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Amber Heintzberger

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Meet Me In Maryland: Inaugural CCI5* Set to Take Eventing to the Next Level

Photo by Amber Heintzberger.

With less than two weeks to go, excitement is building around the inaugural Maryland 5* Three-Day Event. The new facilities, just down the road from the site of the longtime Fair Hill International Three-Day Event, are rapidly being transformed into a hub for spectators and vendors, with crews paving roads and the jog strip in the racetrack infield last week, VIP seating being erected around the main arena, and various hospitality locations set up at key points on the cross country course.

While Fair Hill and its accompanying Festival in the Country have long been a staple of the fall eventing calendar in the United States, the new Maryland 5* is taking everything to the next level. CEO Jeff Newman said that while the new event will retain some of the flavor of the previous event, it will definitely be bringing the sport of eventing into the future.

With activity focused around the main arena, located in the racetrack infield’s “Fair Hill Special Events Zone” there will be various tiers of VIP seating and hospitality (see video with Jeff Newman), and either side of the stadium will be flanked by trade fair vendors. General admission tickets will include access to the grounds, trade fair, Young Event Horse competition on Thursday and Friday, and the warmup areas.

Stadium seating will be ticketed, except for the top few rows of the permanent grandstand. The Blade and Bow VIP section offers reserved seating and all-inclusive hospitality for the duration of the event. An exciting aspect of the Sponsor Chalets, with private hospitality for guests, is that the reserved seating faces the stadium on one side, where dressage and show jumping will take place, while the other side offers sweeping views of the start box and finish line on the cross-country course.

Activities for kids and families will take place near the main entrance, and separate tickets are available for a beer and spirits. The Brook Bend Interiors Arts and Crafts Center will offer activities for kids as well as retail; the Maryland Horse Industry Board’s “Horseland”, which they offer at the Maryland State Fair every year, will offer up close and personal encounters with ponies, miniature horses and other rescues, as well as interactive, educational activities like how to groom a horse. Dog owners can take advantage of the KONG® Equine Doggie Daycare — you must register ahead of time to use this service.

Spectators who aren’t directly interested in the competition (i.e. the non-horsey spouses who get dragged along to take the kids to Horseland while their partner swoons over the horses and riders), may find respite in the Beer, Wine and Spirits festival on Saturday (requiring a separate ticket) and the Maryland Fresh Foods Fest on Sunday (free admission), as well as live entertainment. On Thursday and Friday this area will showcase local non-profit organizations.

Paving the jog strip. Photo by Amber Heintzberger.

There are multiple international riders crossing the pond to compete, partly thanks to the cancellation of other major events due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and partly because the very attractive money (a purse of $300,000 total in the 5*, with $100k going to the winner). The illustrious list includes Zara Tindall, former European Champion, Olympic Silver Medalist and a granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth, as well as three-time Kentucky winner Oliver Townend (GBR), Harry Meade (GBR), Tim and Jonelle Price (NZL), Astier Nicholas (FRA) and Maxime Livio (FRA).

Newman explained that the international horses will fly over on a Dutta Corporation Jet at a reduced rate, and then be transported at no cost to riders by Brook Ledge horse van after quarantining at The Ark at JFK Airport. Dutta Corporation has long been a sponsor of Fair Hill, and this partnership makes the international travel more affordable. There will also be unique amenities for riders at the event, including a tent sponsored by the active wear brand ALO Yoga, where riders can relax, do complimentary yoga classes, or have a massage. This Relaxation Zone will be located at the far end of the infield from the spectator area, conveniently close to stabling.

One of the most exciting aspects of the new venue for both riders and spectators is the ample open space to accommodate the cross country courses. The entire venue is part of the Fair Hill Environmental Resources Area, which is a State Park and is managed by the Department of Natural Resources. All of the fields and forests are impeccably maintained.

Designed by Ian Stark and built by Eric Bull’s ETB Equine Construction, the cross country course encompasses three separate open areas connected by galloping lanes. The established turf has been groomed to perfection, and Bull’s Maryland-themed fences are truly works of art. (Sorry, but the actual fences are still under wraps, so no photos!) Event Manager Kaleigh Collett said that there will food trucks at strategic locations on the course and a shuttle to take spectators to key viewing and entertainment areas.

The three main areas of the course include the gently rolling Timber Field, where the start and finish are located; that is connected by the “Unnamed Tributary”, a connecting galloping lane through the woods, to the Middle Hayfield, which is more steeply hilly terrain. Granny’s Run, a manmade land bridge over a natural stream, connects this to the Sawmill Field, which slopes gradually uphill and includes several big complexes including the main water jump and the Fair Hill bank, as well as more fun Maryland-themed fences.

Newman pointed out that the Maryland 5* is a great economic stimulus for Northeast Maryland and all of the businesses that have had a tough go of it over the past year and a half due to Covid-19.

