UPDATE: The Mars Essex Horse Trials is ready to run

By Nancy Jaffer
June 25, 2017

The dream has become reality. How often do vanished equestrian competitions come back to life? That’s why it was so special yesterday when the Mars Essex Horse Trials got under way for the first time since 1998.

Speaking at the awards presentation, former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean recalled how a few years ago, people were saying, “What if we could get these trials to come back, and what if we could do them at Moorland Farm? It was a dream.” Then he turned to Guy Torsilieri and said, “You and Ron (Kennedy) make dreams come true.” The two men, who run the Far Hills Race Meeting at Moorland, were catalysts for reviving Essex, which was the type of competition to which rising eventers aspired. And now a new generation will be able to have the same ambition..

How appropriate that Buck Davidson–who competed at Essex in the days when it was held at the U.S. Equestrian Team in Gladstone–swept first through fourth places in the Open Preliminary section with Victor BZ, Dutch Harbor, Harry and Eroll Gobey respectively at the new venue, Moorland Farm in Far Hills.

Buck Davidson on his second-place mount, Dutch Harbor, with third-place Harry, left, and winner Victor BZ. (Photo by Nancy Jaffer)

The Preliminary Rider division went to Alice Roosevelt on Fernhill Zero. Alice, the great-great-great granddaughter of President Theodore Roosevelt, is only 16 and not surprisingly, had been unfamiliar with Essex. After all, it ended before she was born.

There was one big hurdle to overcome before the competitive jumping began. Friday night, a downpour left three inches of rain. It flooded some of the stabling (horses were moved to other stalls) and drenched the dressage arenas. They were a bit mushy, so after Saturday’s dressage phase, the white fences were moved to fresh ground for Sunday’s dressage.

Aside from that, things ran smoothly for what was essentially a first-time event with a well-known name.

“I think it was a great start,” Guy said, but he is looking forward to next year as the event grows and adds more advanced divisions.

The care and effort that went into this year’s event bodes well for the future. The seriousness of the enterprise was emphasized by its $26,800 prize money, an eye-opener for the levels competing.On Thursday, a cross-country course walk  was an exciting reveal of handsome fences and the thought behind them at Moorland.

Course designer Morgan Rowsell, the event’s co-organizer with Ralph Jones, gave dozens of people (including another former New Jersey governor, Christie Whitman) a quick and insightful education about eventing.

Guy Torsilieri, former New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman and Far Hills Mayor Paul Vallone (Photo by Nancy Jaffer)

There are four tracks this year: Beginner Novice, Novice, Training and Preliminary. There are two sections for every division except Novice, which has two for Novice Rider and one for Open Novice.

Oh, did I mention that the course walk was preceded and followed by a cocktail party? Drinks included the Hoopstick, named after the Haller family farm in Bedminster where the event began in 1968, and there was an amazing cake topped by, what else a jump (it was edible, of course.)

Julie Berman, who keeps everyone organized at the Essex Horse Trials, with her husband, Bill, and the wonderful cake. (Photo by Lawrence J. Nagy)

Everyone attending the party gamely headed out onto the course, abandoning drinks, sliders and salads, to follow Morgan as he made the circuit of his route.

We covered a lot of ground, and got a feel of what the horses have in store, though I hope they will be fitter than a lot of us were for such serious exercise.

Join Morgan in the following video clips as he discusses the highlights of the course.

The first stop is by the landmark race announcer’s tower, where he explains 11 A, B and C, and the challenge of eventing on a steeplechase track.

The fences are very clever. I particularly like number 12, the Moorland Barn, that’s between the tower and Ralph’s Cedar, number 13.

Buck Davidson and Mars Essex Horse Trials Open Preliminary winner Victor BZ at the barn jump that mimics the real thing. (Photo by Nancy Jaffer)

Next we went to the water jump, 14ABC, the Far Hills Splash.

Then we visited the huge trakehner fence, number 15, aptly named Look and Leap.

After that it was 16AB, Life’s an Open Road, an oxer followed by a brush corner.

We finished up our tour with 18ABC, the Lazy River Bend, a giant log that horses jump before heading downhill to a ditch and then turning toward a rolltop.

Here’s a map of the preliminary course.

If you want to come out to the horse trials, you can see dressage, cross-country and show jumping either day.  Times may be subject to some change, but at the moment, plans call for Novice and Preliminary to be held on Saturday, with dressage starting at 9 a.m. and running until 2:25 p.m.; Novice show jumping goes from 11:30 a.m.-1:55 p.m.; cross-country for both levels from noon to 3:50 and Preliminary show jumping is set from 5:30-6:45 p.m.

On Sunday, dressage runs from 8:35 a.m. to 12:35 p.m. Cross-country is 10:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m., with show jumping ending the day from 12:15-3 :55 p.m.

Tickets are $10 per person if you buy them at the Essex website, www.essexhorsetrials.org . They are good for two days. Tickets at the gate are $20. Kids 14 and under get in free.

Non-equestrian attractions include activities for children, a classic car show, the vendor village and dining options.

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