Riders try best to `rein' at trials

Competition: A triathlon-like equestrian event makes Fair Hill International Horse Trials worth watching for riders and fans.

April 04, 2004|By Amanda Ponko | Amanda Ponko,SUN STAFF

CECIL COUNTY — Hundreds of horse enthusiasts gathered in Fair Hill over the weekend for the annual three-day Fair Hill International Horse Trials, where riders take part in eventing, a sport that resembles an equestrian triathlon.

The competition began Friday with dressage, which involves a series of graceful movements performed by horses on flat ground to demonstrate the communication and harmony between horse and rider.

Yesterday's competition featured show jumping, where horses attempted to clear a sequence of rails and hurdles in an enclosed arena. Today, the cross-country phase will conclude the event. Riders will lead horses through a timed obstacle course that includes ditches, water and embankments.

The cross-country event originally had been scheduled for yesterday and show jumping had been scheduled for today, but the days were switched after rain on Friday drenched the cross-country course.

Amy J. Daum, editor of Eventing USA, said the Fair Hill International event is part of the United States Eventing Association Gold Cup Series. The competition includes seven events around the country where riders, some of whom are Olympic hopefuls, vie for Gold Cup points, which can lead to prize money and trophies.

"It's one of the most exciting sports to watch, by far," she said. "You'd be surprised by the die-hard fans who will stand out in the pouring rain. They're a dedicated bunch."

The Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area north of Elkton on Route 273 is used because of its sprawling 5,613 acres, Daum said. That much land with a diverse terrain is difficult to come find, she said.

Ashley Johnson of Plymouth Meeting, Pa., a rider for 25 years and a fourth-year participant of the Fair Hill event, said she has noticed the sport gaining popularity over the past few years.

"The number of people and the number of events has definitely grown," she said yesterday. "It's a thrill-seeking type of riding ... kind of like extreme riding. It's more fun. I think that's why people like it so much."

Mary McMillen of White Post, Va., said most spectators attend because they know the riders. She came to watch and support her daughter, Molly, 17, who was competing in the events. "This sport does appeal to a lot of people," she said, "but I'd say it's mostly friends and family [of the riders] and equestrian enthusiasts."

Judy Thayer, a member of the organizational committee for Fair Hill International, said the bad weather might have had an effect on spectator attendance this year.

"We've had a fairly good turnout, but it's a little lighter than other years," she said yesterday. "It does seem that people have a little more awareness of [the sport]. All equestrian sports are growing."

Johnson said winners of the Fair Hill event do not receive money or trophies because it is primarily a qualification event for riders who want to be eligible for future international eventing competitions. Most of the riders travel to the same events throughout the country, she said, in hopes of winning larger competitions.

"My mom calls it a traveling circus," she said. "We all know each other. It's really nice, there's a lot of camaraderie."

The Fair Hill event continues today.

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