The War Horse Event Series (WHES) is a series of horse trials that take place at the Carolina Horse Park (CHP) in Raeford, North Carolina (Area II). In 2020, WHES offered USEA recognized divisions for Beginner Novice through Preliminary along with their unrecognized schooling show offering, which includes “Maiden” and “Green as Grass” levels and combined tests.
In 2013, the Carolina Horse Park decided to add a new kind of event to their competition offering. The Carolina Horse Park was already hosting several USEA recognized events throughout the year, including the Southern Pines Horse Trials, Carolina International, the Longleaf Pine Horse Trials, and the Five Points Horse Trials. So, instead of adding another USEA recognized event to their calendar, they created the War Horse Event Series.
The Southern Pines Equine Associates War Horse Event Series presented by Adequan is a series of unrecognized schooling horse trials at the Carolina Horse Park. Ranging from “Green as Grass” to Training level for horse trials as well as combined tests and dressage tests for all levels, the WHES events provided a unique opportunity – the chance for inexperienced riders and green horses to receive an introduction to the sport at a high-quality event. In addition, all WHES events offer a schooling day the day before for riders to practice their dressage, cross-country, or show jumping prior to the competition.
“The WHES was created to provide schooling and educational opportunities for young riders and horses as well as experienced competitors looking for fair, challenging, and safe eventing opportunities,” said Shannon Habenicht, Development Manager at the Carolina Horse Park. “These events provide a chance to build confidence. It’s an ideal way to introduce people to the sport. There is a huge focus on safety and education. This is why the series is typically an unrecognized series so that we can offer a schooling day prior to the event. It’s a safe and fun environment. The WHES is a relatively inexpensive event to attend compared to many other events and there’s no pressure to move up the levels. The series took years to perfect and it’s come together perfectly.”
The War Horse Event Series name stems from how horses were used in battle as part of the cavalry, and how the sport’s history is based in the military. The very first horse trials were designed to test horses’ strength, athleticism, and agility. “CHP discussed dozens of names before landing on this title,” Habenicht shared. “In addition to the cavalry reference, Southern Pines is heavily involved with the military with Fort Bragg and all the military families in the region. CHP wanted to work with charities and organizations involved with the military through this series. For several years we partnered with different military groups prior to partnering with Rick’s Place.” Rick’s Place is a 50-acre interactive greenspace 5.5 miles from Ft. Bragg, North Carolina operated by The Rick Herrema Foundation that serves as a gathering place for military families.
The team behind the War Horse Event Series consists of many of the same names that help make the other events at the Carolina Horse Park possible, including Program Director and Event Organizer Marc Donovan, Executive Director Jane Murray, and more. “He’s a visionary and leader, ensuring the series runs at the highest possible standard,” Habenicht said of Donovan. “The members of his team, both staff and volunteers, are a diverse and talented team. He always ups the game, like when we recently purchased 30 cross-country jumps from Brad Turley and Southern 8th’s Farm to enhance our cross-county obstacles.”
“Jane Murray looks forward to the series to see how people progress each month,” Habenicht continued. “She loves receiving feedback from riders, sponsors, etc. so that we can continue to make this a top-notch and always moving forward series. She loves to see the delight on people’s faces and how they return month after month because they know they will be treated well and have an enjoyable and competitive weekend. The series is treated as a high priority event. Jane recently spoke with a young GAG rider who was so excited to leave the start box, she had been practicing at home and couldn’t wait to hear ‘5, 4, 3, 2, 1 ...’”
Dr. Tom Daniel and Dr. Jim Hamilton of Southern Pines Equine Associates have also been a part of the team behind the War Horse Event Series for years. “They believe in investing in the town of Southern Pines as well as working with the Park to host this series,” Habenicht said. “They truly believe in educating riders and feel this series is a great way for their practice to invest in the community. Dr. Tom’s favorite day is Championship Day in November when people are rewarded after a tough season of competition, handing out the prize packages and seeing the faces in the crowd when the giant checks are pulled out for pictures! Many times, competitors have commented to him that the November Championships is their ‘Rolex’ (now ‘Land Rover’).”
The War Horse Event Series, unique as it is, has been highly successful, attracting high profile sponsors including presenting sponsor Adequan and title sponsor Southern Pines Equine Associates. One of the benefits of this sponsorship is generous prize packages. “Our prize package for the November WHES Championship includes an unprecedented (for a schooling series) $10,000 in cash prizes as well as a robust prize package including supplements, tack, grooming supplies, and more,” Habenicht elaborated. “All division winner win the exact same prize package – whether it’s someone winning the Training or Green as Grass divisions – everyone wins the same award. We want to reward every competitor for their hard work and dedication regardless of the level. A competitor is a competitor.”
In 2019, the War Horse Event Series partnered with the USEA to help bring new competitors and fans into the sport of eventing. Under this new partnership, Series events became registered schooling shows with the USEA. As part of this partnership, the War Horse Event Series also awarded a select number of USEA full and supporting memberships to show participants who are not already USEA members, helping to bridge the pipeline of new eventers into the sport.
In 2020, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the War Horse Event Series elected to add USEA recognized divisions for Beginner Novice through Preliminary to run in conjunction with their regular WHES unrecognized divisions to provide riders who had missed out on their spring season with additional opportunities to gain qualifying scores for the USEA American Eventing Championships and USEA/USEF year-end awards. While there are no plans at this time to seek USEA recognition for the coming year, the War Horse Event Series continues to be an important part of the pipeline for introducing horses and riders to the sport of eventing.
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