After 17 Years, Richland Park Horse Trials Will No Longer Run

Colleen Rutledge and Covert Rights, winners of the 2017 CIC3* at Richland Park in the event’s final year of running. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

Bob and Kay Willmarth announced this morning that Michigan’s Richland Park Horse Trials will no longer run after 17 years of faithfully serving Area VIII and beyond.

The Willmarths said that running Richland brought them “the thrill of watching the top riders in the U.S. and Canada ride cross country on our farm … the opportunity to meet, work alongside and become lifelong friends with two of the best cross-country designers in the world, Ian Stark and Mike Etherington-Smith … hearing Richland Park announced at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event as part of a rider’s resume of wins” and many more positives.

But the Willmarths said they also faced “having to deal with organizations that are not organizer-friendly and are far too political. For us Richland Park has been all about the horses and not about the politics of the game. It should not be so difficult for an organizer to add a division, nor should it take years to do so.”

Kay and Bob Willmarth at the 2011 Richland Park Horse Trials. Photo by RedBayStock.com

Richland Park had initially applied to host a CCI3* starting in 2017, but their application ultimately did not pass the United States Eventing Association’s approval process.

“We put a lot of money and time into developing a new track only to be turned down for a CCI3*. This was a huge emotional hit for us.”

It was not the first time the Willmarth’s request to add a level at Richland Park was denied, as they faced the same issue when trying to add an Intermediate division.

“We started running Intermediate in 2003, but had dropped it when we had both a CCI2* and a CIC2*. We had numerous requests to add the Intermediate division back in, and we never thought our request would be denied — not only denied, but told we cannot add Intermediate back into our divisions unless we move our date.”

The famous “Girls in Pearls” volunteer crew at Richland Park. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Over the 17 years of the event, Richland moved their original date from the end of September to the end of August so the USEA could host the American Eventing Championships at the end of September instead. In 2016, the American Eventing Championships were moved to the week following Richland.

“Unfortunately, we were unaware of the date change and took a huge hit on our entries. For us it was never about the money and almost every year we were in the red, and we expected it and were prepared for it. We Just took it in stride, sucked it up and dealt with it.

“A longtime mentor of ours said, ‘When you stop being challenged and stop growing, you are dying.’ We spent the past year thinking about the future of Richland Park, and after careful consideration made the difficult decision. When our builders arrived in August, we told them that 2017 was going to be our final Richland Park, and that we wanted to produce the best show we could, the best show we ever had. From our perspective, the 2017 RPHT was the best.”

There is no way to adequately express our gratitude to Bob and Kay for their tireless dedication to USA eventing over the past 17 years. There are also countless volunteers and officials who have served the event, which has been a favorite summer destination event for countless event riders.

“Saying goodbye to Richland Park is the hardest thing we have ever done, as we both loved doing it and took great pride in what we created. We were honored to open our home and our farm to the eventing community once a year and share with them the magnificence of Richland Park.”

Thank you, Bob and Kay, for all you have done. We will forever treasure our memories of Richland Park.

[Read the full open letter at this link]

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