“A lot of our partners are Maryland businesses, like the Select Event Group, which is building all of the structures for spectators,” he said. In their travels to Maryland for the competition, Newman encourages spectators to look beyond the event venue. “Just down the road we have great crab restaurants, breweries, and quaint shopping,” he said. “Cecil County is one of Maryland’s best-kept secrets.”

Event CEO Jeff Newman and Event Manager Kaleigh Collett. Photo by Amber Heintzberger.

Maryland 5 Star: [Website] [Schedule] [Entries] [Tickets] [Volunteer]

Eventers Running London Marathon to Save the Rhinos

Amateur eventer Paul Swart, left, and HRH Prince Harry, right, assist with the collaring of a black rhino in Botswana. This process helps to monitor and track the rhinos. Photo courtesy of Rhino Conservation Botswana.

Two adult amateur event riders, Pierre Colin and Paul Swart, are taking up the challenge of running the London Marathon on Sunday, April 22 to raise valuable funds to help protect Africa’s rhinoceros population through the charitable organization Rhino Conservation Botswana.

It is a little-known fact that rhinos are the closest living relative of the horse. These iconic animals are on the brink of extinction as they are poached for their horns under the false belief that it has medicinal value. In reality the horn is made of keratin, the same material as horse hooves and human fingernails, but it has long been believed that the ground-up horn of wild rhinos increases virility, thus they have been poached mercilessly.

Pierre has competed at the Training level with his horse Triskelion and along with his wife, Denise Lahey, is also an owner for Boyd Martin. Pierre and Denise are half-owners of Boyd’s four-star mount Steady Eddie, who will compete in the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event next week.

Pierre Colin, an amatuer eventer and owner for Boyd Martin, is also an ardent supporter of rhino conservation.

Paul, originally from South Africa, lives in Aiken, South Carolina and has competed at the Preliminary level on his horse HJ Eros. He has an adventurous background with horses.

“We were conscripted in South Africa, and I was actually in the Border War on horseback,” Paul said. “I spent a full year riding there in a war zone and the training is very similar to eventing training; you have to hang on and be able to jump ditches and brush and so on. I also did show jumping as a kid in South Africa and later became a safari guide, and I became an amateur eventer after I moved to the States.”

Paul volunteers his time as the USA trustee of Rhino Conservation Botswana, whose patron is HRH Prince Harry of England. “We take the rhinos from heavily poached areas to Botswana and protect them,” Paul said. “We are creating genetic breeding pools with wild black and white rhinos to keep the population going.”

Denise explained that the conservation moves rhinos from countries where there are numerous poachers and brings them to Botswana, which has a no-poaching policy. In addition to raising general funds for the conservation, the London Marathon will also raise money for the conservation to add more rhino protection dogs, which are trained to thwart poachers.

It’s expensive to buy and train the rhino protection dogs and also to maintain them, but they are valuable assets to the conservation’s anti-poaching program. So far the conservation has two rhino protection dogs, Savas and Luna, in their program, with an aim to expand to six dogs.

Savas, one of Rhino Conservation Botswana’s rhino protection dogs, with his trainer James Wozencroft. Photo courtesy of Neil Aldridge/Rhino Conservation Botswana.

It seems that every other day another animal is added to the endangered list, and all too frequently species become extinct. Many of us feel sadness for what is lost, perhaps scrolling through the news online with a pang of regret, but quickly move on with our lives. Paul and Pierre, however, decided to take action.

Pierre and Denise donated to build a monitoring camp in Botswana that will house a crew to track and protect rhinos, which ultimately led to the opportunity to meet Prince Harry and run the London Marathon.

Paul recalls, “Last year in October we were given four spots through the conservation trust to run the London Marathon. Pierre had just run the Boston half marathon and I knew he was in pretty good shape — so we decided to go for it.”

The two men started an intense 16-week training program and will run the marathon on April 22. “We’re both feeling great, it’s actually been an incredible learning exercise and it’s a mental game. It was a challenge and we decided, ‘why not?’ Pierre and Denise are big supporters of ours as well, and I thought it would be really cool for us to do this together and make a difference,” Paul said.

“Rhinos belong to the world and the poaching is a global issue; there’s tremendous pressure to save them. We’ve all got to do something if we all want our kids to enjoy the natural world, and we’ve all got to play an active role.”

A black rhino is released back into the wild. Photo courtesy of Rhino Conservation Botswana.

Paul is the USA trustee for the conservation and one of four trustees worldwide: in Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the USA and Botswana. “I do this pro bono so that I can support doing something good,” he said. “We’re hoping to raise some funds which will go directly to the front lines to protect rhinos.”

Boyd added, “Denise and Pierre are great supporters of rhino conservation. They are very passionate about animals in general, and the wild rhinos in Africa in particular. Paul is also a great guy, and I’d love all the eventers out there to chip in on their run.”

If you are interested in supporting Paul and Pierre’s run in the London Marathon, please visit their GoFundMe page at this link. All donations will go directly to the Rhino Conservation Botswana USA Trust.

Click here to learn more about the plight of rhinos on the Rhino Conservation Botswana website.