The Event at Rebecca Farm runs once yearly at the end of July in Kalispell, Montana (Area VII) offering Novice through Intermediate horse trials, CCI2*-L, CCI3*-L, CCI4*-L, and CCI4*-S FEI divisions, and Novice and Training Three-Day divisions. For three years, The Event at Rebecca Farm has also been home to the North American Youth Championships (NAYC).
In the late 1970s, a group of women living in the Flathead Valley in Montana attended a combined training event and were “bitten” by the eventing bug. They decided to start a horse trials of their own, which would eventually be known as the Herron Park Horse Trials. The group started holding unrecognized events in Pat Young’s backyard until another option came along.
“There was a piece of land donated by a gentleman to the County – it used to be cow pasture, and somehow Pat managed to finagle a sweet deal with the County and they donated it as an equestrian park,” explained Sarah Broussard, The Event at Rebecca Farm’s current organizer. “So, they were able to actually start a competition on their own and get it recognized [by the USCTA.] There was a group of women, it wasn’t just Pat, but she was really the spearhead. It started in her backyard and she was the one who had the relationship with the county that got permission to use the park. It was that original Combined Training Association that made it happen.” The first USCTA recognized event at Herron Park ran in 1989 and the event continued to run until 2001.
The Broussard family became involved with the Herron Park Horse Trials when Sarah Broussard was competing as a Young Rider for Area VII. “[Pat] lassoed my mother [Rebecca Broussard] into it because I was competing, and then when I wasn’t competing she lassoed me into it to do stabling and be secretary,” Broussard recalled. After 13 years at Herron Park, it was time for the Herron Park Horse Trials to expand, and the Broussards were there to help.
When the Broussards bought the 640-acre parcel where Rebecca Farm now stands in 2001, the property was all cow pasture and crops. “The piece that we have now was actually in about four or five different parcels,” Broussard said. “The bulk of the farm was raising cattle and growing wheat and hay. We continued with those two crops for a little while and then we did barley for a little while and now we rotate between wheat and canola. About two-thirds of the property is cropland.” There were a few existing structures, but the majority of what’s at the farm now was built from the ground up by the Broussards. “We built a barn, a shop, an office, a garage, the pavilion, and five cross-country courses in a year.”
In addition to the permanent buildings on the property, there are 40 permanent stalls split between two barns and an additional 100 temporary stalls that are owned by Rebecca Farm and stay constructed year-round. The remaining 450 stalls needed to house all of Rebecca Farms’ competitors are erected each year.
“Throughout the years we’ve slowly added or expanded our arenas,” Broussard said. “Our first year we had one arena and now we have five arenas – 4 main competition arenas and one that we use heavily for warmup. It’s 400 x 400 – a huge area that we divide into different sections. The arenas were an interesting road to travel down, learning how to build arenas, learning what the best kind of sand is. Things I never thought I would know, I know.”
In addition to the five sizeable arenas used for dressage and show jumping, Rebecca Farm’s cross-country courses are ones that people travel from all over the country to gallop across. “We have 150 to 200 portable fences that we put out each year. Maybe 30 percent are permanent, and that includes the ditches, waters, and banks.”
Captain Mark Phillips designed the original courses at Rebecca Farm and continued to design for 11 years before Ian Stark took over the job. “It’s been great to work with two different designers because they have some very similar philosophies and very different philosophies,” Broussard commented. “I feel that Mark was a bit more technical with his course design, and then Ian definitely has some difficult technical aspects to his courses, but I feel that Ian’s courses are a little more open and galloping. I think they’re both amazing designers.”
Broussard explained that the list of people who have helped make Rebecca Farm possible over the years is too long to recount. “The first few years after we moved over to Rebecca Farm that original Herron Park crew was still fairly involved,” she said. “I remember one of our first years we had the secretaries from the Young Rider Championships in Illinois come out and help us. There have also been a lot of people here in the Flathead Valley that have supported us, and we have some great sponsors. I think the officials really like it here so they help support us in a PR way – when they come here and have a good time and tell other people they should figure out how to get out here. Obviously, my parents were a really big push.”
“Our volunteers are amazing,” Broussard continued. “We have a very dedicated group of people here in the Valley that this is their big thing each year, this is what they do and they look forward to it every year and they take pride in their job. To have your volunteers taking pride in the final product that we put on is amazing. They feel important because they are important – or rather I hope they feel as important as they are because without them there’s no way we could run the event at all.”
