Located in Allentown, New Jersey (Area II), Jersey Fresh International (JFI) takes place every May at the Horse Park of New Jersey and offers CIC and CCI two-star and three-star divisions.
While Jersey Fresh International celebrated its 16th anniversary in 2018, the history behind the event stretches all the way back to the 1960s. In the early days of eventing, competitions catered almost exclusively the highest levels of the sport; good courses and well-constructed fences were a rare sight at the Preliminary and Intermediate levels. A group of eventers in Somerset Hills came together to create an event that would provide just that and the Essex Horse Trials was born.
The Essex Horse Trials ran for the very first time in the fall of 1968 at Mr. and Mrs. Elliot Haller’s Hoopstick Farm in Bedminster, New Jersey. The event only offered two levels of competition: Training and Preliminary, hosted as one-day events. The event continued to evolve and grow, moving from a fall date to a spring date in 1974 and ultimately moving to a three-day format hosted at Hamilton Farm, the United States Equestrian Team’s training center, which had hosted its first competition open to the public in 1962.
The Essex Horse Trials celebrated its 30th anniversary in 1998, but the future of the event was uncertain. Much of the Hamilton Farm property had been sold into development, transforming into a golf course surrounded by luxury homes. The event did not take place in 1999 and wouldn’t be resurrected until 2017 when it moved to a new venue and returned to a one-day format for Beginner Novice through Preliminary levels.
Debbie Adams and her family approached the Horse Park of New Jersey (HPNJ) in 2002 to discuss the possibility of hosting a two-star competition at the venue. Adams and her family were single-handedly responsible for organizing the first Jersey Fresh International Three-Day Event in 2003, marking the return of an international level three-day event to New Jersey. It was also the first international level event to be hosted at the Horse Park, which was founded in 1988.
“The history of the event was always about meeting the riders’ needs,” said Morgan Rowsell, current co-organizer and course builder for Jersey Fresh International. “[The event] started as a CCI2* to meet the need for another spring CCI [during] the era of the long format.” The Adams family continued to organize the event through 2005, the first year the event offered a CCI3* division due to the cancellation of the Foxhall CCI2* and CCI3*. “Jersey did its best to again meet the riders’ needs so that the calendar would have an East Coast three-star.”
Since then, the team behind Jersey Fresh International has been fiercely dedicated to improving the park and the cross-country footing to give the riders and their horses the best possible chance for a good competition. This year HPNJ unveiled new footing in the Grand Prix arena and debuted 10 new cross-country fences on the three-star courses. “We have a very small and dedicated group,” stated Rowsell. “We all roll up our sleeves and get the job done with a great attitude. It is not always easy with all the variables thrown at an event, but our committee and the Horse Park are dedicated to the future of the event. As an organizer, I am impressed by the dedicated people who pull this off year after year. Lynn Mathews and I are the only ones on the [Organizing Committee] who have been working on the event from the start and I can’t thank her enough for her dedication.”
John Williams designed for Jersey Fresh International for 14 years before Captain Mark Phillips took over in 2017. “[Williams] gave his heart and soul and our success is due to his tireless efforts,” said Rowsell, who has been building the Jersey Fresh courses since the beginning. “As a cross-county designer, I am partial to the footing on the cross-country course. In 2017 we had five inches of rain the day of the event and we were able to run all horse without removing a fence and with only one fall of rider without any injury.”
“The evolution of JFI is parallel to the evolution of the sport,” explained Rowsell. “There was a need to have a CCI2* and JFI met the need. Then came the need for a CCI3* and Jersey met the call again. Then, there was a need for more qualifying CICs, and JFI wanted to deliver all that was asked of us. At the start of the event Dr. Dye, a trustee of the Horse Park and a great asset for the event, saw the need for more land and helped squire the purchase of the top field and planted the finest fescue grass that I have [ever seen].”
One of the ways that Jersey Fresh continues to make improvements is with the support of the Horse Park of New Jersey Horse Trials, the brainchild of Rowsell and his co-organizer, Jane Cory. Cory and Rowsell struck a deal with the HPNJ’s Board of Trustees where a portion of the proceeds from the HPNJ Horse Trials would be set aside and used specifically for improvements pertaining to JFI. “Morgan and I like to do the Horse Trials, but we really want to support the huge effort of Jersey Fresh, which improves every year!” Cory shared.
The Philippa Humphreys Memorial Sportsmanship Award is presented in honor of Philippa Humphreys each year rider who demonstrates “fairness, respect and responsibility; selfless equine management; passion and commitment for the betterment of eventing, and outstanding mentorship and relationship skills.” Sharon White received the award in 2017, the first year it was presented, and Alexandra Sacksen was the 2018 recipient. Jersey Fresh International makes a contribution in the recipient’s name to the scholarship fund established for Philippa’s daughter, Millie.
Looking forward to the future of Jersey Fresh International, Rowsell is enthusiastic about the possibilities. “[Every year] I look forward to the changes to the Park and fresh ideas from our growing Committee. This year we re-graded the Grand Prix ring due to the efforts of Allyson Jeffery (president of the Horse Park of New Jersey Board of Trustees) and added a rider and owner tent that was well-received. I hope to see continued improvements to the other rings and I am trying hard to get irrigation on the cross-country course. We have big aspirations.”
“I really want the riders and owners to know that we are dedicated to make the event a place where horse and rider safety is a priority while providing a high quality international competition,” Rowsell concluded. “The event’s evolution was always shaped by the riders’ and horses’ needs. The addition of divisions, land, and footing have been our focus for a top quality event and year after year we get better.”
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