This past weekend, for the first time, I competed at one of my new favourite events, Oakhurst Horse Trials. The event is organized by the owners of Oakhurst Farm, Mark Nelson and Ruth Allum, and is located in Ashton, Ontario, which is only 30 minutes from Ottawa. The event runs divisions from Pre-entry to Preliminary.
In a couple of recent articles (“Cheap ribbons and empty packets – Do events appreciate the clientele?” and “Are events making money?”), one of my co-workers, AJ Dyer, began a conversation that was calling out events on not putting in any extra effort to make the competitions special for riders, owners and spectators.
Well I am happy to report that Oakhurst Horse Trials is not one of them and the owners and organizers here, went above and beyond to run an event that left you feeling like a VIP and not just another entry fee at an event.
This event reminded me of my early days of Eventing when there was more effort put into making riders and their supporters, feel part of something great. Here are some of the standout reasons why you should plan to attend Oakhurst Horse Trials next year (other event organizers take notes please, these small details matter):
Packets were stuffed and everyone got goodies
After unloading and settling my horse in the stabling, I headed to the secretary’s office. A friendly secretary greeted me and handed me my packet. This was not like the usual envelopes I have been receiving at events that contain only your bridle number and pinny number (then you walk over to a table and pick up a time sheet and course maps). The packet at Oakhurst was a nice fabric bag with sponsored by Barb Eamer at Royal LePage Team Realty. Inside, I found my bridle number, a cloth pinny (Yay! No stuffing numbers in a pinny holder), course map, event time schedule, and a fluffy yellow hand towel with ‘Oakhurst’ embroidered on it and several Oakhurst Farm postcards. Event postcards are genius because riders can fill them out and send them to their owners, supporters, or family. From the moment I opened up my packet bag, I knew that it was going to be a good event because they were clearly going the extra mile to put on a super show.
All three phases at Oakhurst H.T. took place within a sane walking distance of one another. This is a big deal for spectators, coaches, and riders with multiple horses. It never makes for an easy weekend having to hike halfway across the continent to get from dressage to cross-country. Lots of children’s grandparents attend events and it is not very fun for them if things are ridiculously spread out. I understand some events run on land that is not conducive to having everything centralized, but in these cases they really should bust out golf cart shuttles to help people who are not as mobile.
Ample warm-up space
All three phases at Oakhurst H.T. had warm-up rings that were spacious. This was a huge plus for me because Devil Munchkin’s only fear is of other horses. Crowded warm-up rings are terrifying for him and I never feel too safe, as he is darting around like a Ping-Pong ball. A good warm-up is imperative to having a successful performance, whether it is for dressage, stadium or cross-country. Riders and horses need space in warm-up so they can practice their dressage movements and jump a fence without being cutoff by some pony galloping across their line.
Oakhurst H.T. also gets bonus points for having several cross-country fences in cross-country warm-up. It is surprising that few events in Ontario do this, because HELLO… you are warming up for cross-country not stadium. There is nothing more annoying than seven strides out the start box on a green, wiggly, young horse to tackle its first cross-country fence of the day.
Seating and shade for spectators
No matter where I was at Oakhurst H.T., I could find seating that was shaded. It does not take a ton of money and effort to throw up some tents with picnic tables, and bleachers with umbrellas, but it does make a big difference for anyone watching the event. Seating and shade make people comfortable so they can enjoy watching the event action!
I ate one of the best lunches I have had in my life at Oakhurst H.T.. Jane’s Catering ran their food stand, and they did an amazing job. I had the guacamole and chicken panini and it was to die for. There was a good variety on the menu and you could get anything from a hamburger to a salad, so the pickiest of eaters would be able to find something they would like. They also had some mouthwatering baked goods and ice-cream. Why does every event not have a food stand with ice-cream?
If you win an event you want to actually win something. I was not in the winners’ circle on the weekend but I did place 3rd in the Open Preliminary, and I went home far from empty-handed. I won a gift certificate for a free popsicle at the food stand onsite (much appreciated as it was a smoldering hot day), the ribbon was big and had the division embroidered on it (hooray for no generic ribbons!), and best of all… I won $50 cash! Oakhurst H.T. gave out $700 in cash prizes, which is huge for an event that does not have hundreds of entries. Winning is fun, but it is more fun at Oakhurst H.T. because you actually win prizes… cash prizes too!
Competitors’ party of the year
Oakhurst H.T. threw what has been the best competitors’ party I have been to all year (although not many events even bother having one). Riders got their party ticket for free as well. Shockingly, some events do make the riders pay if they want to go. There was music, food, drinks, a large tent with seating, and a lot of fun people. Competitors were able to camp onsite and this made it easy for them to stay and live it up. The party stayed going until the early hours of the morning and I felt the after effects of having such a great time the next morning. But that brings me to my next point why this was such a special event…
The event was not over after the last rider finished cross-country, or until the last person at the party went to bed. On Monday morning, there was a delicious catered breakfast, followed by an educational seminar and cross-country/stadium schooling. For competitors, the cost of this entire day was only $50. If you were not going to do any schooling, it was only $25. The speakers at the seminar were; Kara Edwards-Glauser, from BFL Canada, she spoke about the importance of having insurance if you are in the equestrian business as a rider or coach, and Ozzie Sawicki, ChPC, Team Canada’s Chef de Mission for 2014 Paralympic Team. Ozzie’s message was primarily about ways riders could develop themselves into better athletes and how the Eventing program in Canada could improve its development program. It was an educational morning for me, and it was fantastic to see how these guest speakers got everyone’s wheels turning and discussions going about how they could better themselves as individuals in the sport and help our sport flourish.
Mark and Ruth put on a stellar event, which made for a memorable long weekend for everyone who went. I already have this event marked in my calendar for 2016, and I encourage every other eventer in Ontario and Quebec to do the same. It is a fantastic event for coaches to bring students to, riders to bring their family and friends to watch them compete, and professionals to bring their young horses to. If every event went above and beyond like Oakhurst H.T. this sport would flourish.
Find out more about Oakhurst Farm and Horse Trials: [website]
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