May 30, 2023

The Organizers of the USEA Classic Series: Dr. Christel Carlson

By Erin Tomson - USEA Classic Three-Day Event Task Force
Dr. Christel Carlson of Spokane Sport Horse Farm. Cyra Carlson photo.

The USEA Classic Series is going strong thanks to the hard work and enthusiasm of event organizers who are committed to the thrill of long-format eventing. Dr. Christel Carlson, M.D. is one of the biggest champions of the program. A former competitor, she continues to contribute countless hours to the USEA as an organizer, judge (R), volunteer, and member of multiple committees. She is the owner of Spokane Sport Horse Farm in Spokane, Washington, which hosts two USEA recognized events each year. The facility’s fall event, which closes out the season in Area VII, includes Classic Three-Day divisions at the Beginner Novice, Novice and Training levels.

Carlson is especially committed to the Classic Series and sees many benefits of the program, particularly for the partnership between horse and rider. Being well prepared for endurance day at a Classic Three-Day Event requires weeks of fitness work, which has benefits for both parties. Carlson said the preparation helps the rider understand their partner because of the increased time spent together with greater attention to detail. For example, you feel their legs and back more often, monitor how they eat and drink and get to know their TPR range in work and at rest.

Carlson noted, “For the rider, you’ll get fitter! And you’ll really come to love and appreciate your horse. I used to spend the trot sets singing to mine. A friend and I often trained together. That friend and I are still best friends 40 years later.”

The horse will also become more fit and spend more time with their rider out on trails and in nature, as opposed to just training in the dressage or show jumping arena, which can be far more interesting and engaging for horses than doing too much arena work.

Spokane Sport Horse Farm in Spokane, Washington. Cyra Carlson photo.

From an organizer’s perspective, there are additional challenges to organizing a Classic Three-Day Event along with a horse trial. Expense is increased, for example, due to the need for additional officials. The facility will also need steeplechase fences, which require flags and numbers, additional tracks have to be prepared and maintained, porta potties may need to be placed in more remote locations for volunteers, and more.

Carlson also discussed the importance of choosing judges and Technical Delegates that have an interest in working a Classic, which requires in-barn inspections, two horse inspections with the veterinarian, and monitoring the 10-minute box. Additionally, not all course designers are interested or have the experience to design the tracks necessary for a Classic Three-Day Event. Some show secretaries may not be willing to do the scheduling and oversee the scoring, which has several layers for endurance day.

The number of personnel needed for endurance day is greatly increased for a Classic Three-Day. Phases A and C, also known as roads and tracks, require gate judges. Phase B, also known as steeplechase, requires jump judges, and Phase D, also known as cross-country, may require additional jump judges if the course varies from the horse trial divisions. Starters and timers are required for Phases A and C, in addition to those running the cross-country start box. The event also needs volunteers for the horse inspections, 10-minute box, and finish line cool-down area.

Despite the challenges that come with organizing, Carlson is committed to running Classic events at Spokane Sport Horse Farm. “I believe in it," she said. "I believe in the partnership developed. I believe it relives some of the history of the sport. I believe it gives lower levels, who may never do FEI long format, a chance to experience the thrills of the entire day. They get experience with a vet box, steeplechase, and they meet officials passionate for the sport.”

A competitor during Endurance Day at the Spokane Sport Horse Farm Classic Three-Day Event. Cyra Carlson photo.

The educational component of participating in a Classic Three-Day Event is also invaluable. In addition to competing, riders can attend discussions and practical demonstrations on topics such as what the dressage judges are looking for, how to ride steeplechase, how to present your horse for the trot-up and what to expect in the 10-minute box and at the finish line. Carlson also provides educational opportunities for veterinary students from nearby Washington State University, who are invited to meet FEI vets and participate in the action at the cross-country vet box and finish.

The USEA Board of Governors recently voted to decrease the minimum eligibility requirements (MERs) for Beginner Novice and Novice Classic Three-Day Events, which Carlson and others on the Classic Series Task Force worked toward for quite some time. As of May 1, 2023, horse and rider combinations need only one MER as a pair to qualify for a Beginner Novice or Novice level Classic Three-Day Event. In the past, four MERs were required to qualify. Carlson is encouraged by this change because competing in a Classic is now accessible to more riders. She encourages everyone who is competing at the lower levels to consider riding in a Classic Three-Day, particularly before moving up to the next level. If a competitor is on the cusp of moving up, doing a Classic is a fantastic way to solidify the partnership with their horse and help them to be successful at the next level.

“I’ve never seen bigger smiles than with steeplechase and the trot up and other aspects,” said Carlson. She emphasized that doing a three-day “is exciting, and it doesn’t take a fancy dressage horse or crazy good jumper to be competitive. It deepens the partnership with your horse. That it is truly the most fun you can have!” The Classic Series also has dedicated sponsors, with many wonderful awards available.

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. 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 and earn leaderboard points. 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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