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Entering the World Stage at Rebecca Farm
Kalispell one of 12 cities across the world hosting equestrian event
Ryan Starley, flight supervisor with H.E. Sutton Forwarding Company, escorts a horse from a 727 at Glacier Jet Center. Eighteen horses traveled from the east coast to participate in The Event at Rebecca Farm. - Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon
It’s not often that Kalispell finds itself on a roster of international cities stretching from Minsk, Belarus to Sydney, Australia. That is, of course, unless Rebecca Farm is involved. As the host of one of 12 stops of the 2010 HSBC/Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) World Cup, nearly 500 competitors and 20,000 spectators will descend upon the farm during The Event, held July 22-25.

“Every year The Event is growing and it’s getting bigger and better and more and more people continue to come,” Sarah Broussard Kelly, co-manager of The Event, said.

Along with The Event’s growth since its inception in 2001, more elite eventing riders are flocking to Rebecca Farm this year than ever before.

“Almost 50 of the top-level horses in the U.S. are competing here this weekend,” Kelly said.

This includes 18 horses that arrived at Glacier Jet Center Monday afternoon on a chartered flight from the East.

While the expense of shipping horses across the country by plane is astronomical, the transport highlights the logistical difficulties faced by elite riders attempting to place in the FEI Eventing World Cup.

Yet the rewards for the winners are rich. When the final competition concludes in Schenefeld, Germany, the top 15 riders will split a pot worth $180,000 and many of those riders will go on to represent their countries at the World Equestrian Games this September and perhaps the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. But as a rider’s top two placements count toward their final score, European riders have the historic advantage, as eight of the 12 stops will take place on their continent.

“The thing with the FEI is the game keeps changing,” Kelly said. “Part of it is that it wasn’t an extremely well-conceived idea in the beginning and wasn’t executed properly.”

Originally, 12 different World Cup qualifier events were held across the globe to determine which riders would compete in the final World Cup, which was held every year in a European location.

“It was very difficult to draw people to the final because it was a worldwide event,” Kelly said. “Geography got in the way.”

Due to the poor attendance, the FEI decided to scrap the final World Cup this year but still hold the qualifying events. Now, instead of qualifying to reach the final, riders compete in the any of the 12 competitions they can attend and their best two scores determine their overall placement.

For those unfamiliar with eventing, the sport consists of three separate disciplines: dressage, cross country and show jumping, earning it the moniker of a equine triathlon. The three components allow for a horse to display its full athletic prowess.

Dressage tests the balance and relationship between a horse and rider and highlights the horse’s obedience. The cross country test involves navigating a course strewn with obstacles. Show jumping, meanwhile, tests a horse’s leaping agility, similar to the human high jump. The horse and rider acquiring the fewest number of penalty points are declared the winner.

One unique aspect of eventing is that because horsemanship overrides physical strength, men and women are treated as physical equals and compete against each another.

The FEI’s original plan entailed that each country selected to host an event would only host one.

“We had to work hard to get two here because Europe has a difficult time grasping the size of the United States,” Kelly said. “Someone in France can feasibly go to six of them, while here, one person might have to drive across the U.S. to go to one.”

The FEI conceded in allowing the U.S. to host two, one held at Rebecca Farm and the other was held in Tallahassee, Fla., in March. Kelly expects some riders will compete in both states.

“If you want to compete and compete hard and fast and furious, which is what you have to do to be top in the sport, you need to go to where the events are,” she said.

Yet while geographical disadvantages are present for North American competitors, no events are held in South America, Africa, Asia or the Middle East.

“They actually have it worse than we do,” Kelly said. “We kind of forget about them.”

Like most equestrian events in the Northwest, The Event at Rebecca farm is free to spectators. Rebecca Farm operates through Montana Equestrian Events, which is a non-profit organization.

“We in no way shape or form make money on The Event,” Kelly said. “For us it happens to serve a purpose, which is providing an event for the competitors and their horses.”

Not only does the farm spend a lot of money on competitors, but Kelly ticks off a long list of other expenses the farm accrues, including horse stall construction, water and electricity bills, hiring and flying in officials, feeding and paying workers and purchasing the lumber for the jumps and the dressage arenas.

“I was a competitor for years and didn’t realize how difficult it was to make an event a business,” Kelly said.

Rebecca Farm also hosts an arts and crafts fair and concessions during The Event. Another tent was added to house the trade fair, which Kelly estimates is 30-40 percent larger than last year.

“I was listening to the messages last night and there are people still wanting to get in,” she said.

Besides the farm’s 100-member staff, nearly 400 volunteers offer their time to help pull off The Event.

“We could not do this without the support of the valley,” Kelly said. “It’s long and they get hot and tired from being in the sun all day but they manage to pull up their bootstraps.”

Despite the intensity and the lists that never get shorter, Kelly hates to see The Event end.

“It’s kind of depressing when it’s over,” she said. “Before it starts, we’re like frantic ants running around after our line gets disturbed, and then come Monday, there we are back in the line.”

To get to Rebecca Farm: From the junction of U.S. Highways 93 and 2, travel 2 miles north on Highway 93 to West Reserve Drive and go west 2 miles to Springcreek Road, then south on Springcreek. The Event entrance is 3/4 of a mile on the right.
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