Since 2014, the Cloud 11~Gavilan North LLC Carolina International CIC & Horse Trials has taken place every year at the end of March at the Carolina Horse Park in Raeford, North Carolina (Area II). They offer CIC3*, CIC2*, and CIC1* divisions in addition to Advanced-Training level competition. Carolina International has made it their mission to provide an unparalleled experience for all their competitors, owners, sponsors, spectators, and everyone else in attendance.
The Carolina Horse Park, the home of Cloud 11~Gavilan North LLC Carolina International, is a 250 acre facility with room for eight to 10 dressage rings and two major show jumping courses on synthetic footing. It also has a formal turf derby field where the show jumping is held for the CIC2* and CIC3*. The venue boasts 200 permanent stalls and brings in 250 temporary stalls for the event as well as 45 RV hook-ups with electricity and water. The Horse Park plays host to unrecognized and recognized events, hunter/jumper shows, combined driving and was even the site of the USEA American Eventing Championships from 2004-2006.
In 2014, Southern Pines Horse Trials II underwent a major transformation – morphing from a traditional national horse trials to a destination event which would be known as Carolina International. From prize money to hospitality to beautifully designed courses, Carolina International has many qualities that sets it apart, but one of the most unique is the Organizing Committee which makes all the magic happen.
“In 2013 a group of us locally and regionally came together to talk about the need for an additional CIC3* and CIC2* in the area and continuing to develop the FEI calendar in the United States in the lead up to the Kentucky Three-Day Event,” explained Jane Murray, co-chair of the Carolina International Organizing Committee. “Initially we recognized the need for an organizing committee or a leadership group that would bring a diverse set of skill-sets and experiences to running the event. Bobby Costello, Will Faudree, myself, and Marc Donovan were the early thinkers behind it, and we set some very key goals around how we wanted this event to be experienced.”
The Organizing Committee consists of Jane Murray, Bobby Costello, Marc Donovan, Heidi Doubleday, Will Faudree, Gwen Parkins, Doug Payne, Lizzie Snow, Audrey Wiggins, and Lefreda Williams. According to Murray the unique prespectives of the members all really add up to make a great group that is able to put on a stellar event. “We wanted to make sure we had flawless execution, outstanding customer service and communications, continuing to be innovative, and obviously really providing a venue, and stewardship over the land itself to continue to expose it to a broader group of people. I would say that what we found most important was bringing together a group of about 10 people who had experience with sponsorship, the high performance eventing, a deeply experienced owner, who had been around to a lot of FEI events both nationally and internationally, as well as a very strong administrative capability on the ground.
“We operate at the highest standards, we bring in the kind of sponsorship and funding to be able to do that, whether it is on the actual competition side, or it is on the experience that people who are there for the hospitality, the social side of things, or just the spectating. Each year, we work to increase those standards, so that either there is more prize money, more live streaming, or extended hospitality,” Murray continued.
In addition to the focus on the competitors, the Organizing Committee didn’t want to leave out any of the plethora of other people that come together at an event. “It was really key to us on two fronts that we know our customer,” Murray continued. “It’s riders, owners, sponsors, patrons, fans, spectators, it’s a broad group of people, but importantly, that not one of those people would leave our event without having an outstanding experience. So that was one key sort of mantra.” All FEI owners and riders are given access to complimentary hospitality with breakfast, lunch, and dinner throughout the week; spectators are able to watch the livestreaming; and everyone is welcome at the ever-growing Saturday night competitors’ party with a new theme each year.
With the plan in place to add FEI levels to the competition, the Organizing Committee wanted to make sure the lower level riders were not lost in the shuffle and made the decision to continue to run the national classes from Training and up. “It’s really important that we work together to bring and align both the high performance riders as well as those that are more in the grassroots of the sport, and let the people coming into the sport or at the lower levels get exposed to a much different level of eventing, as well as the individuals involved with that. It’s really important that this is integrated and that it is holistic in terms of the levels of the sport,” Murray explained.
While Carolina International may shine with creating a complete experience for all attendees, the heart of eventing is still the cross-country, and the Organizing Committee brought in Ian Stark to make sure that the course was designed to the highest standard. “Bringing on Ian Stark a couple of years ago was huge,” Murray said. “He has a very clear vision of his courses, especially in terms of his three-star course and what he’s expecting of these horses and riders in the lead-up to [the Kentucky Three-Day Event] or as they might go to another three-star in the spring. We work hard to keep improving our footing and to keep freshening the cross-country course. Ian has been delightful in working with us on that with his imagination and ideas for the future.”
For Murray, what she looks forward to each year isn’t the actual competition itself, but after it when she gets feedback on how that edition of the Carolina International went. “We’re always delighted when get the feedback we do. I do it on a follow-up email to everyone that’s been competing, to say ‘What was your experience? What can we do better? What can we do more of? What can we do less of?’ We get rich feedback and we view that feedback as a gift. I always look forward to that feedback, even when it’s constructive, or maybe it’s things we need to fix, because you’re not going to get better unless you have the luxury of that feedback.”
What does Murray want every competitor to think about Carolina International? “That I think they would walk away saying ‘there’s a group of people here who understand the sport and really allowed me and my horse to have an outstanding weekend. I might not have won. I might have fallen off, but the way I was treated and the way they managed their relationships is unparalleled.’”
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