After successfully hosting the World Equestrian Games Prep Trials last year, Great Meadow promises to up the ante even more this June with the launch of the inaugural $30,000 Land Rover Great Meadow International CIC3*, which aims to give spectators, sponsors, owners and riders a weekend they won’t soon forget.
It’s been a long time coming to bring eventing back home to Great Meadow. While the venue once hosted the Middleburg Horse Trials, Virginia Horse Trials and the Commonwealth Dressage and Combined Training Association horse trials, Great Meadow has not hosted an FEI event since 2001.
After an almost 15-year hiatus from playing host to the upper echelons of the sport, during which the venue has welcomed upwards of 50,000 people on the grounds annually for the popular Virginia Gold Cup steeplechase race, Great Meadow is finally ready to return to its roots, purchasing 174 neighboring acres of land to accommodate a world-class cross country course.
It’s a vision U.S. Team Coach David O’Connor, chair of the Land Rover Great Meadow International organizing committee, has had for some time, and with the support of Great Meadow Foundation President Rob Banner, the dream is finally set to become a reality. Darrin Mollett, organizing committee co-chair, kindly sat down with EN to tell us more.
‘Dinner and a movie’
“When David and I talked about what we wanted to see, he would call it ‘dinner and a movie’ — almost like date night, with great entertainment, great food and a great atmosphere to really make it something special,” Darrin said. “We want to attract the owners and the sponsors and really make the sport better.”
That “dinner and a movie” concept is woven throughout the schedule at Great Meadow, with the action kicking off with dressage on Friday afternoon. Piggybacking off the success of Sally O’Connor’s much-loved commentary at Rolex Kentucky, headsets will be available for purchase so spectators can listen to Sally’s thoughts on each test.
Entertainment will be provided in the main arena during breaks in the dressage action, with the “Sip ’N Shop” Vendor Village open to the public all afternoon and into the night. Greenhill Winery will be pouring the good stuff during dressage so spectators can enjoy a glass of wine while watching the tests for both the CIC3* and Pan American Games prep trials.
Then show jumping will be held Saturday night over a Richard Jeffery track, with a Bareback Puissance, which proved very popular last year, kicking things off, followed by a VIP dinner reception and the CIC3* and Pan Ams prep trials show jumping. All are welcome to attend the party after show jumping concludes, with dancing and a cash bar.
Plans for expansion
Tailgating will start Sunday morning on Fleming Hill, where spectators will be able to see about 80 percent of Mike Etherington-Smith’s new cross country course. David designed the course last year for the WEG prep trials, and he is working closely with Mike on the course this year, as the U.S. team horses heading to the Pan Ams will run over a modified track suitable to the two-star level.
“They’ve made some exciting improvements over last year to the main water complex and the coffin,” Darrin said. “The course will be similar to last year in that it will run on the steeplechase track, which we think will be a highlight for the event. The track has great footing — it doesn’t get any better than that.”
The highly anticipated new 200-by-300 foot, all-weather ring currently under construction won’t be ready for the inaugural event this year, but the organizers promise it will feature prominently in 2016, with concept drawings showing how the new ring will change the look and feel of the event.
“We had to make a call on that after construction delays through the winter,” Darrin said. “We were worried the ground around the arena just wouldn’t be up to par, as the plan was to run the course through the arena. The day after the event ends, we’ll start working on finishing the arena, and it will be ready for the event in 2016.”
Limited entries for ‘excellent sport’
Entries for the CIC3* will be limited based on USEA rider rankings, which Darrin said is intended to lower the amount of horse foot traffic on the grounds. “We don’t want that many horses on our footing, as we want to keep it pristine,” Darrin said. “The goal is to attract the top horse and rider combinations to provide excellent sport for spectators and preserve the footing for years to come.”
Great Meadow has worked closely with nearby Surefire Horse Trials to share the same date on the USEA calendar, and the organizers are hoping spectators will embrace the concept of “a festival of eventing in hunt country” and attend both events to enjoy a full weekend of eventing action.
“Surefire has been great to work with. They are stepping up their game too on the hospitality front for sponsors and vendors. They have a great course, and it’s a great event. We decided to go with the same secretary (the fabulous Mary Coldren) to help with the coordination. That’s why we’re running later in the evening to not impact their horse trials as much,” Darrin said.
“We’re hoping Surefire will actually have more entries because some of these three-star riders that are likely coming down for Great Meadow can then bring extra horses to compete in the lower levels at Surefire. The times will be set so riders can compete in both events.”
Large crowds expected
One thing the event is almost sure to have is big crowds, as an unbelievable amount of people showed up for the WEG Prep Trials last summer, with about 12,000 people attending the event over the course of a 36-hour period.
“We were surprised we had so many people come out for dressage at 8 a.m. We had 1,000 people show up!” Darrin said. “This year we’re expecting more crowds, especially with dressage and show jumping being held in the evening, so we have even more entertainment lined up.”
With that in mind, you’ll definitely want to mark your calendars for June 19-21. General admission tickets are just $40 per car load for one day or $100 for all three days, so it’s affordable to load up all your friends and head out to The Plains, Virginia. VIP tickets start at $150.
“Our hope and our goal is to make the event different each year,” Darrin said. “We want something special to happen each year and to keep people coming back and keep them interested. We also want to keep the riders happy so they’ll keep coming back.”
Potential FEI Nations Cup host site
And this could just be the tip of the iceberg for eventing’s triumphant return to Great Meadow, as Darrin confirmed the venue was the only potential U.S. host site to submit a bid last month to hold the first ever FEI Nations Cup leg in North America.
“It’s a great time to get involved in this event at the ground level. While we did host the WEG prep trials last year, this is really the first year for the event. Whether you want to volunteer or are a potential sponsor, now is the time to be a part of something really exciting,” Darrin said.
“If we do win the bid for the Nations Cup, the event will only get bigger. It’s always rewarding to be a part of these things when they’re just starting out, and we’d love for people to be involved. We’re a small committee, and we want people with ideas. If you’re excited about eventing and the direction the sport is going, then please join us and be a part of it.”
Anyone interested in volunteering to help with the inaugural $30,000 Land Rover Great Meadow International CIC3* can sign up at this link, and potential sponsors can learn more about getting involved at this link.
Follow #LandRover GMI on Facebook here and Twitter here to stay up to date on the latest news as the event continues to take shape. The EN team is looking forward to attending a festival of eventing in hunt country and hopes you’ll join us in June.