By Stephanie Lipcius Palko
After months of work to get Fair Hill International selected to join the top echelon of equestrian events in the world, all Fair Hill International officials could do was wait for the decision from the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF).
They were not alone. State and county officials had also worked alongside Fair Hill International to get this already-elite horse event elevated to another level. These groups include the Maryland Stadium Authority, Maryland Horse Industry Board, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Cecil County Fair, Fair Hill Foundation, a committee that worked on the four-star project and more.
The word came via email.
“Carla Geiersbach, the executive director of Fair Hill International, received an email from USEF,” said Ann Haller, Public Relations officer for Fair Hill International.
Geiersbach notified the stakeholders.
“Really and truly, everyone was thrilled,” Haller said.
With the elation comes the sobering reality.
“But now comes the real work,” Haller said.
Each major sport competing on the world stage that includes the Olympic Games has an international organization. For equestrian events, which include show jumping, dressage and eventing, the international organization is Federation Equestra Internationale (FEI).
“FEI has to approve this,” Haller said, noting that this process is not taken lightly by Fair Hill International and they will provide all information needed to make certain the FEI knows the event that will be held at the Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area in Cecil County will more than meet four-star equestrian event expectations.
There is only one other four-star equestrian event in the United States. It is the three-day equestrian event in Kentucky. There are two four-star events in England, one in Germany, one in France and one in Australia.
Haller said the United States equestrian community has wanted a second four-star event for at least a decade.
“It never came to fruition,” she said.
The FEI will meet this fall and Fair Hill International is optimistic about meeting with their approval.
“We don’t have a date,” Haller said, noting that international sports organizations hold a General Assembly annually to discuss issues that will improve the sport. Representatives of the USEF will be at that meeting, but Haller does not yet know if Fair Hill International will be asked to send someone.
Not only will having a four-star event put a major spotlight on Cecil County and Maryland as being a premier equestrian venue, but it is also great for horse enthusiasts throughout the nation, Haller said.
“What it does for our riders is it provides a second opportunity for our riders to compete at the highest level,” Haller said.
At the earliest, a four-star event would be held at Fair Hill International in 2019, Haller said.
The two Fair Hill International events set for 2017 and 2018 will remain a three-star and two-star competition.
While organizing and managing those two events, Fair Hill International will also be working on the improvements needed to host the four-star event in 2019.
First, the location of Fair Hill International will change.
For years, the three-day event, which is often referred to as the Festival in the Country, has been held in a remote area of Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area off Gallaher Road.
It is a very temporary location.
“We have to build a city of tents,” Haller said.
Tents are set up to house horses, shelter vendor booths, host VIPs and other functions of the event. The jumps are set up only at event time. Water and electricity have to be brought into the site to meet the temporary needs of this stellar event.
In fact, the only thing that gives away the location of Fair Hill International throughout the year is the permanent arena area where the horses jump and are put through their dressage programs.
With the addition of the four-star designation, Fair Hill International will move to the steeplechase area which is located at the corner of MD273 and MD213.
Plans have already been drawn for improvements to the site, with or without the four-star designation. The grandstands will be improved and temporary seating is envisioned to meet the needs of a more prestigious event. The steeplechase oval is too tight, so it will be rounded a bit to allow more room in the center for arenas. Haller said the Steeplechase organizers like this change. The existing grandstands will see a festive roof. The parking area on the other side of MD273 will become safer when a pedestrian walkway is added under the roadway. This walkway will also benefit those who attend the Cecil County Fair.
With existing amenities for other events in this central location, Haller said. setting up for Fair Hill International will be simpler. Another plus will be the availability of wifi to allow the media to be able to send stories and images of the event – which was not available at the Gallaher Road site.
Organizers also like the fact that the eventing course will begin at the grandstand area and the course will be set up to allow people to view a good portion of the action before the horses and riders disappear into wooded areas, Haller said.
When the USEF selected Fair Hill International for the four-star, Fair Hill was competing against Great Meadow in Virginia.
The email informing Fair Hill International of their selection did not include any reasoning as to why this local event was picked to host a four-star, Haller said.
But she has her own theories.
First, she noted the nearly three decades of work to create a successful Fair Hill International each year.
But she has another idea as to why Fair Hill International was picked.
Haller said she believes it was the fact that Fair Hill International’s bid for the four-star included support from a wide range of organizations both statewide and local.
“I think they were impressed by the number of people and groups who wanted this and how much enthusiasm and support they showed,” Haller said.