Last Friday Tom and I, along with son-in-law Carl and granddaughter Amy, attended the Show Jumping Event of the Richland Park Horse Trials. It was a thrilling experience for each of us. I was aware these Horse Trials had been held here near Kalamazoo, but had not taken the opportunity to attend until now.
We were unfamiliar with the lay of the land, so shortly after being directed into our parking space, paying the attendant and receiving a program, we walked toward the area that had people milling around. We were greeted by a friendly volunteer, who seeing us carrying our chairs, asked if we wanted a lift to where we were going. We said, “Sure, only we’re not sure where we’re going.”
That’s all she needed for a cue, as she took us around the grounds, showing us where the cross country competitions would be held the next day and giving Amy a thrilling front seat ride. She held onto her hat, then removed it and chattered all the way around the course, sharing her excitement with the driver.
As her hair blew in the breeze, Amy cautioned the driver to “watch out for that puddle” and “don’t hit those people on the track.” The driver drove us as close as she could get to the viewing arena and pointed out the best spot to put our chairs down in front of the competitive jumping field.
It was a bright, hot, sunny day, and there was a tented grandstand open to viewers. We got to put our chairs in the front row, getting a shaded view of what was about to take place. This was a double blessing for Tom, and his skin sun sensitive skin. We headed off for a sandwich before the main event began.
Richland Park and the development of the Richland Park Horse Trials is the realization of a dream that originated over twenty-eight years ago. The dream belonged to Bob and Kay Willmarth, local business owners. They purchased their twenty acre farm in 1985 with land contract rights for the additional sixty acres. After acquiring that, they began think about hosting a horse trial, but realized they needed more land. In 1993, a 240 acre farm that surrounded them became available and they put it all together. Both Bob and Kay are avid horse lovers who competed in the sport of Eventing and Fox Hunting for many years.
Now, we were ready to see what this was all about. The Horse Trial is made up of three tests of skill, taking place on one, two or three days. A competitor rides the same horse throughout the entire competition. In simple language, eventing is a triathlon for horse and rider teams.
Dressage is about the development of the physique and ability of the horse. At every level, horse and rider should exhibit an understanding partnership in which the rider’s cues to the horse are invisible to the spectator.
Cross Country is a test of speed, endurance, and jumping ability. It consists of a course with fixed obstacles carried out at the gallop.
Show Jumping is the third event of the trio of disciplines. That is what we were there to see. This phase is designed to show the suppleness, obedience, and jumping ability of the horse. It also demonstrates the rider’s knowledge of pace, and the use of her horse within an enclosed arena. The goal of show jumping is to perform a clear round within the allotted time, with no obstacles faults. Many did, some did not. We heard the scoring at the conclusion of each of the approximately sixty competitors.
Amy watched, intrigued. We picked our favorites and cheered for all the clear jumps. Amy particularly liked the butterfly jump and the rainbow jump.
We watched the whole event, on this crystal clear blue sky day with a gentle breeze, alleviating the heat just enough to remain comfortable. Then, it seemed, it was just time to go back home, stopping for an ice cream sunday on the way.