I enjoyed a warm, sunny weekend at FENCE Horse Trials in Landrum, SC, over the weekend and recapped the proceedings for EN today.
Unlike straight dressage, with its uniformly metered ring, or showjumping variations-on-a-theme, cross-country has a dynamic x-factor that is unique to each event: the physical landscape into which the course is carved.
There are as many permutations as are there are horse trials on the eventing calendar. One of the more idiosyncratic landscapes belongs to FENCE Horse Trials, held each spring at Foothills Equestrian Nature Center in Landrum, SC.
The cross-country course is positioned on a long, sloping incline–the kind that leaves you huffing and puffing halfway through your course walk. In years past, the track has taken competitors from the bottom to the top of the hill, followed by a relatively flat breather, then back down with a handful of obstacles to tackle along the way. It was a true test of equine fitness and riders’ ability to keep their horses balanced on variable terrain.
FENCE is one of the longest running events in Area III, but with more and more events being added to the calendar each year, dwindling entries at recent FENCE horse trials seemed to indicate that riders were passing up the course in favor of those with less demanding terrain.
“It’s a challenging piece of ground for a cross-country course compared to what they’re competing against these days,” admits Jon Wells, who began designing the course in 1991.
Jon credits local event trainer Beth Perkins with reimagining the course in a way that eliminated the need to gallop back down the hill. Beth and another trainer, Amy Barrington, experimented with ideas for a new track under Jon’s guidance. “They brought a lot of energy to the course,” Jon says. The end result was a course that, despite some twists and turns that were necessary to make up for lost distance, rode quite well.
Other improvements included the purchase of an Aera Vator, which resulted in fantastic galloping, and new jumps.
Morris the Horse was a new addition to the Novice course, courtesy of the Tryon Riding & Hunt Club.
“Everybody seemed to like the changes,” says Pat Salomon of FENCE’s Equestrian Advisory Committee. She notes that the event was oversubscribed, a positive shift from dwindling entries in years past. “I think people were starting to the feel the buzz.”
Amy Barrington imparts some last minute cross-country advice to 10-year-old Emma Hay, who finished on her dressage score in Open Novice A aboard St. Patrick, age 24.
Sarah Kuhn, who finished first in Open Prelim B aboard her New Zealand-bred Clifton Zander, is a first-time FENCE competitor. She says she was surprised by the terrain but thankfully not unprepared: “I was glad I had my horses pretty fit because you’re pretty much running up a hill for five minutes.”
She says showjumping is Zander’s weakness–“I’ve actually never had a clear round on this horse before this weekend”–but thought that going showjumping on Sunday may have worked to their advantage. “He has a long stride that can be hard to contain in the showjumping,” she says. “He was maybe a little more tired having run cross-country so I could control him a little more!”
Sarah also competed Atlanta B, who was first after dressage and gathered a bit of time cross-country to finish in fourth. It was the mare’s first prelim, and Sarah was thrilled with her performance. “It was a good weekend,” she says.
Sarah and Zander, winners of Open Prelim B.
Christina Kearse also went home smiling, having won Open Training B on Hope For Moor.
“We won here the last time we competed here too,” Christina says, “so I think FENCE is our lucky place!”
Christina and Hope for Moor, winners of Open Training B.
Christina is the treasurer of the Clemson Intercollegiate Eventing Team, which showed up in full force to compete in the event’s Collegiate Team Challenge.
Over 30 riders from three universities–Clemson, Univerty of Georgia and University of Kentucky–participated in the Challenge. A whole section of barns, dubbed “College Town,” was dedicated to the students, who decked out their aisles with team banners and decor.
Leigh Casaceli, a Clemson rider, helped create the Intercollegiate Eventing League. (EN published a post by another co-founder of the League, Amelia Clyatt of UC Davis, earlier this year–click here to read.
Leigh explains that the League is an attempt to address the “no man’s land” that exists between being a Young Rider and being thrust into the adult amateur world. Entering college, many event riders lose the support system–parents, trainers, riding peer group–that they enjoyed growing up, and they risk falling out of the sport as a result. Leah writes a great blog on the subject called “The Unreal World of a College Eventer.”
“You don’t have to stop competing when you go to college,” Leigh says. “You can go to school and get a degree and compete. The League gives you a new support group–we don’t necessarily all ride with the same trainer but we come together for clinics and shows and cross-country schooling, and it’s really fun.”
Right now it’s set up as a West Coast League and an East Coast League, but Leigh says that if the concept catches fire anything is possible: a Midwest League, area championships, affordable collegiate clinics, and even a national championship similar to NAJYRC. The League appreciates the encouragement and advice it has received from USEA president Brian Sabo and intends to pitch the idea formally to the USEA in the near future.
“We want to get it started running first and prove to them that it works and that it can be successful,” Leigh says. “We’re really excited.”
Winner of the FENCE Collegiate Team Challenge: the UGA Alumni Team. Photo used with permission from Pat Salomon.
Click here for complete FENCE Horse Trials results.