The long wait was worth it! The highly anticipated return of the famed Mars Essex Horse Trials was everything everyone hoped. The huge crowd enjoyed perfect weather and top-notch competition in a beautiful setting at historic Moorland Farm in Far Hills, N.J.
With a large turnout including former New Jersey governors Thomas Kean and Christine Todd Whitman, Saturday's competition lineup included Novice and Preliminary events. USEF veteran Buck Davidson of Unionville, Pa., captured the top four places in the Open Preliminary division, taking top honors on the 7-year-old Warmblood gelding, Victor BZ, owned by Carl and Cassie Segal.
"It was fantastic," said Davidson. "It turned out even better than I expected. Last year they showed me their dreams and for it to come off like this is unbelievable. It was so exciting to see all these people. These events don't happen without the support of the community and the community sure showed up. They've done a great job here. I hope they are happy with the result. I sure am and I'll definitely be back next year!"
Alice Roosevelt and Fernhill Zoro. Joan Davis / Flatlandsfoto Photo.
New York rider Alice Roosevelt took top honors on Simon Roosevelt's Fernhill Zoro, a 9-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Verdi x Oronia Z) in the Preliminary Rider division. Roosevelt was not even born when the last Essex Horse Trials took place as the young rider is only 16 years old and entering her junior year of high school.
"I was not expecting to win, it meant a lot to see that all our hard work paid off," said Roosevelt. "It was a really great course, it rode really well. My goal here was just to put in my best effort. It's so exciting to win and I am definitely happy that I came!"
Earlier in the day the Novice divisions were held and the first rider on the cross-country course ended in first place. Elizabeth Goodwin rode Pik C to the winner's circle in the Novice Rider "A" division and Jessie Hayes rode Rivendell to victory in Novice Rider "B". USEF veteran Jennie Brannigan took the top two spots in the Open Novice division winning with Lamondale Florinia.
"We really couldn't be any happier with how everything went this week," said Ralph Jones, President of the Essex Horse Trials Board of Directors. "The support we received from the local area, our sponsors and the eventing community has been absolutely overwhelming. All the positive feedback we have received assures us that we are on the right track and we look forward to an even bigger and better event next year."
Hallie Coon on Captain Chacco. Joan Davis / Flatlandsfoto Photo.
This year's Essex Horse Trials featured Beginner Novice through Preliminary levels with riders vying for $25,000 in prize money. Among the riders who participated was international eventing star Davidson, who competed both days, sweeping the top four places in Saturday's Open Preliminary Division
"I think this event was amazing," said Davidson. "These events don't happen without the support of the community and the community showed up. It was very exciting. As much as I enjoyed this year's event, I am really looking forward to coming back again next year."
On Sunday, the Training and Beginner Novice Divisions took center stage. The winner of the Open Training Division was Hallie Coon on Captain Chacco. The Training Rider Division was won by Lacey Ogden riding Cooley Ground Control. Lauren Hannah and Bear Necessity captured the Open Beginner Novice Division and the Beginner Novice Rider Division winner was Alesandra Rodgers on Fernhill Cork Blues.
Two special awards were also presented on the final day of competition. The Jean and Elliot Haller Award, given to the rider who demonstrated good horsemanship and a superior partnership between horse and rider, was awarded to Anne Hambleton. Hambleton grew up in the Far Hills area and is a graduate 'A' of the Somerset Hills Pony Club. She also competed at the old Essex Horse Trials. Sally Ike accepted the award on behalf of Hambleton who won for her rides on Saturday, but could not be present on Sunday.
Buck Davidson, Holly Payne Caravella and Kate Chadderton with Somerset Hills Pony Clubbers who won a chance for a meet & greet photo op session with the eventing stars.
Kira Cibak of the Amwell Valley Hounds Pony Club won the Golden Nugget Memorial Trophy. The award was presented to the Pony Club rider to the lowest scoring member of Pony Club aged 18 or younger who has completed all three phases of the Essex Horse Trials in any division. The Trophy was donated by Clarissa Wilmerding to encourage the development of young riders as well-rounded horsemen with an appreciation for eventing and a commitment to good sportsmanship.
For three decades, the Essex Horse Trials was one of the highlights of the equestrian calendar, attracting top American and international competitors as well as thousands of fans who enjoyed its social aspects as well. The trials were originally conceived in 1968 as a competition for less experienced riders and horses.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the event continued to grow. It expanded to a three-day format and eventually moved to the United States Equestrian Team headquarters at Hamilton Farm in Gladstone, where riders competed for positions at both the Olympic Games and World Championships. The event ended on its 30th anniversary in 1998 when some of the USET land was developed.
We all work hard to get our horses shiny and clean for competition day, but it can sometimes take a bit of extra elbow grease to get those grey or white horses looking their best. Rachael Livermore, head groom for Sharon White at Last Frontier Farm, shares some of the tricks she uses to get Sharon's horses looking spick and span - and it starts with everyday care!
This is it! The weekend we've all been waiting for is finally here - the return to competition has arrived! After nearly three months of suspended competitions in light of the COVID-19 pandemic that has swept the country and the world, riders are shining up their boots and preparing to trot down the centerline. While our "new normal" will certainly look different than things did before the pandemic, these new regulations are in place for all our safety.
The return to competition upon us! This week on the show Nicole Brown is joined by Sinead Halpin Maynard to talk about how you can make sure you and your horse are prepared to get back to competing.
This article will be updated to include statements as they are released from upcoming USEA recognized events regarding actions they are taking due to the coronavirus (COVID-19).