Apr 05, 2024

Gretchen Butts and Waredaca Celebrate 20 Years of the Classic Three-Day

By Lindsay Berreth - USEA Staff
USEA/Jessica Duffy photo

Gretchen Butts grew up in the long-format era of eventing in the 1970s, completing the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event in 2003 and 2004 and finishing one of the last long-format Burghley Horse Trials (England) in 2004 on her beloved Zydeco.

As the era of the long-format came to a close, Butts, who’d been hosting recognized competitions at her Waredaca Farm in Laytonsville, Maryland, since 1979, knew she didn’t want to see the education and horsemanship a long format event required go by the wayside.

“That was the way of life for eventing then. You had your spring and fall three-day, and you worked around that schedule. The horses had some downtime in the summer, and they had their spring and fall goals,” she said. “Winters we didn’t all travel to Florida or Aiken. It was just a different way of a life and a different way the sport went. I worked with David and Karen [O’Connor] and Jimmy [Wofford] primarily and developed an appreciation of just how critical that partnership [with your horse] is in being successful, whether or not you win ribbons. It was the partnership, the harmony, the synchronization of the partnership; that was the goal.

“Having experienced that and realizing what horsemanship it teaches people, it just seemed like it needed to continue,” she added. “There needed to be some longevity for that experience because it was so meaningful for the horses and the riders both to have that partnership.”

Butts, who served as USEA’s Vice President of Education at the time, and her Waredaca team created the Waredaca Training Three-Day in 2004, which ran as an educational event.

In 2005, the USEA Classic Series was launched, and from there, Waredaca has led the way, hosting three-day divisions alongside their regular October recognized horse trial from Beginner Novice through Preliminary, and most recently adding a Modified Three-Day division. They’re celebrating 20 years this October.

Gretchen Butts (right) has hosted the Waredaca Classic Three-Day for 20 years at her Waredaca Farm. Photo courtesy of Gretchen Butts

Butts had experience hosting adult camps at Waredaca, where she would bring in coaches like David O’Connor and Michael Page, and she utilized expert experience to offer course walks, steeplechase and Phase A and C practice rides, and lectures in the early years of the Three-Day. She strives to continue those educational opportunities each year, making the weekend not just a competition, but an opportunity for learning.

Butts, who now serves as an FEI level 2 steward, level 3 dressage judge, and level 3 technical delegate, admits she was a little hesitant to add a Beginner Novice division a few years ago, but it’s become very popular. A Modified division has also become useful for riders trying to qualify for the FEI’s CCI1* division.

“My initial feeling of adding Beginner Novice was, these guys aren’t ready to do steeplechase,” she said. “Just the expectation both horse and rider could do at that level was clearly a different skill set that they were bringing into it, but then I realized two things—that the sustainability of the Classic is dependent on those who participate as much as anything, and if these guys are eager and interested, why not just give them the opportunity and scale it down for their level and give them a chance to do it?”

For their 20th anniversary, Butts is hoping to find more sponsorship so she can offer prize money and will be reaching out to top riders to share their stories of long-format eventing through video or writing.

“It’s a labor of love for all of us [on the committee for the three-day]. It’s strengthened and become even more immersive,” she said. “We tell people ahead of time that it will be an immersion experience. It’s going to be overwhelming at times, but it all makes it worthwhile. It’s such an incredible experience for them. We have some of the same people and horses coming back year after year. It’s their Kentucky. It’s a very attainable goal for all of them if they did the homework.”

About the USEA Classic Series

The USEA Classic Series keeps the spirit of the classic long ­format three­-day events alive for Beginner Novice through the Preliminary levels, including the Modified level as well. Competitors can experience the rush of endurance day, including roads and tracks, steeplechase, the vet box, and cross­-country, as well as participate in formal veterinary inspections and educational activities with experts on the ins and outs of competing in a long ­format three-­day event. Riders who compete in a USEA Classic Series event during the year will have the chance to win a variety of prizes at the events from USEA sponsors. Click here to learn more about the USEA Classic Series.

The USEA would like to thank bronze sponsors SmartPak Equine and D.G. Stackhouse & Ellis Saddles, as well as contributing sponsors Bates Saddles and Parker Equine Insurance for supporting the USEA Classic Series.

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