Throughout 2023, the United States Eventing Association will be putting the spotlight on each area and sharing how they will uniquely contribute to the growth of the sport of eventing. After starting the series with Area X, the next area featured is Area III.
The United States Eventing Association’s (USEA) Area III has become a hotspot for eventing. It’s quite literally a hotspot because the warm weather attracts riders and horses from around the country during the winter with more events scheduled in 2023 than any other area in the country.
“Riders are just doing everything in the area now,” said Area III Chair Rick Dunkerton, who also serves as secretary at many events. “They’re going over there to do jumpers and dressage, so they’re just bringing more horses down and taking advantage of the area.”
Starting with the Rocking Horse December H.T. (Altoona, Florida) and Sporting Days Farm H.T. (Aiken, South Carolina) that represented first USEA-recognized events for the 2022-2023 season during the weekend of December 3 until the Pine Top Thanksgiving H.T. (Thomson, Georgia) that will close out the season during the weekend of November 25, there will be 63 events scheduled on the USEA calendar for Area III. From January 13 to April 23, there is at least one event every weekend.
“Area III is where everybody comes for the winter,” said Emily Holmes, who organizes the Ocala events at the Florida Horse Park. “You have so much competition. It’s so easy to put yourself up against other people at the same level and see where you’re at. I love that Area III is so competitive.”
Events will range from nine one-day events at Full Gallop Farm in Aiken, to six horse trials at both Rocking Horse and Ocala in Florida with a large number of entrants ranging from 500 to 700 for each show, to destination events like TerraNova in Myakka City, Florida, which will host Area III’s lone CCI4*-L in 2023 from November 17-19. There will also be five CCI4*-S: at TerraNova from March 31-April 2, Stable View (Aiken, South Carolina) from April 7-9 and September 29-Oct. 1, Ocala from April 20-23, and Chattahoochee Hills (Fairburn, Georgia) from October 28-29. In Tennessee, there are five events at River Glen (New Market, Tennessee), which added a CCI3*-S starting in 2020 to its River Glen Summer H.T. The Area III Championships will take place at the Chattahoochee Hills H.T. on July 1-2.
“I’m so busy right now,” Dunkerton said. “I do all the events down in Florida, so it’s nonstop right now. I’ll handle one, two, three, four events a weekend around the country.”
The states making up Area III are Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee. In particular, Aiken and Ocala are major hubs for eventing and other equestrian sports.
The support of Area III doesn’t just come from riders based in and visiting the area but also from the community. In particular, Dick Owen of Daytona Beach, Florida, was not only Area III’s top volunteer but also the USEA’s Volunteer Incentive Program Volunteer of the Year for 2022 with 489.5 hours of service.
Some significant changes in Area III from 2022 to 2023 include adding a CCI4*-L and second show for the year at The Event at TerraNova. In its third year, TerraNova has become a major destination thanks to the commitment to the future of eventing by the facility’s founders—Steve and Natalee Herrig, their daughter Hannah Ketelboeter, and her husband, Zach Ketelboeter.
“They have painstakingly taken the time to do everything right,” TerraNova organizer Shelley Page said. “They put in permanent irrigation on the cross-country. They have built amazing competition stabling. Every time you go there, they just continue to grow and get better.”
Said Hannah Ketelboeter: “It was our vision from the beginning to make a spectacular world-class venue that people at all levels could experience that championship feel no matter if you’re at Starter or at four-star.”
Also, the Ocala International Festival of Eventing will run a CCI4*-S for the first time in 2023.
“I’m very excited about that,” Holmes said. “When I started at the [Florida] Horse Park, it was my main goal to get a four-short there. I keep joking that I can retire now, but they don’t like it when I say that.”
While events like Ocala can attract upwards of 600 competitors, Holmes emphasizes having a personal touch.
“As an organizer, I really like to be able to be approached,” she said. “At this point, almost all the riders know me and have my phone number. If they have issues, they’re going to call me, and I like it that way. I want to be able to be interactive with the competitors.”
Events in Area III are investing in the sport’s future, such as with frangible fence technology and footing.
“It is by far the most frangible technology of any event I work at,” cross-country builder Eric Bull said about TerraNova, citing approximately 10 jumps per level for Modified, Preliminary, Intermediate, and Advanced.
Added Holmes: “The majority of Area III, we obsess over our footing.”
Holmes also serves as the Organizers Representative for Area III and takes pride in the entire area, in addition to the events she runs.
“The shows are produced professionally. To me, it’s the cat’s meow,” she said.
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