Mar 05, 2020

USEA Events A-Z: Waredaca Horse Trials

By Jessica Duffy - USEA Staff
USEA/Jessica Duffy Photo.

Waredaca Farm in Laytonsville, Maryland (Area II) hosts three horse trials each year: one in May, one in August, and one in October. In May and August, Waredaca offers Beginner Novice through Intermediate horse trials and Future Event Horse (FEH) and Young Event Horse (YEH) classes. In October they host Beginner Novice through Preliminary horse trials and USEA Classic Series Novice, Training, and Preliminary Three-Day Events. The farm also hosts three unrecognized schooling trials a year and is a year-round lesson, boarding, and training facility.

Beecher and Marian Butts purchased 220 acres adjacent to the 10,000-arce Patuxent River State Park in Laytonsville, Maryland in 1953 with plans to run an overnight outdoor summer camp – the Washington Recreational Day Camp, from which Waredaca derives its name.

Gretchen Butts, who worked as the girls' summer camp riding program director, married Beecher and Marian’s son Robert in 1975. With her background in Pony Club and eventing, Gretchen introduced eventing at Waredaca, hosting rally-type competitions for the summer camps. In 1979, Waredaca hosted its first USEA (then USCTA) recognized competition. At the time, Sally O’Connor was running her riding business out of Waredaca and provided invaluable guidance to help get the event off the ground.

Allison Smith Photo.

Around the same time, the Redland Hunt Pony Club was looking for a venue to host their horse trials and so Gretchen and Robert struck a deal with them – Redland hosted its spring horse trials at Waredaca and then provided volunteers for Waredaca’s own event in the fall. When Redland Hunt Pony Club moved their horse trials to a new location, Waredaca forged a similar deal with the Howard County/Iron Bridge Hounds to host their annual horse trial in June during the early 1990s.

The event slowly grew over time, expanding from offering just Preliminary, Training, and Novice to offer Beginner Novice and Intermediate, and the facility grew to accommodate it. Grass arenas became all-weather footing and the cross-country tracks moved around the property to contain the new levels. And the growth hasn’t stopped – Gretchen and Robert are determined to continue improving the event for their competitors.

“Feedback from all our visitors is taken seriously and we are always working to upgrade our facility for each event,” Gretchen said. “The dressage and jumping arenas are all-weather and are centrally located to parking, vendors, food and the cross-country start. For 2020, competitors can expect to see significant changes to logistics, both jumping warm-up and performance on an all-weather surface and more attention to the cross-country footing.”

USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

2020 marks the 41st year with Gretchen and Robert serving as organizers of the event. “In addition to three USEA recognized and three starter eventing competitions each year, the farm also offers lessons, boarding, training, summer schooling evenings, cross-country schooling, a summer specialty riding day camp, many in-house programs, and is a Maryland Horse Discovery Center,” said Gretchen. “Throughout the years, Waredaca has often been a site for USEA Eventing Officials Training Programs, was the test venue of the early Area Championships, is a US Pony Club Riding Center and organized (then with Cindy DePorter and the Area II Adult Rider Program) the first USEA Classic Series Three-Day Event - now in its 15th year. While we offer a variety of equestrian activities, the events are our favorite! It's one reason we work so hard to provide an educational and satisfying experience for those who visit and compete."

“Being a working farm and not exclusively a competition facility presents its own unique challenges which we realize and act upon,” Gretchen continued. “With Robert (a licensed Eventing Course Designer, Steph Butts Kohr (a Graduate A Pony Clubber, ICP instructor, and athlete through the four-star level), and myself (an active national and FEI licensed Eventing Judge and Technical Delegate and former five-star athlete), we grasp the sport from various directions. Steph Butts Kohr, who has grown up in the center of the farm activities and business, is assuming a more visible role in farm and event management in addition to her very popular boarding and training program."

USEA/Jessica Duffy Photo.

“David O’Connor designed our upper-level courses for many years. Given his very busy schedule with the FEI and his national interests at Great Meadow, we mutually felt it necessary to select another course designer who could provide more timely attention to our courses – we are excited to welcome Jeff Kibbie this year!”

“I think the best way to describe our courses are cross-country in the true meaning of the phrase – natural, genuine tracks on gently rolling turf. The horses love to gallop over the farm! The track of each level changes for every event, offering a variety of terrain without being extreme that truly affords an education for both horse and rider.”

Waredaca is unique in that it has its own brewery on site. “Now in its 4th year, the Warecada Brewing Company (WBC) is a very trendy and successful enterprise, and is a well-suited partner with the farm business,” said Gretchen. “Visitors are able to watch the eventing cross-country from an orchard picnic table or patio, participate in a TruBru escorted trailride through the fields, and, if a volunteer, get WBC perks for being part of the Waredaca volunteer team.”

Photo courtesy of Gretchen Butts.

Waredaca was also recognized by the Maryland Farm Stewardship Certification and Assessment Program (FSCAP) as one of 91 stewards in the state and one of only 20 equestrian facilities to earn that distinction.

“Addressing the anticipated needs of competitors, USEA American Eventing Championships prep opportunities will be available during the mid-August event and for the Virginia CCI that follows the October USEA Classic Series Three-Day and Horse Trials,” Gretchen shared. “This year, for the Classic, expect to see FEI stabling, an adjusted entry option for Professionals who compete their younger horses and prize money for all levels. And, if you have the Classic on your fall calendar, check out our Road to the Challenge and maybe win free entries for all five of the supporting Area II events! Details soon to be announced on the Waredaca website.”

Brian O’Connor, son of Sally O’Connor and brother of David O’Connor, reflected on his family’s relationship with Waredaca. “We all grew up at Waredaca, riding, going to camp (via our grade school, St. John’s) and then on to being competitors, course designers, TDs, judges, announcers, etc. There are not many things we have not done along the Waredaca way. I got to work with some of the best out there, from volunteers, to top-rated officials, and of course the Butts family and associates. I would like to think that all of the O’Connor’s Olympic histories started, if not passed through, Waredaca. David, of course, went on to a gold medal (and many others too), Sally worked at numerous Games in multiple jobs, and [I] was one of the Olympic announcers in China in 2008.”

Gretchen (left) and Brian (right) at the 2008 Olympic Games. Photo courtesy of Gretchen Butts.

“Our family history goes back over 40 years with Robert and Gretchen, and I still get grief for NOT setting up the dressage arenas anymore (I was quite good at that actually!) From sunshine to rain to snow to fall foliage, I cannot think what it would have been without Waredaca, and what a pleasure it still is to work there and be ‘family.’”

“We purposely seek out competitors’ suggestions and care about constantly improving the standard of our Waredaca events,” Gretchen concluded. “We have an exceptional group of volunteers – our ‘extended family’ – all well-experienced in their roles and always ready for the next eventing competition. Riders and volunteers often recognize and acknowledge the other. This sense of friendly familiarity and community are important to everyone and promote a relaxed but proper competitive atmosphere. Adding this with our sincere commitment to quality and standard marks a definite difference to everyone.”

The USEA is profiling the history behind all USEA recognized events in the USEA Events A­-Z series.

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