“We’ve been fortunate that we’ve been so supported through the competitor base,” Broussard said. “That first year we had 220 competitors and it kind of slowly grew a little bit every year until we were around 450. We had a really long waitlist one year and my dad said, ‘We can’t have that, we have to figure out a way to get those people in,’ and so we did. We’ve continuously changed the schedule to accommodate as many as we can. Our biggest success story is that these competitors keep coming back.”
“We love having the event here. I was talking to my dad last year and he said he considers the event his biggest philanthropical success. It’s not something we’re making money on but it’s something we still want to provide. People love coming here and we love having them here.”
For many people during the year, Rebecca Farm is on the calendar as a destination event. “Kalispell, Montana is kind of out there on the map,” Broussard admitted. “We’re not easy to get to and nobody gets here quickly. Yet they make the pilgrimage every year and I figure we have to be doing something right. They plan the entire week, they come here with their families. Fortunately, we have the Valley that we can market. People say, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s so far,’ and I say, ‘You’re right, it is’ – I can’t lie about that – however, it’s a great place to bring the family and take a vacation, and a lot of people do.”
The team behind The Event at Rebecca Farm is constantly looking for ways to improve the experience for competitors, spectators, and volunteers alike. “Every year we try to come up with something that we think will help and if it does then the next year we’ll build on it a little bit more,” Broussard said. “It’s a learning process every year. Every year we learn new things. We have to be open as an organizing team. None of us say, ‘This is the way I do it and it’s the only way I’m going to do it.’ We’ll say, ‘This is the way we’ve always done it but it doesn’t seem to be working for us so let’s try to change it,’ or ‘I know you’ve always done it that way and it works really well but this is going to take you one step farther.’ We’re always looking for ways to improve.”
Three years ago, Broussard took on the organization of the eventing portion of the Adequan FEI North American Youth Championships (NAYC) in conjunction with The Event at Rebecca Farm, running the two events concurrently. “[Hosting Young Riders] has been an amazing experience,” Broussard said. “I was a Young Rider – I went through the program and I rode in the Championships and it was such a pivotal point for me in my life, not just in my riding career. That’s when I really grew up, that’s when I started to take responsibility . . . When they came to me three years ago and said, ‘The eventing portion of young riders are orphans right now, they have no home,’ I saw this as my opportunity.”
“It is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time but for us to run an entirely different competition a week or two weeks after The Event is really not a possibility,” she continued. “I’d love to have the three disciplines together, that would have been my dream – to have the whole family together because I think putting the kids from different disciplines together at the Championships is a really amazing thing. They learn things about their counterparts that they never would have thought.”
Broussard recognizes the importance of NAYC in shaping the next generation of team riders and is happy to be able to contribute. “This is the next generation of team riders and I think this is one of the most valuable things that the program teaches is how to ride on a team. Riding on a team is different than riding as an individual, so it’s good for them to have this experience that’s low key but still a team competition and it’s still exciting because it’s a championship but there’s not as much pressure on the rider.”
“[I like seeing how far the event has come] knowing that this is something my mother wanted to see happen in the West,” Broussard said. “When we first started in 2001 we were pretty much it as far as big events west of the Mississippi. Then Galway became a bit of a destination event, and in the Northwest Aspen Farms has really stepped up. I think it’s great that we have two world-class events in Area VII. It’s hard for upper level competitors to compete in the West and that was really the main impetus behind The Event at Rebecca Farm. My mother felt that it was unfair that any western upper level rider who wanted to be considered for a team had to go back East.”
“I try to explain The Event to people and I can’t – there are no words – so it’s great when people come in for the first time and I see the dazzle on their faces when they see what’s going on. A lot of people have said that the farm is a magical place, that what happens during The Event is beyond definition because of the people that are involved and because we all are still working towards that goal my mom laid out many years ago. We all have that same passion, that same drive, that same desire to create what she envisioned.”
“Coming to compete at Rebecca Farm is a fantastical, memorable experience,” Broussard concluded. “I like people to come in open-minded, ready to really appreciate what this area has to offer. It’s not hard for me to do PR because the area is beautiful, and once I get people here they’re so glad they came. My message to people who haven’t been here because it’s too far is that this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Being at The Event and being in this area is something that everyone should do at least once. And if you can’t come with a horse, just come to the event and see what we’re about!"
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