The hoofbeats are audible first. Steady, thunderous — immediately conjuring imagery of a fantasy-epic cavalry charge or “Knight’s Tale” jousting scene.
Then come shouts from officials and spectators, “Rider coming!”
Over the hill at Rebecca Farm burst Oregon’s Nora Bissonette and her horse, Royce the Rolls of Ponies, cantering towards a wooden barrier a few feet tall.
“Come on boy, you got it,” Bissonette urged as Royce approached the barrier, planted his feet and soared clear of the jump. “Good boy,” she said, steering Royce towards the next jump along the course, then onwards through a makeshift western town and into a water feature, following the path of Lee-Anne Rhead and Desiderata, the rider-horse duo ahead of her.
This is cross country, equestrian-style, one of the three disciplines on display during The Event at Rebecca Farm, a high-level eventing competition in the West.
The Event at Rebecca Farm is internationally renowned as a premier destination for competitors, and last year the Kalispell location hosted the United States Eventing Association’s American Eventing Championships, marking only the second time the national championships have been held west of the Mississippi River, a testament to the caliber of Rebecca Farm, and of owner Sara Broussard’s dedication to the sport.
Now in its 22nd year, The Event evolved from a local equestrian competition known as the Herron Park Horse Trials that started in the 1980s. Sarah Broussard first discovered the sport as a 10-year-old, but there were few competitions in the region. So, her mother, Rebecca Broussard, got involved with the Horse Trials to grow the local opportunities. In 2002, the Broussards found the 640-acre property west of Kalispell and created their own course to host competitions.
Eventing is an equestrian triathlon that comprises three disciplines: dressage, cross country and show jumping. Dressage is akin to a ballet and demonstrates the relationship between horse and rider while they perform a series of movements at various speeds. In show jumping, horses and their riders navigate a series of obstacles through a course in a closed arena. As it is usually the final event, jumping is considered a true stamina test for horses that have been competing for days.
In cross country, considered the highlight of an eventing competition, horses are required to cover long distances, negotiating countryside hazards and jump natural, and human-crafted obstacles. While Rebecca Farm showcases top-notch arenas for dressage and show jumping, it’s the cross country course that draws additional international acclaim, and it happens to be Broussard’s favorite discipline.
“It sounds silly, but I can tell whether [a horse] is happy or not, and whether they love to do cross country,” Broussard told the Beacon. “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.”
Rebecca Farm’s campus includes a four-mile cross country course that features more than 150 obstacles and five water complexes. The course is known for the unique artistry of its obstacles, which often pay homage to Western Montana, as with features such as large wooden trout, cowboy hats and trains, but which also adopt a decidedly more fantastical bent, such as its sequence of carved wooden dinosaurs feasting on a stable hand.
Outside a makeshift jailhouse in a staged Western town, which riders must navigate on their approach to a water feature, Tina Mason was keeping track of each competitor as a jump judge, reporting when each pair passed by the sheriff’s office.
“You never know which jumps will cause issues and which horses will balk at a jump,” Mason said. “Riders will sail through harder ones, but then an easy jump in the middle of the field will cause trouble.”
Mason lives on Vancouver Island, Canada, and has served as a jumping judge at eventing competitions throughout Canada and the United States while her daughter, Kyla, competes.
Five years ago, the Masons came to The Event at Rebecca Farm to spectate, and Kyla made it a goal to return as a competitor to the storied course once she was ready. After spending a portion of the year training in California, Kyla returned to Kalispell with her family, competing with her horse, Wild Child. She started off with a second-place finish in her division in dressage, with her cross country trial scheduled for Saturday.
“There’s just something special about this venue for sure. We don’t have anything like this back in B.C.,” Mason said. “It’s like the Disneyland of Eventing.”
The Event at Rebecca Farm continues through July 23 and features a shopping fair, food concessionaires and a kid’s zone in addition to the main event. 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.
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