A big season cometh, as the 2024 Olympics loom closer and we look ahead to the roadmap that will lead us all the way to Paris. Olympic hopefuls will have worked their way backward from late July, earmarking the pathway they and their advisors feel will set themselves up well for eventual selection and success on a team.
One important step along that preparation path — both for the Olympics as well as the various spring three-day events — is the Setters’ Run Farm Carolina International CCI & H.T., arguably among the biggest early-season challenges and a true “let’s see where we’re at” test set among the trees in Raeford, NC. This year’s Carolina International, held at Carolina Horse Park, will take place March 14-17.
But it isn’t just about the big names and the top level of competition. In fact, one of my personal favorite things about this event is its attention paid to the other levels, including a popular CCI1*-S and National divisions from Novice to Advanced.
Here are just a few of our other favorite things about Carolina:
A true challenge for all, no matter the level
We wrote an article about the CCI1*-S division after the 2023 event, and I feel strongly that including newer levels like Modified and 1* are important for education and for giving riders an attainable goal. As someone who has no aspirations to go above Preliminary level, the 1* is such a cool goal to have. It feels like something I could do safely and confidently, perhaps en route to Prelim, or perhaps as my top goal — who knows and who cares? It’s a great option to have, and it’s also beneficial for the production of younger horses. 5 stars (it felt inappropriate to give it a “1 star” rating).
For a new challenge this year, the event will host the Lumbee River EMC Festival Pro-Am Challenge, teaming up professional and amateur riders. There is no cost to join a team, so click here to learn more.
A convenient and well-laid out venue
There is something to be said about a venue that uses its space smartly (and one that has permanent bathrooms available!). I always love visiting venues like Carolina Horse Park, which are nicely laid out and well-kept. There is a decent amount of atmosphere, which of course wouldn’t be every horse’s favorite, but I find it to be less overwhelming and more exciting. It’s just the right amount of “things going on” for horses (and riders) to gain some experience in busier environments.
A star-studded roster
Ok, yes, you’re also right — the roster in the 4* and Advanced divisions is always a big draw for the sporting fans among us. This is a big stop on the road to Kentucky’s spring 5* event, and many of the horses we’ll see in these divisions will be prepping for a major spring event. You also typically get to see some horses and/or riders who are newer to the level, giving you a glimpse of “ones to watch” for the future.
Entries will continue to populate through the event’s closing date on February 27, but the list is already promising. We’ll see the return of three-time winning rider Will Coleman, who so far has entered the Diabolo Group LLC’s Diabolo. Ariel Grald, who is based not far from this venue in Southern Pines, has entered Annie Eldridge (also the owner of Setters’ Run Farm) horses Diara and Leamore Master Plan, who is returning to competition after being sidelined most of 2023. Another Southern Pines rider, Andrew McConnon, will swing back into action with top horses Ferrie’s Cello (owned by Jeanne Shigo) and Wakita 54 (owned by Andrew). You can preview the full entry list here.
A strong challenge on cross country
We’re getting into the final days of Ian Stark’s designing career, so we’re going to enjoy these brilliant courses while we still can! Ian Stark has been the designer for Carolina’s 4*/Advanced track for nearly a decade, and his tracks here are given an extra boost of difficulty by the terrain and wooded areas scattered throughout the park’s acreage. For those in the other divisions, the course’s are designed and set by Beth Perkins, who also sets a technical and challenging track that’s appropriate for each level, making this truly an event not to be missed for the well-prepared and practiced.
You can take a glimpse at some action from last year’s 4* cross country below.
Plenty for the horse husbands and kids to do
We all appreciate the long-suffering horse husbands and horse wives and horse kids, who typically spend their days at horse shows as stand-in grooms or wishing a drink cart would magically appear alongside them, golf course style. Well, sign those wonderful family members up for a trip to Carolina International, because there’s a full weekend of family-friendly activities, plenty of food and drink options, and a beautiful locale to spend time in when you’re not at the show.
If you’re visiting the area for the first time, be sure to check out neighboring Southern Pines, which is full of amazing restaurants (I’ll go ahead and throw in my favorite recommendation, Red’s Corner, formerly owned by 5* rider Jurgens) and beautiful scenery to enjoy. Carolina International also coincides with the annual Painted Ponies Art Walk & Auction, which is an event not to be missed.
And if you’re the VIP type, the Carolina Club is a great way to experience all that Carolina International has to offer. These tickets tend to sell fast, so don’t wait to get your hands on them here.
EN is proud to partner with Carolina International for pre-event promotion and media services on the ground. Interested in joining us as a member of the media for this year’s SRF Carolina International? Click here to submit your credential application.