A look back; a look ahead

By Nancy Jaffer
January 2, 2016

One of the high points of the 2015 season was the Pan American Games gold medal won by the U.S. eventing squad of Marilyn Little, Phillip Dutton, Lauren Kieffer and Boyd Martin. (Photo by Lawrence J. Nagy)

There were plenty of good tidings for New Jersey’s equestrian community in 2015 that will be paying off in a happy new year during 2016.

The return of the Essex Horse Trials after a 20-year absence is among the most exciting, with a new venue set at Moorland Farms in Far Hills and an exhibition/demonstration this summer in preparation for holding the eventing competition itself on June 24, 2017.

Essex organizers Ralph Jones, Guy Torsillieri and course designer Morgan Rowsell will be building their competition into a premier event in years to come.

The Essex revival had its genesis in June’s Gladstone Gathering at the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation, where the equine-involved from the Somerset Hills and beyond got together for a “friend-raising.”

The idea was to spark conversation about increasing equestrian events and participation in the area. With a presence from the U.S. Equestrian Federation (CEO Chris Welton), the foundation (president Tucker Johnson) and the revived Gladstone Equestrian Association (president Jim Brady, who came up with the Gathering concept), the party helped raise consciousness to stimulate continued growth of horse sports in the area.

A goal was greater use of the historic foundation facility in Gladstone, which has state-of-the-art footing after an arena makeover and is undergoing a re-do of stalls that have housed some of the country’s most famous show jumping and dressage mounts.

New Jersey’s oldest show, Monmouth County, is moving away from its home turf this summer to be held at the foundation’s grounds. It should be the type of show that will draw competitors not only from Monmouth, Somerset and Hunterdon counties, but also from elsewhere for a chance to ride at one of the nation’s most cherished venues.

A highlight of 2015 was the boost the Jersey Fresh International Three-Day Event at the Horse Park of New Jersey in Allentown got from a big donation by Dr. Brendan Furlong, formerly the veterinarian for the U.S. eventing team. Attaching his name to the event strengthened its cachet and kept it part of the PRO (Professional Riders Organization) circuit.

The first 3-star victory by a New Jersey-owned horse, Carl and Cassie Segal’s veteran Ballynoe Castle RM, made this Jersey Fresh a memorable occasion for the record books.

A renewed spirit for the state’s biggest eventing competition (and word that the Horse Park will host a CIC 2-star this July) should help the growth of that discipline in New Jersey.

Meanwhile, though, fund raising to improve arena footing at the park has been slow. What is needed is an angel who will put out a matching grant to stimulate contributions. Better footing would bring more significant competitions to the park.

Suffering from a difficult economy and challenges for the horse industry in New Jersey, sadly some farms shut their doors every year in the Garden State. But it was encouraging to see the comeback of the old Snowbird facility on Schooley’s Mountain in Morris County as GG Farms under the guidance of new owner Bob Migliaccio.

Once a center for dozens of shows annually, the place had slid into disrepair. But it is getting a refreshed identity, where groups of stalls will be leased to trainers so they can run their own operations out of the complex, which is a way of making it more affordable to have a lesson and training business.

On the bad news side, the Dressage Festival of Champions presented by the Dutta Corp. is not coming back to Gladstone in 2016. The U.S. Equestrian Federation’s dressage championships are being split between Illinois and California, with the latter hosting the Grand Prix and Intermediaire I title matches in November at Epona Farms, while the other championships will be in August at Lamplight Farms.

The championships were last held at Gladstone in 2014, when the Grand Prix section was a selection trial for the World Equestrian Games. But selection trials weren’t held in 2015 for the Pan American Games and won’t be for the Rio Olympics this year, as the dressage horses go to Europe to hone their competitive edge. The 2015 title matches for Grand Prix and I-1 were contested last month in Florida, while the other classes were at Lamplight.

While praising Gladstone for its historic significance, Tim Dutta wouldn’t voice a preference for any specific site for the championships. He believes, however, it would help build the brand if they could be staged in the same location at the same date annually, so people could plan and the meet would become a destination, like Dressage at Devon.

Farther afield, many of the glorious equestrian moments of 2015 for once weren’t monopolized by Europe, but took place on this side of the Atlantic.

The Pan American Games don’t get the same respect globally as the European Championships, but they are also an Olympic qualifier and a showcase for the ever-improving equestrian scene in this hemisphere. Canada did a great job presenting the equestrian portion of the Pan Ams, where the U.S. eventing and dressage teams did what they had to do in style, winning gold to qualify for the Olympics, facing ever-improving competition from other nations in the hemisphere.

The Rio Games are a goal for so many riders in 2016, and for the U.S. equestrians, the August Olympics in Brazil may provide an opportunity to bounce back from the 2012 London Games where American riders went home without medals from an Olympis for the first time since1956.

Las Vegas, which hosted the World Cup finals in dressage for the fourth time and in show jumping for the sixth time in 2015, isn’t getting another shot in 2018 as expected. The FEI (international equestrian federation) felt the facility at the Thomas & Mack Center (home of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo) was outdated and rebid the Cup. It’s going to Paris in 2018, but will be held in Omaha in 2017 and could come back to Vegas at a different venue down the road.

The Reem Acra dressage finals in Vegas last year did host a milestone, as the world’s number one horse and rider in the discipline, Valegro and Charlotte Dujardin, defended their title and wowed the crowd. Charlotte returned to the U.S. five months later to make an appearance without Valegro in Central Park while the Pope was in town.

The USEF has been changing the way shows get their dates to allow leeway for new and inventive competitions. At the same time, USEF is working to broaden the scope of who is held responsible when a horse tests positive for a prohibited substance. The organization also want to hold shows to a higher standard, through a process that is still developing.

On the down side of 2015, the horrific butchering of a recently imported horse at Debbie and Steve Stephens’ farm in Florida last autumn reminded everyone that there is a market for horse meat and that every farm should up its security to prevent a similar occurrence.

December was marred by an EHV-1 outbreak at a farm in Bucks County, Pa. Four horses were euthanized, and it led to the cancellation of two New Jersey shows as a precautionary measure. (see On the Rail on this website.)

I traditionally end my year in review story with a bow to those we lost during the preceding 12 months. There are always too many distinguished horsemen and women who depart over any 12-month period, but here are a few we should take special time to remember:

In New Jersey, they included Essex Fox Hounds stalwarts Betty Merck and Appie Lorillard of Bedminster; Leo Conroy, a popular judge who was a pillar of the National Horse Show and previously had a career as a successful trainer in Colts Neck; and Jean Haller Reid, a founder of the original Essex Horse Trials at her Bedminster farm.

Further afield, dressage show manager Lloyd Landkamer is greatly missed. Karen Stives, Olympic team gold and individual silver eventing medalist from the 1984 Games, left us far too soon. Austin Kiplinger of the Washington International Horse Show departed after a long and fruitful life, as did longtime British show jumping chef d’equipe Ronnie Massarella.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someonePrint this pageShare on LinkedInPin on PinterestShare on Google+