Maryland’s newest crown jewel is ready to shine.

Did you know that horses can change careers and go from being a racehorse to an equestrian eventing competitor? Did you know that eventing is one of the few sports where men and women compete alongside one another as equals for the same prize money? Or that thousands of spectators from the U.S. and around the world will be descending upon Maryland for four days in October?

If you didn’t know, you soon will. Because from Oct. 14-17, Maryland welcomes an international field of elite horses, riders, trainers and owners to Elkton, Md., for the inaugural Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill, an equestrian eventing competition at the highest level that will benefit the Maryland Food Bank.

It is also notable that many of the horses and riders are coming to Fair Hill after competing in the recent Tokyo Olympics. And like at the Olympics, there is no men’s or women’s division for horse or rider. It’s just competitor against competitor going for the same medals and the same prize money, period.

The event will be held at the newly constructed Fair Hill Special Event Zone, featuring new equestrian arenas, turf track, timber course and cross-country courses created to host world-class equestrian events. Tickets can be purchased at Maryland5Star.us/tickets.

The 5 Star competition at Fair Hill is Maryland’s newest star. And after a year of pandemic delay and relentless fine-tuning, it’s Maryland’s time to shine.

Now whether you know nothing, a little, or a lot about equestrian eventing, know this: the Maryland 5 Star is a big deal. There are only seven competitions worldwide with the prestigious 5-Star (CCI5*-L) designation: two in Great Britain and one each in France, Germany, Australia and Kentucky. And now, proudly in Maryland.

And while it is also a big deal for competitors, equestrian enthusiasts and the Maryland horse industry, this event will be a major tourist attraction that event organizers estimate will generate an economic impact of close to $11 million the first year, a much-needed stimulus for small businesses and the like in northeast Maryland (and Delaware).

So, what exactly is eventing? It’s an equestrian triathlon or better yet, an ironman competition for horses that originated from a cavalry test and is referenced often as the ultimate test of horse and rider.

The first two days are devoted to dressage, a tandem display of agility and teamwork between horse and rider. Then on Day Three, a challenging cross-country test of speed and endurance. The final stage on Day Four is show jumping, where horse and rider are challenged on a course of jumps and are also racing against the clock. Penalties are assessed for failing to clear an obstacle and for failing to finish within the allotted time.

How Fair Hill Landed A 5 Star Event

Bringing a prestigious event like this to Maryland didn’t happen overnight.

Throughout the years, Fair Hill had been the site of many 3 Star competitions. And in 2016, Fair Hill International along with the Fair Hill Foundation led an effort to bring a 4 Star event to Fair Hill.

Among those helping to lead the initiative was Terry Hasseltine, the executive director of Maryland Sports and vice president of marketing and communications for the Maryland Stadium Authority.

“At the time, the application was for a 4 Star [CCI4*-L] event but the [Federation Equestre Internationale], which is the international governing body of equestrian sports, changed its classifications and upgraded 4 Star to 5 Star,” Hasseltine said. “We could have stayed with the application for an upgraded 3 Star but after looking at what we had to offer, we decided to go for the newly-designated 5 Star.”

Then in 2017, the United States Equestrian Federation’s (USEF) board of directors selected Fair Hill as a potential host site for the newest 5 Star competition on the international eventing circuit and presented it to the FEI. A five-year license to begin in 2020, with an evaluation after three years, was awarded.

“Our goal is to make this a must-see, must-go event that people of all ages and interests will put on their calendars every year,” Hasseltine said. And he made it clear that, “This is not a race, it’s multi-day competition at the highest level.”

Bringing It All Together

Meeting that high level started with the hiring of famed cross-country course designer Ian Stark of Scotland. Stark has laid out a nearly 4-mile course with a variety of 40-45 mettle-testing jumps.

And the prize money for the winner will be at a high level, too.

The Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill will offer $300,000 in prize money for the 5-Star portion of the competition. Hasseltine said he expects it to be higher next year and even more the following year.

The overall winner will take home $100,000. The remaining $200,000 will be divided among the next 19 highest-scoring riders. A field of 60-65 horses and riders for the 5 Star level of the competition is expected.

“Run over four days, the Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill will be a one-of-a kind, family-friendly, outdoor event — literally a breath of fresh air,” Jeff Newman, president & CEO of The Fair Hill Organizing Committee said.

Ticket prices are also family-friendly. One day general admission tickets start at $15. Children under 10 will be admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Guests are encouraged to bring their dogs as well.

In addition to the 5 Star competition, Fair Hill will host the USEF 3 Star Eventing National Championship (offering $25,000 in additional prize money) Oct. 14-17 and the USEA (United States Eventing Association) Young Event Horse (YEH) East Coast Championship Oct. 14-15. All in, organizers expect upwards of 175 competitors across all three levels of competition (5 Star, 3 Star and YEH).

“If you’ve never seen eventing, there’s nothing like it,” Newman said. “And with all the added attractions, it’s just one more way to turn a 5 Star event into a five-star experience.”

For more information and details about the schedule of events, ordering tickets, tailgating options and directions to the Fair Hill Special Event Zone, visit Maryland5Star.us.

Photo by Shannon Brinkman

Issue 270: August/September 2021