It’s the third Tuesday in October, and you’re pulling the best horse you’ve ever had behind you on I-95 in Maryland, and you see this sign.
And a familiar but new chill comes up your spine, because this is your exit to Fair Hill International (Oct. 16-19, 2014, in Elkton, Maryland.) It’s the biggest CCI*** in North America, and here is where four long years of big dreams are realized – or dashed.
Say you’ve got a horse. You’ve committed to this horse and hope he can work his way, and your way, up the levels to that rarefied air of Advanced. Sooner or later you’re going to hear the words, “Fair Hill”, and that chill might hit your spine a little. Because Fair Hill International is not kidding when it comes to preparing North American eventers for the upper levels in the sport.
Fair Hill International began 26 years ago when local eventing enthusiasts decided to hold a big three-day event over ground that really seemed very suited to upper level competition. It had hills, it had superb gallopy grassland footing untouched by a plow, and it was in a breathtaking natural setting. So many details seemed to be in abundance on the property off Gallaher Road, part of the Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area operated by the State of Maryland, that is was perfect for a CCI.
Over the years as riders and horses prepared for Fair Hill each fall, it began to gain a reputation as being a really great fall three-day. It is more than the course, or the nice big International Arena, the hills, and the wonderful crab bisque at the tent restaurant. It’s hopes and dreams from four long years of training a horse to achieve a clean round here, and it’s also tiny little contributions from literally a hundred volunteers almost year-round that put it all together.
The immense silence of the beautiful fields attract a lot of us pre-event, to work on the course, build things, paint things, plant things. Then the Trade Fair and tent people get going. And the volunteer coordinator spends long hours emailing, replying, emailing back, calling on the phone, schlepping snacks, setting up tables, answering phone calls. The galloping lanes are rolled out and staked up, the four-wheelers buzz around the grounds with helpers loaded with mums, cornstalks, ever-present duct tape and haystring. The barns are up, the stalls bedded, the vans roll in. The graphic designer has spent hours into the night and early morning cutting and pasting the photos and ads into the program, the organizers long since have obtained the officials, volunteer drivers pick them up at the airport or provide clean rooms and comfortable beds. The sponsors arrive, the banners go up, the laughter picks up – the tension mounts – the course is set. The day dawns dewy and full of promise – it’s finally the week of Fair Hill.
The riders too have spent hours perfecting dressage, every step monitored. The care, the feed, the tack all inspected and gone over, details upon details, month upon month. The horses are ready, their last gallop undertaken, the trailer’s packed and finally it’s time to load up and hit the road for that place at the top of Maryland.
The trees are not quite orange yet, but Nature is hinting in her way with her own “hazard lights” that it may soon set the woods ablaze with orange, gold, and red. She’s flashing “Danger – Winter Coming” with her bright colors, but there’s one more big thing to do before we’re done — Fair Hill. Just like a beautiful Fair Hill oak is a gorgeous fall sight, its color is made from a million small leaves, each a beautiful shade on its own. So is the event, a Big Deal – made from a million small tasks and a million little details from hundreds of people.
It’s time for Fair Hill! Be ready!