obstacles. 

“The great thing about cross country is you can literally be out there, standing [yards] from a jump and hear the horses comes through and feel it,” Broussard said. “And I don’t know any other word for it, some of the jumps we have are just huge.”

The four-mile course features more than 150 obstacles and four water complexes, and is known internationally for the unique artistry of the obstacles. Featured obstacles throughout the years pay homage to Western Montana and have included large wooden trout, cowboy hats and trains. 

“It sounds silly, but I can tell whether [a horse] is happy or not, and they love to do cross country,” Broussard said. “Because there’s no way I could make a 1,200 pound animal do something it didn’t want to do. Let’s be realistic, they’re going to put their foot down and not do it.”

“And I think that a lot of people, unless they know the sport, don’t know that horses can do things like that,” she continued. 

The Event at Rebecca Farm runs July 21-25 and features a shopping fair, food concessionaires and a kids zone in addition to the main events. Entrance to The Event is free, but a $10 parking donation is suggested to support Halt Cancer at X.

To learn more about The Event at Rebecca Farm visit www.rebeccafarm.org and be sure to stop by the hospitality tent to find out everything happening each day. 

Paige Thorson rides her horse Fernhill Stateside through a Cross Country course at The Event at Rebecca Farm on July 27, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

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